Many of us today have to design learning objects and think of ways to support our users remotely. It can be challenging to find balance and to create effective digital instruction programs. In this interview, Ray Pun speaks with Jamie Lin, the Education & Professional Development Manager at Atla, regarding remote work, user experiences, and instructional design!
Ray: Thanks for speaking with us! Due to COVID-19, working from home has been very challenging for everyone. How do you manage your remote schedule?
Jamie: I’m fortunate to have started a remote position with a team that had already been operating as a distributed workforce for several years before the pandemic, so a flexible and supportive structure was already in place. Without an existing framework, it’s much more challenging to suddenly find yourself working from home, as many folks have experienced this year.
My immediate work team lives in different time zones, so we have a group schedule of three hours per day that we know we will all be logged in and available for meetings. Aside from those three hours, our working hours differ, depending on our time zone and whatever’s going on in our lives. For instance, I’m a single parent to a grade-schooler, so I need flexibility throughout the day, especially during a pandemic when school is also happening at home. I prefer to do creative work in the evening, when I will not be disturbed and can focus for hours. And I often collaborate with people in other countries, with meetings in the evening or early morning. My “work” schedule is all over the place.
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I use an online timer, Toggl, to track my hours and a spiral notebook and binder system to track my projects and notes. I have a dedicated work space with two large computer monitors as well as a secondary work area (a standing desk in my living room). Shifting location helps me separate my tasks and reset myself when needed. I also go on regular telewalks with friends and plan to schedule in more daytime outdoor breaks for that vitamin D, especially during the shorter winter months!
I have read articles about remote work that discuss the need for a clear delineation between work hours and personal “off” hours, but for me, that’s neither practical nor preferable. Work is integrated into my life, not kept separate. And while I realize that this isn’t ideal for everyone, it feels fine for me. I don’t see it as an encroachment but a larger supportive structure that lets me fit all of myself into each day. I also want to acknowledge that it is a privilege to be able to work from home with a flexible schedule and that, for many librarians, this isn’t possible.
Ray: Those are such great tips! Your expertise is in user experience and design. What is some advice you have regarding UX, particularly during this time?
Jamie: During this time, everyone is stretched thin. Some people are doing okay, and others are not. There are much larger concerns outside of work. We’re isolated from each other and watching things fall apart that we have no control over. So if we think of all of us as a user group, what do we need? Some people want escape, some want focus, and some want connection, community, and collaboration.
I think this is a great time to do online user research in the form of surveys and polls and Zoom interviews. Online events that engage the whole person and offer opportunities for conversation will have more impact than standard-form educational webinars. And now is a great time for one-on-one Zoom networking! We’re all at home and would probably welcome a short chat with like-minded folks. It stirs my creative energy, anyway. I’ve met many people this year, and while I certainly miss going out for sushi dinners with my local friends, I’ve developed strong working and personal relationships with people I didn’t know well before this year. Like you, Ray!
While this may not seem directly related to UX, I say it is, in the sense that you get outside of your head and your experience, and start to hear and see and learn from others.
Ray: What about remote engagement? Do you have tips for those having to create videos and/or other digital learning objects in instructional design?
Jamie: With all the larger social, political, and health situations going on right now that affect people’s time and attention, remote participation (not to mention engagement) is going to be unpredictable. While online event and webinar registrations are way up, actual attendance fluctuates. I know that I look at my calendar and think, “Do I have the energy to attend this webinar right now? Maybe I’ll just catch the recording later.” We’re all weary, and hoping 2021 will allow us to continue on with our lives. While some people might thrive in an insular time like this, diving into educational opportunities and new projects, I think a lot more people are treading water.
So, engagement for me right now means recognizing and addressing the individual and collective suffering that is occurring, and helping people process it. It means finding ways to leave a smile on people’s faces once the meeting ends and we’re alone again in our homes. The smile isn’t going to be because we’ve learned some new skill. It’ll be because we connected with others, and that we felt, for a moment, like we were part of something larger. And, bonus, maybe we learned a new skill, too. That kind of connection leads to further engagement.
For those creating videos and other multimedia instructional material, it’s vitally important to know why you are making something, why you are choosing a certain format or media, who is going to be using it, and how they will be using it. So, know your user, know your objective. And know what’s reasonable for yourself, too. If you want to develop your skills during this time, that’s wonderful. This kind of work is best learned through iterative practice and can be quite fun if you have the time, energy, and desire. However, if you’re already struggling, give yourself permission to think about how else instructional content might be shared. A concise, outlined Word document or a PowerPoint turned into a PDF will be less challenging and may be a perfectly satisfactory solution.
Jamie Lin is a librarian, educator, and designer with expertise in user-centered design, online accessibility, and using multimedia to create interactive learning experiences. She has worked in corporate research, online higher education, and is currently the Education & Professional Development Manager at Atla, a membership association of librarians and information professionals dedicated to advancing the study of religion and theology.
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