Blog 41

#DeL 16: Anxiety and Security…


By: Andrea C. Valente (Teaching Commons Tutor, PhD Candidate)

DeL 16: Anxiety and Security. You’d probably be thinking that this post would be about American foreign affairs or the political race for the presidential election, eh?  Not quite that; but certainly, it will be a more honest account of my personal impressions of an exciting international conference that I participated in New York City in the month of September 2016.

Being part of a research group at the Teaching Commons, I had the privilege to co-present a workshop session at the conference Designs on eLearning: Anxiety and Security in the Curriculum.  The DeL Conference took place in a stylistic, fashionable building at one of the New School sites, known as ‘University Centre’, located on a vibrant corner of 14th Street and 5th Avenue. The innovative and avant-garde architecture may have inspired DeL organizers to design, disseminate and engage participants in a creative and captivating conference program. First, the opening keynote debate between George Siemens and Joel Towers, moderated by Claire Potter, instigated and inspired the audience with their opposing fervent thoughts on the question of whether or not Art and Design schools were equipping students for the 21st century. Despite the thought provoking and friendly banter, the debaters never digressed from the conference theme ‘Anxiety and Security’ in the curriculum, since high anxiety and low security are often lurking around the everyday of eLearning, be it through the instructors’, learners’ or institutions’ accounts. Next, panels and presentations showcased their projects providing the audience with examples involving experiential eLearning, innovative approaches, reflective pieces and hands-on activities. Our workshop “Teaching in Pjs or Suits – Art and Design Instructors’ Attitudes Toward eLearning” was one of these activity driven sessions. Our group, comprised of educational developers and PhD candidates, was perhaps distinct from the majority of the presenters who held expertise in web and graphic design. In our workshop we aimed to create opportunities for participants to reflect upon their educational practice as eLearning instructors and to share their attitudes, feelings and behaviors with each other. In addressing the theme of the conference, ‘Anxiety and Security’, we relied on our initial research findings based on Art and Design instructors’ attitudes toward eLearning, in which ambivalent reactions of anxiety and excitement emerged.  This research study informed our workshop and provided evidence to support the activities in which our workshop participants engaged and responded to.

From an educational development standpoint, our objective was ‘to make participants think’, or in other words, to get them out of their comfort zone, by questioning the instructor’s role and sense of belonging, as well as, the meaning of authenticity in online environments. Workshop participants’ responses were bold, emotional and honest. One group reported that online instructors usually feel ‘doomed’ because of their students’ lack of interest and poor engagement. Sadly, feeling ‘doomed’ implies that one is eternally condemned, without parole. It falls in a negative mindset that deprives the instructor from making changes in the curriculum: simply paralyzed in thoughts, feelings and action. Worse still, feeling ‘doomed’ makes the instructor believe that eLearning can be a complicated system without solutions. But neither all doomed nor all complicated for our good fortune. During the keynote debate, George Siemens highlighted that eLearning should be based on complex ‘points of engagement’, modelled in a network concept, instead of being grounded in the simplified ‘problem-solution’ paradigm. Hence, that ‘doomed’ instructor may remain in this condition as long as s/he is awaiting for a solution, a false pragmatic concept that cannot keep up with the evolving changes and reconfigurations that are taking place in eLearning and 21st century education. Instead, points of engagement should offer a network of possibilities that are ongoing, dynamic, and in search of innovations. Fortunately, the DeL Conference 2016 provided avenues for eLearning instructors to address this pessimistic attitude by inviting participants to engage, reflect and disseminate their ideas, and above all, offer them resources to challenge themselves and their learners to grow together, either face-to-face or in an online environment.

Finally, I didn’t leave DeL Conference 2016 with simply cookie cutter digital platforms and eLearning ideas in my suitcase; nor did I leave New York City without anxiety and with a sense of security. But I brought with me a reconfigured understanding of the complexity of eLearning and pedagogy and its implications for a 21st century Higher Education. Wondering which emoji face to conclude my post…?


May, N. Popovic, C. Henley, A. Nairn, B. & Valente, A. (2016) Teaching in pjs and suits: Art and design instructor’s attitudes toward eLearning, conference workshop, Designs on eLearning, 21 September.

Siemens, G. Towers, J. & Potter, C. (2016) keynote debate, Designs on eLearning, 21 September.

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