S2E7: Autumm Caines is a liminal space (@autumm)

Autumm Caines (Autumm’s LinkedIn Profile) is an Instructional Designer at the University of Michigan – Dearborn. She has earned an M.A. in Educational Technology from The Ohio State University and B.S. in Communication Technology from Eastern Michigan University and about 15 years of experience working in educational technology and instructional design. Autumm’s scholarly and research interests include blended/hybrid and online learning, open education, digital literacy/citizenship with a focus on equity and access, and online community development. This blend of interests have led her to be concerned about mounting ethical issues in educational technology and recently she has written and presented on topics concerning educational surveillance, student data collection, and remote proctoring. She has taught digital citizenship and first year success strategies at the undergraduate level and is active in several online educational communities. You can find out more about her publications and presentations on her professional website at autumm.org.

In This Episode

Episode Transcript

REBECCA:
Welcome to Demystifying Instructional Design, a podcast where I interview various instructional designers to figure out what it is instructional designers do. I’m Rebecca Hogue, your podcast host. If you or someone you know would like to be a guest on Demystifying Instructional Design, please complete the Be My Guest form available on Demystifying Instructional Design dot com. I am particularly looking for guests who do not work in higher education. If you enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe or leave a comment in the show notes blog post and consider helping to support this podcast with a donation to my Patreon account. Welcome Autumm to Demystifying Instructional Design. Can you start off by introducing yourself?

AUTUMM:
Hello, my name is Autumm Caines. I am an instructional designer at the University of Michigan Dearborn, and I’ve been working in some form of educational technology, instructional design, faculty development for probably ten, 15 years now.

REBECCA:
Can you tell us a bit about your origin story? How did you get to where you are today?

AUTUMM:
I know that it feels like many people I think do find that they fall into this kind of work. And I am a first generation high school graduate, a nontraditional student, I didn’t go back to college until I was in my mid-twenties and really didn’t know what I wanted to do. And so I was working a lot of odd jobs and I was going to community college and I was just taking classes that I thought were interesting. And then I started to get a little bit more serious. And I decided that even though the program that I was in didn’t have it as a requirement, that I should probably do an internship. I went to the Office of Internships at the Community College and I said, I’d really like to do an internship. What do I have to do? And they were like, most of the time that this is part of their it’s a requirement. They don’t get too many people who just walk in off the hallway like, Hey, I want to do an internship. But they were wonderful. They were wonderful. They were super lovely. They helped me. I was in a two year certificate program to do web design and development at the time, and I had already gotten a two year degree in liberal arts prior to that. So it was my second degree at the community college and I went on some interviews at some places to do web design and development, but I ultimately ended up getting an offer from the college itself. So the Office of Academic Technology at the college needed an intern to help with building online courses and doing some stuff in the LMS and doing some graphic design, just doing little odd job kind of stuff. I ended up landing that one and I was working for the college itself in the Office of Academic Technology, and that ultimately morphed and turned into a contract position while I was getting my bachelor’s degree as an instructional technologist was my title when I was doing that work. So I moved up past the internship and actually got a contract position with them. And then as I was finishing up my bachelor’s degree in communication technology, I started putting my applications out and I got a job as an academic technology specialist in Columbus, Ohio, at a school called Capital University. It’s a small liberal arts school in central Ohio. I worked there for about a decade before I left. I was actually the associate director of academic technology and then which was really especially at a small place like that, it’s like a catch all. So I was doing instructional design, but I was also doing LMS administration. I was doing a lot of different things I found, especially in small places, right? You wear a lot of different hats and you had to do a lot more as a single person then some of the bigger places that can hire more people. And it wasn’t until 2017, I want to say I moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin, and I worked at Saint Norbert College as an instructional designer, and that was the first time I technically had the title Instructional Designer, and then I had an opportunity to come back home to Michigan. Michigan is where I grew up, and so I returned back home to take a job as an instructional designer at the University of Michigan, Dearborn.

REBECCA:
When somebody says to you, you’re an instructional designer, what’s that? What does that mean? How do you answer that question?

AUTUMM:
It really depends on who’s asking, because I do find that instructional design is different depending on the environment that you’re in and depending on the background of the person who’s asking you that question. So if it’s somebody else in higher ed, because there’s also some people in higher ed who don’t necessarily know what an instructional designer is, depending if there may be more on student services side of things, or if they’re not really working with academics very much and they’re more on the business side, they may not know what an instructional designer is, or they may have more corporate ideas of what an instructional designer is. So I often say I work with faculty to help them make their classes better. That’s a very standard term. I’m also somewhere in the intersection of faculty development, instructional design and instructional technology. So sometimes I say I help faculty use technology to make their classes better, something like that. But it is difficult, I think to, it’s a difficult field to explain to people. So I end up giving these like really dumbed down answers.

REBECCA:
You mentioned something there that you’ve been at three different places within the last little while. How would you say the different colleges that you’ve been at are different or and how are they the same?

AUTUMM:
None of the colleges that I’ve been at have been extremely large. So most of my experience working in really large institutions have been as a student. So I got my master’s degree from the Ohio State University, and that’s a huge flagship research one institution. So I have that experience of being a graduate student in a large institution like that, but Capital has like the full time equivalent. So for students that’s something like I want to say maybe 5000 or 6000, I think St Norbert 3000, something like that. So University of Michigan, Dearborn is actually the largest institution. We’re getting close to ten. It’s not quite ten, but I think it’s 9000 at University of Michigan, Dearborn, if you include graduate students and some other kind of things. So that is that is something that I think makes a big difference in terms of where you work. The size of the institution will make a huge difference in the type of work that you do and how much you have in terms of resources, all of that.

REBECCA:
What do you mean by different? What is that difference?

AUTUMM:
I had an experience when I first started at University of Michigan, Dearborn, where we were in a meeting, and I had a realization that I had done the jobs, at least not probably not to the same degree, but probably not to the same like depth. But I had done it to some extent. I had done the job of everybody at the table. We had the LMS administrator at the table. I’ve done that. I’ve been there. Like that was my sole job for a little while. We had several other instructional designers. We had I think there was like maybe there was somebody like a provost at the table who like maybe an associate provost. I was like, okay, I haven’t done that. But when I was at Capitol for a while, I was the only person in the center. And so I was doing the budget. I was doing a lot of the things just to keep things going. I’ve hired instructional designers before. I think that the size of the institution is something that can make a big difference in terms of the resources that you’re given. If you have a budget that will support you hiring a staff, for instance, that’s something that you might not get at a smaller place. At a smaller place, you might be the only person and you might need to end up doing a lot more hands on work, whereas at a bigger place maybe you have the budget to think, okay, maybe we could hire somebody else to do some parts of this or to help out with things.

REBECCA:
What are your typical tasks in a day?

AUTUMM:
I spend a lot of time with my calendar. I work from home. I’m 100% remote. I do live very close to campus. I shouldn’t say I’m 100% remote. I’m not 100% remote officially. But in practice, yeah, I work every single day from home, I do live very close to campus and I do end up going to campus maybe once a semester or something. There’s not been very there hasn’t been a lot of opportunities for or need for me to go to campus since the pandemic. Now, prior to the pandemic, I would go when I was needed. And because there were so many more people, I would end up going in. But a lot of times my day starts with my calendar. Usually even the day before and looking at the whole week and kind of wondering what’s going on. I use Calendly to my whole office. Those that’s what we use to schedule one on one appointments. So one on one consultations with faculty is in our job description is like the bread and butter of our work and we are very much a faculty development shop. There are instructional design offices, even in higher education that are much more production focused and they are building courses, they’re building content to go inside of courses. From a faculty development perspective, we are teaching faculty how to do that kind of stuff for themselves, and maybe we will show you once or twice how to do something. And if you have questions, we can help with that. But the idea, the whole thing we’re working toward is getting a faculty member to a point where they’re doing more and more of that kind of stuff for themselves. And we’re not necessarily building courses so much as we are teaching faculty how to do that building for themselves and teaching them how to design for themselves too to some degree, even though I would say I think any design is always enhanced by having a second set of eyes and having somebody to bounce ideas off of that kind of thing. So a lot of my work is individual consultations, but besides individual consultations, we also do workshops asynchronous as well as synchronous over Zoom. I spend a lot of time in Canvas. Canvas is our learning management system. I do spend a fair amount of time in there looking at other people’s courses. Or, like I said, we do asynchronous workshops that we run in Canvas as well. So sometimes I’m working in there for that. We also have an external blog called The Hub Blog. It’s at Dearborn hub dot net, and I’m one of the main administrators on that. And we really use that as a way to reflect on our work. And it’s a huge asynchronous part of our work. It’s public. Anybody can go, anybody can subscribe. That public piece of it. I love so much because I think it holds us to a higher standard, making sure that everything on the site is properly cited and it’s accessible to a wider audience. And we use it as a way to reflect on work that we have been doing. If we’ve done a workshop, we’ll write up a blog post about that workshop. If we brought in a speaker and we recorded it, we will get that video to the point where it needs to be in terms of editing and in terms of closed captioning and all of that. And then write up a blog post announcing the recording and putting the recording out to a larger audience, but also reflecting a little bit on what was said, because some people would rather read than watch a whole video, especially if it’s like a keynote presentation that’s an hour long or something.

REBECCA:
What kind of projects do you find fun?

AUTUMM:
I like doing public projects and I think that’s why I enjoy the Hub blog so much. I really like working in the public. I like the bigger audiences, but it’s bigger than that. I really appreciate the diversity of voices that you get when you do stuff on the public internet. I really enjoy. It’s a scary place to write. The diversity voices aren’t always friendly and nice. It’s not all roses, but it’s so fulfilling and so rewarding to be able to connect with scholars across the globe and to get the diversity of opinion and get the diversity, the cultural diversity. I really appreciate when I can do things that are a little bit broader in terms of that kind of stuff. I just love working with people who are passionate about what they do and about what they think about. And it doesn’t really matter in terms of discipline, right? It can be a discipline that I really don’t know anything about. But if it’s somebody who’s really excited about and interested in teaching their topic and they’re really excited about their topic, yeah, I really love doing those kind of projects. Designing those courses are always fun and I always learn a lot too.

REBECCA:
One of the bits of advice we often give our students is to figure out what their niches, where, what kind of instructional designer they want to be. What are the things that, you know, make you stand out compared to your peers? And so what would you think your niche shows?

AUTUMM:
The name of my blog and like my thing on Twitter has been Autumm Caines is a liminal space, and I do think that’s because I often have lots of things going on. So it creates a lot of in between this just because there’s so many different things. I do think there’s a niche with instructional design and faculty development, but there’s also the overlap of instructional design and technology and technological tools. And I fall in there somewhat too, especially in that niche of instructional design and technology that can be a very problematic space, especially as we’re starting to realize and recognize that some of these technologies can be predatory in many ways. I do bring research interest in and a background in privacy and security around these systems and a more critical lens on some of the technology stuff that can be good, it can be bad, it can definitely hold back innovation. I don’t think that innovation should be allowed to just run free innovation for innovation sake. I don’t think is healthy often and really thinking about what what is the path forward? Where are we going? Where do we want to be going? And looking at not just the affordances and the benefits of technology, but the limitations and the harms that technology can bring in is something that I’ve been pretty vocal about and something that I think has defined me in some ways professionally.

REBECCA:
You use a term that I don’t think people are necessarily used to, which was predatory, predatory technologies. What do you mean by that?

AUTUMM:
I would define predatory technologies as those that prey on the end user in order to benefit some other entity with power. That could be the company that owns the technology and manages the technology. It could be some other kind of user. So I’ve done a lot of work thinking about and talking about and writing about remote proctoring systems. I would definitely say that a remote proctoring system is one that can be extremely predatory and extremely racist, extremely ablest, and really does treat people differently, creates an environment that is not really conducive to learning the way that I think about learning. And I think that it is a situation where we have some people with power, maybe instructors who are utilizing this technology, thinking that it is the best thing for their class or an administrator telling faculty that they have to use this technology because it’s the best thing for a program or something like that. But we have students who are by and large harmed by this technology just based on who they are, just because they may have darker skin or they may have a disability where their their eyes move and The technology will flag them as cheaters or not be able to recognize them at all based on things that are outside of their control.

REBECCA:
Those are some great examples. I had not even thought about the whole eye tracking thing. But that’s freaky. What do you find to be your biggest challenges as an instructional designer?

AUTUMM:
As an instructional designer. My biggest challenges probably come from design challenges, and I guess I’d also say working as an instructional designer from a faculty development perspective, if I were just concerned with how do I build this course, my biggest challenges might be technological. They could be design challenges that I have with how do I fit this into the course, a particular assignment or a particular activity or a particular piece of content, like how do I make it work within the course? But I think from a faculty development perspective, where I’m really trying to help a faculty member better understand their pedagogy, think about their pedagogy, question their pedagogy. I’m really trying to get them to think about the design of their course, think about the student perspective, think about time and how much time they’re asking of their students. Help them think about their own time. How long is it going to take you to grade that things? My biggest challenge is probably come from the faculty that I work with who maybe have never taught online before and are trying to imagine something that they’ve never done. The pandemic definitely helps with that a lot because now everybody has some experience teaching online. But I guess I just say it is a much it’s much different perspective. When you were trying to help somebody understand something about themselves and what they’re doing when they’re the ones in control, they’re the ones who are building this course and delivering this course, helping them through that process of self-reflection and growth that comes with this kind of work is those are different kinds of challenges than, say, if I’m just going to build something, I’m going to turn it over to you and you’re going to run it. And I’m going to give you some instructions on how to run that. That is that is profoundly different type of work. And so it does come with different challenges and it’s different all the time. It just depends on the personality of the person, how long they’ve been teaching for, the different formats that they’ve taught it, and their ideas of what good learning looks like. And so trying to juggle all of that and all the multiple personalities that that I work with on a daily basis is, is, and it’s not challenging in a bad way. I don’t want it to sound like this is ahhh I’m slugging through this. It’s actually one of the things that I really enjoy about my work. But it’s not a cookie cutter approach. You can’t use the same techniques, the same metaphors, the same way of explaining things to everybody.

REBECCA:
What skills do you find most useful in your work?

AUTUMM:
I find my soft skills of empathy and listening, humanizing to be really important. I also find my technical skills to be really important. So I do have a technical background in web design and development like I talked about in the beginning, and the fact that I can think about those technical systems and think about what’s going on in the background is something that also is something that is really important. It’s really important to my work, the fact that I have that stuff in the pocket, if you will, you just pull it out whenever I need it. That that helps out a lot.

REBECCA:
What do you wish you knew or learned sooner regarding instructional design?

AUTUMM:
Maybe that history of instructional design. It wasn’t until I got started in my master’s program that I learned about the history of instructional design, starting with the U.S. military and being based in behaviorism. And a lot of things that I really don’t give me. The warm fuzzy is not what I think about when I think about learning. Like, I know that some people really enjoy that stuff and feel, do feel that connection with it? But those kind of things are not. And so it helped me to make a lot of sense. Once I figured that out, it’s like, Oh, that’s why so much of this stuff. That’s why these technologies are maybe in that predatory realm, right? Because they’re just really thinking about that transactional view of learning where I have the knowledge, I’m going to give it to you and you’re going to give it back to me so that I make sure that, you know. That’s a very transactional idea of learning. And many of us hope, Paulo Freire in that talking about that being the banking model of education. And I do think that is that’s baked into those histories, that’s baked into those ideas of technological solutionism that will just make it so that everybody can learn everything with like super efficiencies. And it’s always flawed and it never works that way because people are messy and learning is messy and it’s always more complicated than the sales reps want to put into their brochures.

REBECCA:
What advice would you give to new instructional designers?

AUTUMM:
I would say try out different things. Talk to different people who work in different areas of instructional design. Listen to demystifying instructional design, because that gives you, you hear from a lot of different people who work in instructional design because I do think that the the term and the title gets thrown around a little bit and it gets put on to a lot of different. Different positions that actually do very different types of work and figure out where you want to work. Talk to different people who work in different environments and maybe hold that title, but also be open to figuring out who works adjacent to that might be doing similar work but under a different title and figure out where the opportunities are, where you can find opportunities and figure out where your where your passions lie and where you are feeling resonance in terms of this is the type of work I want to do. If you want to do production work, you want to build courses, you want to do graphic design, you want to do you want to build courses in LMSes, for instance, there’s plenty of that work out there that is definitely available and it could be very different though, doing that work in a corporate environment compared to doing it in a nonprofit environment or for government or for higher education.

REBECCA:
I want to draw us back to something you mentioned early on, is that you had you’ve had some experience hiring instructional designers. Are you okay if I ask you a couple questions in that area? When you’re hiring an instructional designer, what are you looking for?

AUTUMM:
I really like seeing a portfolio. I like seeing a web portfolio. Maybe I’m biased because I have a background in web development, but I really like to see that you can build a public website, that you can present your skills, examples of your skills, and to a public audience. So I like to see examples of what you’ve done in the past, and I think seeing that in a really nicely designed website is just really great. I think there’s also a lot of writing in this work. Like I said, even if it’s just email, like there’s a lot of communication. So showing me that you can communicate that you have some publications that you have reflected on your work is something that I see value in that, and that could be a scholarly publication, but it could also be a blog post just showing me that not only can you create the product, but you can reflect on the work and talk about the value of the work and talk about why it matters in a way that’s accessible to a broader audience is something that I really like to see. And if it’s a new instructional designer or if it’s somebody who doesn’t have a lot of experience who’s maybe never held a professional appointment before, I think there’s still lots of opportunities through something like a public website to show examples from coursework or to show examples from passion projects and that kind of thing. So that’s something that I really look for. It’s not a deal breaker if somebody doesn’t have it. I would never not hire somebody just because they didn’t have a web portfolio. But it’s something that helps somebody to stand out if want to. On the top of the resumé or the CV, there’s also their name dot com or something like that. And I can go and actually look and see what kind of things they’ve done.

REBECCA:
Further to that. You touched on it. So what can they do to stand out? What do you look for in the portfolio?

AUTUMM:
Yeah, so I’m looking for examples of writing. I’m looking for examples. If they ever if they do have, they may not always do. But if they do have examples of learning modules or graphic design or games, they’ve developed those kind of things that they can put online that I can actually see and actually maybe even engage with or play with. There’s examples of the work that they’ve done in the past, whether that be professional work or coursework or even just something that they’ve created to put out into the world as a more general kind of open educational resource is something that I look for. I guess I also I mentioned open educational resources like an understanding of licensing and understanding of what kind of license do they have on their website? Is it full copyright that I can have respect for that? I do a lot of work with open licenses, but I understand that not everybody does. Not everybody sees the value in that. But if I don’t see any kind of license that they haven’t really given any thought to licensing at all, that’s going to make me wonder a little bit. Is that just an oversight? Are they not paying attention to that? So, yeah, that’s really what I’m looking for. I’m looking at overall design of the site as well and making sure that the design is accessible, probably most importantly, but also statically pleasing, laid out and considered. And then examples of their work and like I said, reflections on their work, which could be scholarly publications or could be something as simple as a blog post.

REBECCA:
I have one last question that I like to ask everybody, and that’s what’s your prediction for the future of instructional design?

AUTUMM:
Oh. I struggle with perfect predictions. Never any good at predictions. I try to avoid them. Rebecca. Yeah, I guess I will say I try to avoid predictions because I do think that they can be flawed and problematic. But I also if I had to give any prediction of instructional design, I think it’s a growing field. I think that even though it is ill defined, we are finding that we need instructional designers. But I think we also need diversity. And diversity and instructional design to better design is such a powerful thing. It’s these subtle changes that we can make in an environment, whether that be physical environment or digital environment, that can have a real impact on the people who inhabit those environments. And so when we have a single point of view or a single type of point of view, I think that it is highly problematic. And so we need more cultural diversity and more racial diversity. We need more different types of points of view to help us design environments that are more equitable.

REBECCA:
That’s a great way to end, I think is that call to, to helping create more equitable spaces and instructional design.

AUTUMM:
Yeah. I don’t know if I’m predicting. I can’t predict. I have a really I’m sorry. I wish I could do better with predicting, but if I could call for something, that’s what I would call for.

REBECCA:
Okay, excellent. Excellent. Thank you very much, Autumn, for coming and joining us and sharing your wisdom with us. Really appreciate it.

AUTUMM:
Thanks so much for having me, Rebecca. It was my pleasure.

REBECCA:
You’ve been listening to Demystifing Instructional Design, a podcast where I interview instructional designers about what they do. I’m Rebecca Hogue. Your podcast host. If you or someone you know might like to be a guest on Demystifying Instructional Design, please complete the Be My Guest form available on Demystifying Instructional Design dot com. Show notes are posted as a blog post on Demystifying Instructional Design dot com. If you enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe or leave a comment in the show notes blog post.

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