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statement of intent…

April 24, 2015

lisa hammershaimb

Recently a friend who is making a transition asked me if I had any examples of my own teaching philosophy, personal research plan, personal statement of intent, etc. Though I don’t know that I have quite what she was looking for, her request made me think of the documents I’d written for AU and so I dug them up, reviewed them, and passed them along. Reading them was a bit like coming home and though I have much more fancy academic language to describe these ideas, I think the majority of this still is true. Heading into what will be a strategic summer filled with big decisions, it’s good to remember where I came from…where this mission began. What follows after the break is my official statement of intent and my research goals.

Here’s to the new adventure….

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.

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 advisors, 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.

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