Storytelling, Collaboration, and Squad Goals: an OLC Innovate Experience

A group of professionals sit in a session at OLC Innovate.

By Jess Knott, Learning Design Manager

This April, I had the honor of serving as conference co-chair of the Online Learning Consortium Innovate conference in Nashville, Tennessee. It was a year of hustling data points, human needs, and new ideas. I offered to write a blog post about the experience, and struggled with an outline. How to encapsulate such a major career achievement? That’s when I realized that I should do the most Hub-like thing possible: ask others.

Storytelling is at the heart of both the Hub and the Innovate conference. So, I asked my colleagues who attended with me to share some of their story, in response to the question “what is one thing you learned or saw at OLC Innovate that will make our work better for MSU?” Their answers are below.


Nick Noel – Instructional Designer

I spent a fair amount of my time at the Innovation Installation. While it was sparsely attended, I appreciated the attempt to discuss issues in education in an unconventional way. I think we need to discuss these issues, using methods beyond lectures/workshops/presentations. It also gave me an idea for an event I’d like to organize at some point.

So I think it could make our work better by providing an example how a more artistic endeavor can be used to convey a common issue, outside of the normal areas where art is usually viewed.

I would also say that the kind of roving reporter/news desk idea that Dave was involved in was really amazing. They made their own tv station basically, with just some phones and zoom. It’s something I think every conference should do, that’s how cool I think it was.

Dave Goodrich – Instructional Designer

I encountered something at OLC Innovate that has the potential to make our work dramatically better at MSU, I believe. That is, if we have the guts to do it. Specifically, if I have the guts to put what I learned to action.

Yoga wasn’t a session focus I anticipated stumbling upon in the schedule of a highly reputable educational technology conference, but stick with me, because it is a focus on human health in our line of work that has the potential to be transformative to both learners and educators alike.

I had a chance to interview Janet Smith who is an instructional designer from the University of Arizona who hosted about 9 different yoga related sessions at this year’s conference. It was that conversation that encouraged me to take a leap I hadn’t taken before. I went to a session myself and practice yoga for the first time in a collective and guided setting.


A group of people in professional clothes do yoga at the OLC Innovate Conference.

Photo credit: Dave Goodrich


What would it look like to integrate healthy lifestyle practices such as guided yoga in our work settings? It made me wonder if it has the potential to help put us in a more fluid and “flow” like frame of mind so that we can approach our work in a more centered way rather than a hurried or distracted frame of being. From my experience, our work as educators can often easily be informed by our collective ego or unconsciousness which has destructive consequences for the outcomes of our efforts. On the other hand, every caring and transformative educational experience I have had has always stemmed from an educator who has been centered, conscious and motivated from a healthy frame of being that enabled them to teach from a place of calm and consistent progress rather than hurried and anxious postures that often result in steps backwards.

I don’t know what this might look like for me work of learning design in MSU IT with the Hub, to be honest. My quest is this: what would it look like to find someone who practices and teaches yoga near or around us and invite them to a regular routine in this space to set the tone of the day’s work ahead of us?

Breana Yaklin – Instructional Designer

I learned that we aren’t alone in feeling tensions around the role and identity of instructional designers and that we need to continue this conversation as we think about our work at the Hub. Feeling this tension is apparently a hallmark of the career. Across different institutions there are different titles, different duties, and different responsibilities associated with this role. The structure of the university greatly impacts the parameters of the role, and sometimes the instructional designer has to be an enforcer. As in, IDs are expected to enforce the rules, parameters, and structure of courses with faculty for students. In addition to project manager and consultant, some of the roles I now associate with this job are: enforcer, inspiration, creative consultant, tech support, teacher, communicator, course builder. This gives me more words about what I want from this career. I want to be a source of inspiration and a creative consultant, I want to be a teacher and a communicator. I don’t want to be a course builder or tech support. I don’t want to be an enforcer or project manager, but I don’t think those are inescapable. An UPCEA report shared at my session found that there is a discrepancy between what IDs want to do and what they actually do, and it seemed to resonate with everyone in the room. My parting thought is a question for fellow designers: What is it you want to do as a designer and what are you actually doing? How can we start to bridge the gap?


So, for me, that’s my recap. I learned from my team. I also learned from professionals around the country, about their work and their goals. I got to know some new people, and had the enormous honor to work with my higher ed squad and OLC pals to create something truly spectacular. For more on OLC Innovate 2018, visit the hashtag #OLCInnovate on Twitter. In the meantime, there isn’t enough gratitude in the world for Angela Gunder of the University of Arizona, Kate Sonka from our good old MSU, Ben Scragg from Arizona State, Clark Shah-Nelson of the University of Maryland, John Stewart and Keegan Long-Wheeler from the University of Oklahoma, Tanya Joosten from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee (and my life guru) Christine Hinkley and Katie Fife-Schuster from the OLC and many, many more.