What does freedom mean to you? In our family the word “freedom” gets thrown around a lot. My husband is a career Army officer, and not a month goes by without someone thanking him for their freedoms. As an instructional designer, I get thanked quite a bit less (!), but in many ways my job is all about freedom as well. In fact, I came to my career because of the many freedoms it had to offer. As a member of a military family, I was forced to move around for the formative years of my career. By first teaching online and then writing and designing online courses, I was able to build a real career and not be tied to one place. The ability to move at a moment’s notice was a valuable freedom for me for many years.
Now I’m more rooted, but my job is still all about finding ways to offer both professors and students many kinds of freedom. For example, I’ve been working with a long-time faculty member in our criminal justice department at WSU. He would like to be able to travel more, and his wife likes spending time in Florida. Now that he has transitioned to online teaching, he can take his job anywhere and still make a difference in students’ lives. His students also benefit from having these opportunities go online. For those students who simply can’t come to campus because of the distance or the time commitment, online courses provide one of the only real opportunities for them to improve their education and perhaps their life situations.
But the freedoms we can offer as instructional designers go well beyond simply helping to put courses online. We can also help professors think through important issues like, “how to I maintain a sense of presence and engagement while offering assignments that are asynchronous?” “Asynchronicity” is the key to making coursework accessible and manageable for students who need to time shift, and it benefits professors in the same way. But once we make coursework asynchronous, we make it more difficult to build a sense of community and “togetherness” too. One of the main challenges facing instructional design right now is figuring out how to serve both needs at the same time.
That’s the thing about freedom. As a military spouse I hear the phrase “freedom isn’t free” regularly, but I can tell you something else, freedom is also not easy. But by designing to increase freedom for both students and faculty, we can make our classes fit more easily into real people’s lives.