Spotlight on Faculty: Interview with an Instructional Designer

Jenn Kepka with her “co-worker”

Jenn Kepka is an instructional designer at Lane Community College. She is currently teaching “Course Design Introduction,” a learning experience for faculty that delves into research and OSCQR-aligned best practices for backwards design, online support, planning engaging activities, and aligning course goals. The next class begins during Week 3 and runs through Week 8; faculty can receive up to 20 hours at the curriculum development rate for participation. Sign up through this Google Form. Jenn is available for questions at her email:

How did you come up with the idea for the course?

This is built on the back of the excellent Lane Online Teaching Overview that Kevin Steeves, Meredith Keene, and Meggie Wright ran last winter. We needed a course that could be open-ended and flexible, but would also provide faculty with a chance to interact with each other, with an instructional designer, and with content about current research into online pedagogy. The CDI was born from that — and from my own too-online presence as an instructor and educational technology student, combined with 70 to 80 cups of coffee. How can we give everyone an introduction to first steps into online learning?

What approach are you taking to course design?

The CDI is built around principles from major course design models: backward design, outcomes and assessment alignment, and most generally, the social constructivist and connectivist theories of learning. (I mean, we can get started on my radical constructivist ideas, but someone better get me a drink). There’s a little mixture of the adapted Technological-Pedagogical-Content Knowledge model wedged in, too, just because I like to poke at TPACK whenever I get the chance.

What should instructors expect if they take the course?

I’m not kidding about the 20-hour time commitment: I built this like I’d build 2-3 weeks of a graduate seminar for those interested in Instructional Design. Each module has current readings, research-based practice recommendations, a chance for self-reflection about applying these practices in one’s own course, and an applied “planning” section where faculty can start sketching out what a future online course would be like. At the end, I hope everyone leaves with a clearer picture of what quality online teaching can be and a plan for starting to implement new ideas in their own course. Having said that — it’s not about perfection. I change something in my own teaching and design every time a new term starts! It’s part of the fun.

What is the best part of the course?

 For me, it’s getting to hear about others’ amazing plans for their courses. There’s so much creativity in how faculty approach what they teach, and so much passion toward their subjects, that it’s inspiring. Learning to teach online is stressful, but there are so many opportunities now for people to share, connect, and really let their expertise in their subject matter shine! I hope for others some of it is seeing their colleagues are thinking through the same problems they are. There’s a real sense of us all being in this together.

Do you have any time management tips for faculty?

Tip 1: Someone please invent time travel.

Tip 2: I think more about attention management than trying to manage time in 2020, since time seems pretty weird. I pay attention best when I can focus without feeling I’m giving up or neglecting something else, whether it’s other work or family. I set firm off time each day and all weekend, and I communicate honestly about those boundaries with students and colleagues. I also spent a few weeks relentlessly tracking my time and attention so that I could figure out why some days felt so much longer and harder than others (hint: too much Zoom), and now I try to anticipate where I’ll have attention divisions or bottlenecks.

There are a million pieces of tech to help with this. For me, it’s the Forest App (locks my phone when I need to concentrate); disconnecting my work Google account from all but my “work” computer at home; using the schedule-send feature in Gmail if I want to write a message out of hours, so that it’s not really sent until the next work day (so I don’t start checking for a reply later in the evening); and even using a separate browser for work and non-work, so that I don’t get a shiver of dread when I open a new email window.

What do you do to manage stress?

I have to have at least thirty minutes of writing time for myself every day, completely unconnected to work. I buy ridiculous amounts of pens and paper to make lists that I can check off (so satisfying). I also have an 8-year-old co-worker at home these days, and she manages to give me pointed reminders of what’s really important (I’m told it’s cookies and Minecraft).

Thanks, Jenn!