Girl browsing internet on electronic deviceIn 2011, I remember vividly finally deciding to follow through on an idea to take a university summer class.   While browsing through the myriad of options, I entered these keywords in Google – learning and technology.   Scrolling, scanning, clicking away, I honed in on George Mason’s site.    At the time, I wanted to combine my technical experience and love of learning to make a change in my professional work.   After many years in IT consulting and software training, what I enjoyed the most was learning about a client’s business needs, advising them on technology options and providing successful solutions.  I continued to poke around GMU’s Learning Technologies programs and discovered after many hours of researching related topics, that I wanted to pursue how people learn and how technology could extend and even provide personalized learning.   So, with that pivotal moment and new vision in hand, I enrolled in three courses that summer – Mobile Learning, Web Accessibility and Instructional Design.

I was skeptical at first, asking myself, do online courses really provide quality teaching and learning?   Hybrid, blending learning, eLearning and mLearning, all new terminology that I only read about and now I was experiencing them first hand.    My first online course, Instructional Design “fundamentals” was much harder than I imagined, and I believe was the one where I learned the most about this field.  That class provided an immersive hands-on approach to the ID process, learning theories and instructional strategies, as well as real-world discussions about the skills required and career options.   The Web Accessibility course changed my perspective on how technology can be designed for everyone to access and how organizations can change their strategies to accommodate this need.  The Mobile Learning class exposed me to the specific design considerations for this format but also the powerful affordances such as performance support and extending learning outside the classroom.   After that summer, I knew I was in the right program and was already planning my Fall and Spring semesters.

In the Fall, I applied to the IDD program and enjoyed the Theories of Learning course.  I was grateful for having one course, as my client workload increased and time was scarce.  But soon, the Driscoll readings piled up, and I realized I need to focus and know this material in-depth.  Learning theories, instructional theories, instructional strategies, models, technologies – to understand the underlying principles and practical applications to designing instructional technology.  The following Spring, I was not thinking clearly and took three courses – Innovation in eLearning, Advanced Instructional Design and Research in Educational Technology.  I soon realized that late nights were the norm and my family was questioning my sanity.  Despite the demands, I really developed a much better understanding of multimedia design best practices and learned additional software application skills in EDIT 611.  I also enjoyed learning from my team members and rotating leadership roles to share in managing the design projects.    In the Advanced Instructional Design course, I was exposed to a “blended” format, meeting new people and participating in F2F class discussions, as well as the online resources.  This course provided a creative approach to learning about constructivist pedagogical models, case-based scenarios and the powerful learning transfer evidenced in problem-based learning designs.   As for the Research in Education Technology course, I struggled with the detailed readings, trying to demystify the statistics and then apply what I learned when writing my research proposal.  I now have a healthy respect for the enormity of a real-world research project, and feel I gained a proficiency in identifying quality evidence-based research studies, how to construct a literature review to identify gaps, construct research questions, describe different methodologies, and data analysis.

Summer arrived quickly and I was excited to take Learning in 3D Virtual Worlds (VW) and the Blackboard Collaborate course.  The VW course was very different for me, as I had heard about Second Life (SL) but dismissed it as a time hog and never expected its educational opportunities.  My first attempt and even many attempts at customizing my avatar was laughable, thank goodness.  At times, I was frustrated at how clumsy I was in SL, how long it took for me to get accustomed to this immersive environment.  The learning curve was steep for me, as I do not play video games, but I soon realized the learning potential in 3D VW designs.   I learned about the many social, cultural, and instructional affordances of VWs, as well as the technical limitations and potential for future advances.  In designing my VW course, I envisioned a university student lounge setting, with college students mentoring high school students interested in STEM majors and also learning some technical skills in building in-world fashion designs.  I was really impressed with the final presentations in SL, where everyone in the class shared their design, the learning activities and how they would evaluate their VM course.

In the Fall of 2013, the EDIT 732 course, Analysis & Design of Technology-based Learning Environments, provided real-world experience working with a client and designing a mobile app.  I was fortunate to work with a talented team of professionals to provide a better user experience for older adults searching for healthcare information on the internet.  I also enjoyed working on my first attempt at an ePortfolio website, where I was able to apply the guidelines in the course, and continually update my progress.  This course pushed me to organize, document and most importantly reflect on my learning and professional growth.  My final semester included developing the mobile app prototype for seniors searching healthcare data, designing an educational conference for women in STEM at GMU and finalizing my portfolio site.

The journey was challenging and rewarding, and I am grateful for the many opportunities to work with my GMU professors and fellow students.   I am considering continuing on for my PhD in Mason’s LTDR program but may need to wait until 2017!


Note: For additional reflections on my IDT program experiences, please see my Courses link.



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