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cohorts are like orchestras…

May 31, 2013

lisa hammershaimb

(image courtesy of James Jordan and can be found here.)

cohorts are like terrariums…

May 31, 2013

lisa hammershaimb

(image courtesy of Josh Leo and can be found here.)

cohorts are NOT like marathons…

May 31, 2013

lisa hammershaimb

not cohort

(Image courtesy of Chuddleworth and can be found here.)

being a writer….

May 30, 2013

lisa hammershaimb


In early May I got a very thick (like 600+ packet of course reading materials for my first Athabasca course, 801: Advanced Topics and Issues in Distance Education. I diligently began chipping away at them, keenly aware that: A. the readings probably wouldn’t have much overlap with my not so distance Graphic Design MFA studies and B. everyone in my cohort are probably super-experienced rockstars so if I don’t read like a maniac I’ll sound a complete and utter idiot come August.

The more I read, the more I’m finding that what I’m reading isn’t all that removed from a lot of what happened in my distance ed MFA program. And, the more I communicate with my cohort the more I’m also, pleasantly, surprised to hear that they’re just as riddled with excitement and anxieties as I am and though it sounds bad to say, I could not be more relieved.

There is indeed power in the two words, “Me too.”

…Which brings me to the reading I just recently finished…an excerpt from A Practical Guide to the Qualitative Dissertation by Sari Knopp Bikeln and Ronnie Casella. (I am secretly wondering if this book is subtitled, “Qualitative Dissertation Writing for Dummies.” Though I’ve only read one chapter, it was so practical and grounded and not of the heady-academic one would associate with Doctoral readings. I hope there will be more chapters in the future!) I read Chapter 7, Writing as Work — Getting it Done.

This chapter comes as part of an 801 unit that will be taking a deeper look at the value of the cohort model in education in general and in distance education specifically. The main thrust of the chapter was that it’s way way better to go into the writing process with a support network in place for yourself. Writing is hard, self-questioning work and as a doctoral student you need a very large dose of discipline and persistence to see it through. Writing and being reviewed while in-process is a vital part of your dissertation and though it can be very difficult to both your ego and your confidence, in the end it is much better to get your ideas out and into academic discourse sooner than later. This isn’t all that much different than graphic design in that it’s uncomfortable to get “your babies” out there because it’s inevitable that they’ll be misunderstood, beat up a bit, etc. but in the end it’s so worth it because what we’re doing in both design and in a dissertation is making something that can bring positive change to culture. If we create in a vacuum, the ideas can’t live and only manage to become stunted and self-serving.

So, I found this reading to be interesting because it did frame the whole dissertation writing process as very much in line with what I’ve previously read from writers like Anne Lamott or Donald Miller or Shauna Niequist. When you write, it’s not like the creative muses come and whisper sweet nothings in your ears and you become the scribe. It’s a job and you attend to it like you would any other bit of work and you put in your time (sometimes with happy, pleasant feelings—other times with panicky mind-racing anxiety—still other times with utter blankness) and in the end it works out if you are faithful. The key seems to be to get your work out sooner than later, be passionate about your story but not hold onto any one part of it too tightly, and intentionally surround yourself with a community that won’t let you slip into isolation and self destruction. Admittedly actual dissertation writing all feels like a far distant event but still, I really liked the article for its practical note and for the honestly that seemed to come through and I hope to read more because it does seem a bit like reading this is getting some “insider info” and that is always very helpful indeed.

first. day. of. school.

May 30, 2013

lisa hammershaimb


hello cohort 6…my name is lisa.

May 28, 2013

lisa hammershaimb

Tonight marks my momentous first Athabasca Distance Education EdD session. It’s the first time Cohort 6 will officially meet and me and my far-flung classmates will come together in what will be the first of many many many meetings through the duration of our four year program. I know that these meetings will become as mundane and routine as the own classes that I teach—blurring from one to another until I forget just what happened on any one day or at any one time. And yet this…our first….feels special in so many ways. Not stopping and not taking time to feel every moment and intentionally remember who I am at just this second would be a very regrettable oversight….because this is so super special and for each of us, no small miracle that we’ve made it even to the beginning of the marathon itself! We’re all fresh-eyed and we’re all (or at least I am, but I’d be willing to guess everyone else is as well) that delicious mix of anticipation and fear, expectation and insecurity. So, hello Cohort 6…let’s get this started!!

research goals…

May 20, 2013

lisa hammershaimb

Pixels and Tweed: Teaching Graphic Design in a Distance Education Classroom
Research Goals: Athabasca University, Distance Education EdD Program

Lisa Hammershaimb // January 15, 2013

I propose to study how graphic design distance education instructors best connect with their students to produce transformative learning experiences. The following represent specific questions I plan to address in my research:

  • How do graphic design distance education instructors, many of whom have only been part of the traditional ground school learning model, successfully make the jump from being on-ground instructors to distance education instructors?
  • Do graphic design distance education students, lacking the benefit of the physical presence of an instructor, learn differently from their on-ground peers? If so, what sort of pedagogical and curriculum changes must take place to address these differences?
  • How can graphic design distance education instructors build genuine distance-transcending bonds with their students, creating safe environments and refining the unique creative vision of each student?
  • What can we learn from graphic design distance education pedagogy that can be applied to the distance education teaching of other disciplines that traditionally are taught within a studio-based model?

Why study the best practices in the Graphic Design Distance Education Classroom?
Graphic design as a vocation lends itself to long-distance interaction. Distance education instructors, many of whom are experienced in geographically diverse client interactions, should be the leaders in distance education programs. Unfortunately, there has been very little research done on effective graphic design distance education practice, pedagogy, and instructor training in distance teaching methods; thus, many instructors are not adequately prepared to make the jump from an on-ground studio setting to a distance education classroom. Training instructors to engage more effectively with their students in a distance education setting has the potential to create profound outcomes in graphic design distance education and bring high-quality graphic design education to a whole segment of learners who could not otherwise actualize their design goals.

Research Methods
Through rigorous study of existing literature on instructor presence and connection in a distance education setting, paired with observations in both graphic design distance education and ground school settings, I will study and compare how graphic design distance education instructors and on-ground graphic design instructors connect with their students. I will then formulate best practices for how graphic design distance instructors can be better trained and graphic design curriculum can be better produced to bridge the distance gap.

My Distance Education Background
I have substantial experience on the student end of the graphic design distance education spectrum, having received my MFA in graphic design through the distance education division of the Academy of Art University, a large art school in California. While working on my MFA, I was engaged in a thesis project that allowed me to work one-to-one via video conferencing methods with my thesis advisers, as well as present both my midpoint and final thesis review via video. Though my topic was not related to distance education, the 18 months I spent working on my thesis gave me deep insight into how one communicates via distance methods with an advisor, conducts primary source research, and works independently with a larger-end goal in mind.

I am currently employed as both a department chair with the Graphic Design Distance Education Division of Stevens Henager College in Salt Lake City, Utah and as an adjunct graphic design instructor with The Art Institute Pittsburgh Online Division in Pittsburgh, Pennslyvania. In my current department chair position, I have led faculty training sessions on best practices in asynchronous discussion forums, conducted informal research through my own classes as to how my students best learn and retain information via synchronous live video lectures/asynchronous discussion formats, and written graphic design curriculum to make the learning experience more approachable to distance education students.

As an adjunct instructor, I have conducted informal research in my own classroom around personalizing and bringing the human element back to a completely asynchronous learning experience, developing a personal code of best practices even in the midst of large time-and-space lapses.

In both cases—though students have shown a sharp rise in overall satisfaction, feelings of connection, and ultimately successful completion in the courses I teach—I still see ways in which the curriculum, instructor training, and my teaching practice could be improved. My time in the Distance Education EdD program at Athabasca will give me a solid foundation upon which I can develop resources to improve both curriculum and instructor training and in turn, help others secure an even more successful distance education experience.

here’s the intent of it all…

May 20, 2013

lisa hammershaimb

Statement of Intent: Athabasca University
Distance Education EdD Program
Lisa Hammershaimb // January 15, 2013

I check the clock yet again…one minute until I begin defending my MFA thesis. I take several deep breaths, silently reciting the positive messages I’ve received over the past two years from many of the professors now seated in front of me electronically, through the magic of video conference software. Pass or fail, I know deep inside that I am a better person than when I entered the program four years ago. I have found a place where I fit and am passionate about my own calling. The people to whom I am presenting are both my toughest critics and my fiercest allies. I want to receive a pass on my thesis—but even more, I want to make them proud of the designer I have become, because it was their commitment to my unique potential that transformed me. The clock times out, introductions are made, and I hear my carefully rehearsed words flow by in an almost out-of- body experience. Before I know it, I’m fielding questions and the committee is caucusing while my head is still spinning. And then it’s revealed…the verdict is positive…I’ve passed! The rush of adrenaline is replaced by a rush of joy. I thank them, turn off my web camera, close my computer, take one final deep breath of gratitude, and run up the steps of my studio to the kitchen to tell my awaiting family the good news.

My name is Lisa Hammershaimb. I am one of the first graduates of the graphic design distance education MFA program created by the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. For four years, I attended school from my home in Chicago, working in a blended synchronous/asynchronous learning environment. Though I didn’t meet my instructors or cohort face-to-face until my commencement ceremony, we developed a camaraderie that transcended the distance. Four months after my final thesis defense, I boarded a plane for San Francisco, for graduation, and for the opportunity to finally see the school I’d never physically attended, but where

I’d found myself. The ceremony was surreal and I walked across the stage proudly, accepting my diploma to the cheers of instructors—all of us finally in the same time zone. I left grad school convinced that distance education and the committed instructors who teach via distance learning open amazing doors of opportunity for students, radically changing the lives of those who, otherwise, would have no easy access to higher education. When I began the search for employment after graduation, rather than align myself with a graphic design studio, I turned my attention to graphic design distance education so I could, like my own instructors, become a positive force in the lives of graphic design distance education students.

I currently serve as a department chair in the Graphic Design Distance Education Division of Stevens Henager College in Salt Lake City, Utah. Though I too will probably never meet my students until we both make the trek to their commencement ceremony, I work to ensure that each student feels valued, supported, challenged, and ultimately has the highest quality graphic design education possible.

As a department chair, I am responsible for writing curriculum, mentoring 160 students for their duration in the program, co-managing a staff of 14 full-time and adjunct instructors, and training newly hired graphic design instructors. In addition to my managerial and training responsibilities, I continue to teach a wide range of graphic design classes, holding synchronous lectures several hours per week through the Blackboard Collaborate platform, and staying active in the asynchronous classroom discussion interface. Since I have been with Stevens Henager, we have made significant strides toward bringing greater student engagement in each live lecture session through flipped classrooms, video tutorials targeted to specific design/computer skills, and personalized video critiques. Our student completion and satisfaction rates have risen accordingly, but even more rewarding has been our ability to connect with students on a human level via distance methods, as each student realizes their life-long goal of a college education.

Training new instructors has been catalytic in my own thinking about how students best learn graphic design in a distance education setting—and it is what has drawn me to the Distance Education EdD program through Athabasca. While pursuing my doctorate at Athabasca, I propose to study how graphic design distance education instructors can leverage all the diverse delivery methods of distance education to best connect with their students, producing transformative learning experiences.

Anna Comas-Quinn, an educator with The Open University, writes in Learning to Teach Online or Learning to Become an Online Teacher: An Exploration of Teachers’ Experiences in a Blended Learning Course, “Teachers must be given training that deepens their understanding of the pedagogical possibilities of the online tools available and must construct their own personal understandings of what online teaching is and its unique, compelling value to students.”

Targeted research into distance education pedagogical practice is ongoing, but there is currently no empirical research specific to how graphic design distance education instructors can tap into the “pedagogical possibilities” available in a graphic design classroom. I want to dig into these possibilities, looking specifically at what pedagogical approaches are currently being proposed and practiced in online environments, which aspects of these would best be suited to graphic design distance education teaching, and how distance education instructors can best be trained in these methods.

While a student in the Distance Education EdD program at Athabasca, I will build a deeper understanding of the underlying history and philosophy of distance education. That knowledge, coupled with the terminal degree I hold in graphic design will give me a dynamic knowledge of how graphic design distance education instructors can better connect with and impact their students. A Distance Education EdD from Athabasca will give me credibility in the academic world, ground me in the support of a like-minded cohort, and situate me as a vital force in the world-wide graphic design distance education community.

My experience as both a distance education student and a distance education instructor has given me intimate, empathetic knowledge on both sides of the distance learning spectrum. My experience will be an asset to the Distance Education EdD program because I can add to the body of research on how traditional studio disciplines can be taught effectively via distance education. My own research will bring an as yet-unexplored creative discipline to the program, and the exposure I gain through my findings and publications will reflect positively on Athabasca, positioning it as a leader not only in the sphere of distance and open learning, but also in art and design fields that were once thought to be unteachable in a distance education environment.

In the future, I want both to continue teaching graphic design via distance education and to act as a consultant, partnering with distance education schools to train graphic design distance education instructors in methods they can use to translate their successful ground school teaching practices into the unique setting of a distance education environment. I would also like to work with schools that are pioneering new graphic design distance education programs to ensure their instructors and their curricula are best able to connect with students via distance delivery methods. Finally, I would like to help ground schools that are considering adding online graphic design instruction as a complement to their current on-ground programs, creating effective blended programs that extend the mission of these schools into a distance education environment.

I believe higher education does not need to be limited to the physical setting of a classroom. With my unique set of skills, my own personal education story, and the support of the Distance Education EdD program at Athabasca, I will be an advocate for graphic design distance learners and instructors, ultimately improving the graphic design distance education experience for everyone. I look forward to being part of the program, doing my part to remove the system-level impediments in the graphic design distance education learning process, and joining the dynamic Athabasca distance education community.

small wonders…

May 13, 2013

lisa hammershaimb

“They [miracles in daily life] quietly demand to be noticed, not for their own sake, but for ours because the small wonders in life must ignite our souls if we have any hope of comprehending the large ones.”

-Bryn Clark, All My Roads

In life. In teaching. In students. In the daily mundane.

May we have eyes to see…may our souls be ignited.

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