May 20, 2013
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.