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Jason Rhode

With a background in educational technology and instructional design, Jason Rhode is a self-described “techie” from way back. Today he partners with faculty members to help them achieve their goals and solve instructional challenges. “Often it involves using digital technology, but the technology is never the end game; it’s a tool to enhance the learning experience,” he said. “Helping faculty to be successful with their students is one of my greatest joys.”

The professional development training and support that the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center provides at Northern Illinois University spans everything from teaching in the classroom all the way to fully online instruction. Over the past few years, the center has been developing its programs so it can offer more individual instruction and help fill in any gaps faculty may have.

“It’s been an evolution,” explained Rhode. “We’ve been striving to provide more competency-based types of opportunities where we identify and look at the specific skills faculty may need and tailor instruction and professional development to where they are at.” 

He said it simply didn’t make sense to have faculty go through all the same experiences. “So we’re leaving it to them to explore what we have to offer. We almost think of it as a concierge type of service where we’re leveraging existing resources. We’re trying to do as much as we can to provide just-in-time and on-demand types of resources, and develop self-paced modules in various professional development topics.”

Both just-in-time and on-demand learning systems essentially deliver training to people when they need it. Rather than sitting through hours of traditional classroom training, users can tap into Web-based tutorials, interactive media and other tools to zero in on the information they need to solve problems, perform specific tasks or quickly update their skills.

“We also developed — what would be covered in a three-hour hands-on workshop — a self-paced online version of the workshop composed of a series of shorter video courses and some instruction,” Rhode said. “We’re looking at how we can create shorter screencasts, interactive types of videos and tutorials. We try to use a lot of open and free types of tools and leverage emerging mobile technology when it comes to interactive experiences.”

The effort has surpassed expectations, according to Rhode. “We ask faculty when they complete training what the impact has been for students six months later. About 90 percent routinely report that the training is relevant and has impacted the way they interact with their students. We’re also seeing on a grander scale that other institutions are linking to our just-in-time and on-demand resources. That’s a great way for us to reach out and share.”

However, with all the success the center is providing, Rhode stressed the need not to get “caught up in the bells and whistles and the flash of the latest and greatest, but to make sure the focus ultimately remains on the teaching for the student experience.” —Lisa Kopochinski