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OU’s diversity advocate training program launched

Fri Jul 17, 2020 at 01:01 PM

In e-Learning and Instructional Support at Oakland University, instructional designers help our educators systematically design and develop their courses to provide their students with the most engaging, dynamic and robust online courses.  When it came to expanding the university’s Diversity Advocate Program to include an online platform, Dr. Cynthia Miree, Professor of Management in the School of Business Administration, sought expertise from eLIS’ Senior Instructional Designer Dr. Nic Bongers to ensure that the purpose and approach used in this important training workshop was strengthened and enhanced within the virtual environment.  

Developing Diversity

Miree was named as the university’s Provost Faculty Fellow for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in 2018. Within this role, she supports individual departments and Academic Affairs, as they examine their academic recruiting activities in support of one of OU’s Strategic Goals. That goal is to “set a preeminent standard for maintaining diverse,welcoming and collaborative learning and work environments, as well as celebrate the enlightenment and enrichment that social diversity inspires.”  

“The university was looking for a way to not only develop, but also disseminate, training around unconscious bias and serving as a diversity advocate,” said Miree. She explained that the diversity advocate position on a hiring committee plays a vital role at Oakland University--and that achieving a truly diverse campus requires that faculty and administrators understand the role that unconscious bias can play in each phase of the academic search process.  While there have been other trainings in the past for the chair of the search committee,  this course is specifically designed for faculty who have volunteered to serve as the diversity advocate on an academic search committee.

Miree described a diversity advocate as a voting member of the search committee who supports it in its activities while also ensuring that the committee is able to mitigate the impact of conscious or unconscious biases, such as preferring qualitative research over quantitative research in some academic disciplines.  “Unconscious biases are thoughts or ideas we unknowingly hold about groups but can certainly influence our decision-making.   

While she has conducted the workshop in person, the university wanted this to be something that could be taken by faculty members online, in a self-paced environment.   “At the same time, we need to make sure that those who participate are engaged, motivated and moving along in the process,” said Miree.  “While I knew the material  could be delivered in a way that resonated with the audience in person, partnering with eLIS’ Senior Instructional Designer Dr. Nic Bongers ensured that the online version of the class would have the same pedagogical integrity as face to face.”.   

Combining Expertise

While Miree has taught online courses in the past, Bongers’ multi-discipline experience and expertise in instructional design added a depth she would not have been able to reach on her own.  

Professionally, Nic Bongers is not only an instructional designer, but also is an adjunct faculty member, who teaches graphic design, and runs eLIS’ Quality Online Teaching Certification Courses as well as several workshops. They teamed up to develop an asynchronous eSpace. The collaborative process carried the duo from conception to dissemination. 

“I typically teach students, which is not the same as working with my colleagues.  Student grades and other assessments provide a “natural” motivator for them to remain engaged and learn the material even when they are not inherently inclined to do so.  The Diversity Advocate position is a volunteer service activity for faculty.  At the same time, to be successful in the role, there is a level of training that is necessary.  We wanted faculty to be interested in and motivated to complete the training and also demonstrate that they had better understanding of the material.”   

Additionally, Miree said doing this workshop in person allows her to move at the pace of her audience, respond to feedback and adjust as needed. She wanted to make sure that with an online training, the complexity of the material was easily digested by the user and still encouraged dialogue and discussion. 

Miree said she was able to bring her ideas to the table and Bongers worked with her to design and test a cohesive and efficacious course.  “He embodies a very unique set of skills. We were able to speak to each other in ‘academic-ese.’ If I had only been dealing with an IT person, or someone who doesn’t teach, it may not have turned out this way,” said Miree. She said they had extensive discussion about which tools would be most effective to deliver subject matter and provide assessments while ensuring a smooth flow.   

“Nic has access to and expertise in various instructional design tools and methods to make the process work for all types of learners,” said Miree. In the diversity advocate training eSpace, there are things to read, videos, branching scenarios and other tools to help illustrate ideas and concepts. “It was all about finding the balance between what will drive the points home the best. He would say, ‘you’re the content expert and I’m the design expert.’ We were able to design something that closely patterns what we do face-to-face.”

After nearly two years of work, Miree and Bongers completed the self-paced course.  Those who have tested the course have given it positive reviews. During the 2020 State of Academic Affairs, former Senior Vice President and Provost Jim Lentini called the online training great and hoped it would transform the hiring process. 

This project, in combination with her passion for diversity was a catalyst for Miree to earn a prestigious campus recognition--the Monica E. Emerson Diversity Award.This award recognizes, “engaged in meaningful diversity activities beyond one’s primary responsibilities at the university.”

Enhancing the Project with Instructional Design

“I would highly recommend faculty or people who need to do online workshops, training or move their classes online, work with an instructional designer. It was a transformative process. There is no way I would have been able to do this without Nic as an instructional designer,” said Miree. 

She said Bongers had a clear process from beginning to end. She said they sat down to go over concepts and ideas and then used a framework to build components of the course together. “We would look at the information and say, ‘what’s the best way to communicate and translate this information? What will have the biggest impact?’” said Miree. 

Miree said she felt Bongers was extremely helpful and supportive from the pre-work all the way through launch and testing. 

“Working with Nic was great.  His warmth and expertise had such an impact on me, I asked if he would be willing to meet with a group of my management students, who were trying to develop a training program for a local nonprofit.  He agreed, met with them and talked to them about developing training material. They were so appreciative of his help they used his recommendations to successfully complete the project.  This is yet another example of the level of commitment Nic brought to our collaboration.” said Miree. 

Since this project, the eLIS Instructional Design team has welcomed Jess Tess-Navarro to help support the development of new online courses and programs. To learn more about the services offered by e-Learning and Instructional support, visit the Faculty Development page. There are links to the Self-Paced Online Teaching workshop, the Quality Online Teaching Certification program and also how to book a one-on-one appointment with an instructional designer. Whether it's an interactive learning module, course review, or new course, the eLIS ID team is eager to help you achieve your goals.