Challenge a broken lightbulb, solution a working lightbulb

S2E9: Janet Lee – Part 2: Purposefully progressing through any challenge

Janet Lee is an Instructional Designer specializing in practical professional development strategies and content development for professors wishing to transition meaning-full training from face-to-face to online learning. She has a varied background in international K-12/higher education including curriculum development publications, international speaking, media literacy, and micro-learning video production. Currently, she is a Learning Architect and inspirational speaker working on various projects in higher education. She likes being known for inspiring teams with a fun practical approach.

In This Episode

EpisodeTranscript

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’m 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. In this episode, I continue my interview with Janet Lee. So we got as far as your first job.

JANET
And when and all I have to say about that, I’m starting to talk like Forrest Gump, but all I have to say about that is when COVID happened, that was transformative for us because we went into like crisis mode at work. I got to come home and work from home, which was brilliant, and I got to work with the faculty who were really, really scared. The ones who were face to face forever teachers. And all of a sudden, overnight, they had to have their content online. And we had different personalities on our team. People approaching this differently really had a lot of empathy for these people. But we stayed up really super late every night working with faculty. I had a lot of people who didn’t know how to even check their email and they didn’t know how to answer a Facetime phone call. So I had a lot of phone calls with people’s ear canals and like, Can you put your arm out John, so I can see your face? Because this is a video conversation. A lot of issues there, but it taught me that I could do everything from home and I could really excel this way. But at the same time, I started getting approached by different companies because they were seeing me on LinkedIn. Now, LinkedIn is a great place to advertise yourself and to get a feel for what other people are doing and to create a following. I started a series called Face to Face Forever. Every single morning, I challenged myself to write about 400 words and put a picture and brand it for my Face to Face Forever series. Now the target is people like John who were answering their phone with up to their ear, these people. But he was a brilliant professor. If I talk to him about greeting his students at the door, he could tell me everything about it. So what I ended up doing was right, this writing this series in the language of a face to face instructor. So I’d say, remember how you used to greet students at your door? Let’s talk about your welcome video. This is the same way to welcome your students. Remember how you used to have conferences with students and talk to them about their work? Here’s how to create a video this way. Here’s how to create a clear navigational path. When you think about because a lot of my instructors are just throwing stuff on the LMS and in no order, I would say to them, What if you said to a student, Come look at my filing cabinet. Here you go. You would never invite students to just rifle through your stuff. You have to put it in an order. And all of a sudden they go. So my Face to Face Forever series turned into, I don’t know, 60 mornings that I did this during COVID. It really was a lifeline for me and for other people to kind of relax, like you deserve a badge and a medal for getting through this. Let’s approach online learning through that face to face forever lens. And that’s one of my one of my talents is I can talk about that extensive experience I had in the past and how I was a little skeptical going online, wondering will this be as effective? And I’ve learned ways that the face to face world translates and makes sense, so to speak, that language is a big deal and that’s part of instructional design, is knowing how to talk to people. I ended up getting contacted by Tech Smith. I did some presentations for them talking about these practical things and talking about my templates, and I also got approached by Innovative Educators and those people are so cool because I can get on there and just be me and I’m not affiliated with anybody. I can just say, All right, this is what I really feel and this is how to get around that. Here’s some practical strategies that do belong to me, but take them and use them. So on my website there’s like a tab that is for free resources and I hope people will come and do that and also ask for help. I always want to have a place where instructors feel comfortable asking for help. And not just instructors, but a lot of deans are being tasked with judging online courses when they don’t even know what it should look like. So if you’re a dean of the university or a college and you don’t know about online learning, it’s very embarrassing to ask for help. We had a lot of anonymous people calling us up going, okay, we don’t I don’t know what this should look like. So we created a training that matches up with all of their deliverables. So if they’re looking for a certain thing in an instructor’s course, there’s an example of what it could look like so that Dean can just like super, super quickly do a just in time training for themselves to see what it is they’re looking for. It’s important to reveal these canvases to people because Canvas is so funny, because it’s a blank canvas. That name is. So it resonates with me because you look at it and it’s easy to get stuck in writer’s block in front of a blank page. And that’s what a lot of people feel. We need examples and we need we really need to help people through that and make them feel capable because we are capable. We just don’t know this medium. But so when they wanted me to go back to the office, I thought I knew it was coming. And I was having tremendous anxiety about going back and risking my life, being around other people and just I have a mom who I protect fiercely. I just didn’t want anything bad to happen with COVID. So I started to look for another work, for another job. And I was hired by Learning Mate to be a contractor and then eventually through a friend. Learning Mate, I found iDesign. And iDesign. It’s just been a really great experience. Not easy, but great because, you know, I don’t know everything there is to know. I have. I don’t have time to learn all the things. And when they come up and I get a review that the first review I got back for one of the courses I made, this is embarrassing. 19 pages of queries from the editor. What about this? What about this? What about this? And when I received it back, I did not have time built in my schedule to fix all the things they said were a problem. Now I’m a writer. I’m a presenter. I’m an English teacher. How embarrassing to get back issues. But so I thought to myself, Arnie used to say to me, You just sit down. It’s just like fishing. You got your line all tangled up. You sit down and you untangle it. So when these queries came back to me, I just went through them one at a time until I was done. And it was many hours and a couple of tears and embarrassment because you want to be perfect, but you’ll never be perfect right out of the gate. You know what you’re doing. Just learn. But notice your progression. So I would write down, okay, this week I learned this. I didn’t know this before, and now I know it. And moving forward, I will continue to know it. I didn’t realize there was an exemplar I could look at. I was just winging it. Now I have the exemplar right on my desktop. I didn’t realize I was disorganized, but now I have all my projects and folders specifically. Like they’re even. Like I start a folder and I put it on the left side of my screen and then I move it to the middle when it’s halfway done. And then I literally move it to my hard drive, my external hard drive. That’s how I do it. There’s just these little things that you could never know out of the gate. You have to be kind to yourself. But here’s the other thing. If a role doesn’t work for you, for instance, I tried being a project manager. They said, do this. So I started doing it. I was miserable. I am not good at doing that. I mean, I could have learned, I could have kept going. But how do I want to spend my days? How do I want to spend my hours? I want to inspire faculty. I want to work with people who think it can’t be done. I want to do some video stuff, but mostly I want to be a learning architect and that’s what I want. If they give you a role and you’re like, This is not me and I’m unhappy. This is the time in your life right now where you can choose again. And so I just said, look, I’m not good at this. Can we can I do something different? And this company iDesign, they said to me, All right, what is it that you want to do and what are your goals? And we will help you. Now I’m a learning architect and I’m so proud of it. I’m just I put it on my LinkedIn. This is the best thing ever. I love my title and I love it. I get to do all of the things that I’ve done for my entire life have amounted to this fabulous. Mixture of income streams that I have now. If I lose one of these gigs I’ve learned so much and I’ve gained, I feel like I’ve grown that I could replace a gig without going under. I’ve got my Airbnb happening, my tours I’m teaching, and I would say always try and keep teaching because you need that credibility piece. It’s important, no matter how hard it is to do, keep teaching and then my iDesign stuff in my actually I present for innovative educators so I’ve got a lot of things happening and going on. So my days are wild and long, but they go by quickly because I’m so involved and excited. But if one goes away, it’s okay. Because really you are what your marketing and these places want a forward thinking person. What we really need to teach students these days. Master’s students are in instructional design is to be a learner. And to not let it toss you away. There were many times in the last four months where I thought, I can’t do this. And I’m like, outside, I can’t. And my partner’s like, No, no, no, just let’s talk it out. Let’s just maybe you’re tired. I said, let’s go to sleep for a while, and at two in the morning, I could get up again and come out here and work. And that’s the beauty of working remotely. Any time I want to work, I just turn my time card on and I’m working its beautiful. I’m super honest about my time. I use and and I try and do things quickly and I try and learn quickly. I have great people around me and it’s all because I picked. I chose different things throughout my career because other things stopped working for me. Don’t let your career get stale. Really open yourself to other ways that you can contribute. And all these things. Go back to that little girl in her bedroom teaching invisible students. I was really trying to help me. I was trying to help inspire myself. And if you don’t feel inspired, choose again, make a plan, and then just take those steps and ask for help. That’s the other thing. Like, you know me now. Rebecca Yeah. Just because you can hear us. Ask for help, ask, reach out. Don’t suffer by yourself, but also be really super clear. I have a vision board. I don’t know if you ever heard of that before. I have this great bulletin board that I’ve had all my life since I was in my twenties. And I put on that bulletin board what it is I want. And I put pictures up and I put I even put once that I wanted to have an interview with eight people on the panel and they all eight people thought I was awesome. And that happened. That happened at HCC when I went for my interview, nine people on a panel and each and every one of them became my friends at the end, like we were all perfect together. And you envision what it looks like to inspire one and that one ends up being yourself. And it’s I got to tell you, I wish that I had done it earlier, but I wasn’t ready until now. You know, when it’s time and then go do it.

REBECCA
You’re a learning architect now at iDesign as one of your many positions. So how do you describe what you do?

JANET
It’s really social. So you have to connect with people. You have to be prepared and you have to match the energy of whoever it is you’re working with. When I meet with new faculty, I have to figure out what they’re passionate about and you have to do it remotely. So that’s really interesting. Building courses. I do that too. So a lot of times my subject matter expert will get me just so far, and then I’ll say, okay, by the next time we meet, I’ll have these documents created and I’ll have this filled in for you. I’m putting the rungs of their ladder close enough together so they can get to the end. A lot of times people will get like a stalemate. They’ll stop and feel stuck. That’s where I come in and I try and make it look easy. So in the background, maybe I’m super late at night or I’m trying to think of a new way to ask them a question. But I’m always building a relationship with them, so they want to come back. If people feel like they can’t do it, they won’t meet with you and you will not meet your goals. You have specific deadlines that you have got to meet. And to me, like I always meet my deadlines and I don’t care what it takes to do that. And I’m pretty flexible with my time. I don’t have kids, I just have two dogs. I will work around the clock if I have to meet a deadline, but it’s all about making that client feel like they did and like what they have is a good product in the end. I love it. I love my work.

REBECCA
What are your typical tasks in a day.

JANET
I start my day. I’ll start with a journal. So I always keep a journal to center myself and to breathe before I start. It’s really easy to just jump into anything, but I journal first and then I make a list of all the priorities I have that day, and that list helps me to prioritize, as I said. But also I like crossing things off as they’re done. It’s very satisfying. I have meetings with faculty and with their deans to go over work that I’ve done with them. We do quality reviews of the things and then we go through item by item and it can be brutal. One time I had to sage my office after one of those meetings. They were so like negative. I was like, Wow, but you know, you come back again and you built that relationship. I meet with our internal teams and we track all our progress on smart sheets. Smart sheets can be really overwhelming, but if you just take your time and untangle it and look at one line at a time and your deadlines, you can make that happen. You use your calendar big time. You just got to keep your eye on where you are, what you need to get to, and what needs to be turned in. I create documents to those specifications set by each partner so each client is different with what they want. Sometimes we have clients that are super divas and they want every single thing perfect as they should. But one time we had a conversation about an exclamation mark that lasted 25 minutes about whether or not we should put an exclamation point in a paragraph. And I swear, when we ended up deleting that exclamation point, a fairy died somewhere. These are the conversations. So I try and steer away from those and help people get beyond these tiny little minutiae like tiny things. Because I think I just wasted 5 minutes on this. And I really my point is to help the student. In the end, it really is. I sound like a huge nerd, but that is my main point. I think about that student who’s about to walk away because they’re not engaged or because they’re they feel like they can’t. And I try and build a ladder for them through my work. In keeping your eye on the student is a really good way to stay human.

REBECCA
What types of projects do you find fun?

JANET
I like projects where there’s a challenge and people don’t feel connected anymore. I like it when people show up and I can tell they’re burned out. When I start to talk about them, about what they care about and I can see the spark returned to their eyes. Those are the projects I love to do. I’d like to change the system from my point of view. I like to look at this broken down thing that’s not working and say All right, let’s bring some life into it. Let’s think about how to. Why do we have to do what we’ve always done? Why can’t we think of something completely different and not throw everything out, but just breathe air into content and make it current and show students that what we do applies to things in their lives other than just this moment. You’re sitting in front of the computer.

REBECCA
What would you describe your niche to be?

JANET
I guess I’m really good at the video production piece. I can I can make anybody a one take wonder, meaning you can sit down with me for a half hour and by the end of recorded a microlearning lecture you did once. And we’re done. Once I get them through once, then faculty know, they know my structure and they can go away and do it. And I’ve been testing that out a lot because I want people to feel capable. My struggle with that, though, is many people who hire you to do video work just want you. They just say what tool do you use? Are you using Camtasia using Final Cut. What is your production tool? You know what? That’s not what I’m about. I can make a beautiful video for you. I can do an intro now. Sure, I can fly stuff in. I can make it real snazzy. But my main point is helping the faculty feel capable of making a video in the first try. It’s that it’s the training piece that I love so much, and it’s hard to convince people that that’s the most important thing in video design.

REBECCA
That’s interesting. If you want a guinea pig, I’m there.

JANET
Oh, hey, I’d love to do that. Let’s like, let’s challenge each other and we’ll see how it goes. I’d love to do that with you.

REBECCA
Yeah, that would be lots of fun. What are the biggest challenges you face?

JANET
I have trouble learning everybody’s procedure and getting my head around it and walking in, not knowing that procedure and learning it as I go without looking. I don’t know what I’m doing because in a lot of cases you can’t do your homework because there’s no homework to do. You just have to show up and learn the procedures and do these things. This particular nuances that are difficult for my brain. People have ways of organizing folders on SharePoint and you go in there and you’re like, I just don’t know where everything is because this is not my brain that designed this. So I’m going to learn the way you see it so I can navigate myself through what’s here. It that that’s what I find challenging. I love working with people and I love all of the things that I get to learn, but it’s just the nuances and making sure I’m hitting the target of the client. That can be difficult.

REBECCA
What skills do you find most useful?

JANET
Like I said, social skills. In the end, it’s about connecting with people. We work with experts in their field, those people who are super passionate and they know their stuff. Being personable adds confidence to their work. And then when the subject matter experts have confidence in you and trust you, then they can be brilliant and they are brilliant. You just have to find out where that is and then focus it in. There’s a vulnerability that exists when you work with technology because nobody knows everything and it’s our job to provide that ladder. I think for SMEs to climb. You got to put the rungs close enough together so they can get there. Slowly but surely you need to build the ladder so that they feel like it’s easy and that’s something that’s important to know how to do.

REBECCA
I like the visual of the latter. That’s a neat way of explaining it. What do you wish you had learned sooner?

JANET
Just to have trust that you can build a life with instructional design that doesn’t look like anybody else’s life. My life is totally various. I have a million streams coming in. If I’d known that, then I would maybe have had the courage to step out sooner. It took COVID for me to go right. Maybe I can get health care a different way. I’ve got a Canadian background now. Health care is not really an issue in Canada, whereas in the US you have to think about how you’re going to look after yourself. And I’m a single person now and I have to be responsible. Having the, knowing that having those different streams and that people will come to you in instructional design once they know you exist, they’ll come to you based on what you’re good at. What a liberating thing to know that it doesn’t have to look like everybody else. I don’t have to be at a university. I don’t need to be in a box. I can make my own decorated box that kind of looks like my bedroom when I was a kid. I wish I knew that sooner.

REBECCA
I could say that when I got laid off, one of the biggest things that I learned, that was when I started working from home. And that’s actually when I started my career in instructional design. I started working for a consulting company and they were about a 20, 25 minute drive away. And I worked predominantly from home. I went to the office a couple of times a week sometimes, but I discovered the freedom of working from home. I went into offices a couple of times for a couple of years after that, but I’ve never been happier than when I’ve worked from home, predominantly from home and productive.

JANET
Very productive. Yes. And you don’t have to tell anybody if your dog needs to go to the vet. You just click off your time card and take your dog to the vet.

REBECCA
I’m a Canadian, so for me and it’s a beautiful day out.

JANET
I’m going to go to a hockey in the street with the ice.

REBECCA
I’m going to take advantage of the beautiful day because when the weather is really crappy, I can spend all day inside working and so I can take advantage of that because I have that flexibility. But I also need to make sure I’m meeting my deadlines. What advice would you give to new instructional designers?

JANET
Just to always ask for help. Reach out to the people you admire. Be careful who you ask, though. I mean it is the case that if you’re asking a million times over the same person these questions, you could just Google. Google is also a place to ask for help. That’s the biggest secret of all instructional designers. I shouldn’t be telling you this. I could be in big trouble for telling you Google is a big deal. If you don’t know this, I’m going to go figure it out. Give yourself. I’ll set a timer. Like, I’ll be like, all right, 10 minutes, and I’m going to go see if I can find the answer on Google before I reach out. Or I’m going to look really close on this page. I’m going to look back in my emails and I’m going to try and find the the answer, and then I’ll ask. But when you’re just trying to get your career together, ask for people’s advice, get on LinkedIn, connect with people, but do so in a purposeful way. Find those people who are inspiring to you and connect. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s humbling, but ask that on LinkedIn. The other thing I would say is look at what people are talking about. And then what I do is I challenge myself. So I’ll look at a question that Will Richardson has, and then I’ll go and I’ll try to answer it myself. And a lot of times I’ll come up with a really creative new project, and then I’ll come back on LinkedIn with the answer to the question with a creative new project that I’m thinking about, and all of a sudden my credibility goes up. People start listening to me more and connecting with me, and that’s really gratifying for me. Think about let’s see, instructional design can be anything. It’s the way I choose the colors in my Airbnb. It’s the way I communicate with students when they reach out to me. It’s how I put together my tour of art and it’s even what I wear when I go outside. Instructional design is purposeful progression through any challenge. Doesn’t have to look the same for everybody. And isn’t that magical? I like the way you just said that.

REBECCA
Purposeful progression through any challenge. Yes, that’s a useful quote. I like that.

JANET
All the things we do and create matter. Everything we tried. Our treasure trove of knowledge. So I told you that huge story about my getting here. Well, I had to tell you that because it’s a story that was purposeful for me. And everybody has a story. You have to share your stories with each other and that inspires other people to think they, too matter and everything matter. It’s. It matters. It’s never too late to choose again.

REBECCA
Mm hmm. Oh, I like that. What’s your prediction for the future of instructional design?

JANET
That was the hardest that’s the hardest question. I predict that will connect more on a global level. The borders we have will collapse in a way as we reimagine the way it’s always been in education and I think the way it’s always been, we’ll start to go into this new skills based learning. I predict students like me will find ways to express their talents and create a life for themselves through this passionate design work. I hope we never forget Arnie, the learner who doesn’t have access to technology and is therefore left desperately behind. I hope we find ways to include everyone in our journey and always challenge ourselves to be critical global thinkers.

REBECCA
Thank you very much, Janet. This has been an amazing conversation. I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you.

JANET
I enjoyed chatting with you. I hope we get to work together.

REBECCA
You’ve been listening to Demystifying Instructional Design, a podcast where I interview instructional designers about what they do. I’m Rebecca Hogue, you’re 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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