“She works on learning and technology
in a way that is creative, concrete and quirky”

Reflections on Two Decades and Three Degrees

Jolie Kennedy is my guest blogger. I think you will enjoy her take on her learning experiences. Jolie writes:

Summer 1989: Queens College, City University of New York. Madonna’s Like a Prayer blares on my headphones. It’s my first semester and I’m low man on the totem pole. I get classes no one wants… statistics and ethics. Ugh. College sucks! Stats class is a bust. I struggle with those pesky word problems. I don’t get them and the teacher doesn’t care. I fail stats. I am more interested in learning about Hasidic Jewish culture from my classmate.

I work and pay my own bills. Soon I will get my first credit card. I will graduate with a high GPA, then as Pink Floyd says “get a good job with more pay, and you’re okay.” If I struggle in a class, I drop it. Only a few professors and a few classes surprise me:

  • The politically incorrect professor emeritus who cracks jokes. We read Studs Terkel’s Working. He tells us if we are going to die of embarrassment when he reads our paper to the class, we should go in the hall before we die. He’s irreverent. In contrast to what he says, I think he cares.
  • The young, hot sociology professor who lectures that, “Greed is Good” using a pop culture reference from the movie Wall Street. Few professors turn to pop culture to engage us. I like it.
  • The geology lab with maps and lots of rocks. A difficult professor teaches the classroom section and we learn about plate tectonics. But nothing compares to the moment I see a waterfall pop off a map. Real maps, real rocks, real learning.

Fall 2000: San Diego State University. What the heck is EDTEC? It makes me wonder. I take a few intro courses to find out. Then it happens… maybe it’s my first website or the real checklist job aid that I can use at work. I don’t know, but I’m hooked. I found an oasis and I drink up. I’m soaked in a waterfall of intellectual stimulation from smart, creative people. Grad school is awesome!

Check out the class website, download the syllabus, access the online readings, post an introduction, and contribute to the blog. These are what some call “technology-enhanced” courses. Professors stretch us to see fresh viewpoints, pick up tech skills, and approach wicked problems in novel ways. I flourish. I experience transformational learning in Hypermedia. As Holmes would say, my mind “never regains its original dimensions.” These are peak experiences:

  • Collaborating with classmates. The kind of collaboration that starts with a belly laugh and ends in lifelong friendships.
  • Getting peppered with Socratic questioning and messages about needs assessment prior to committing to solutions.
  • Selecting cool project topics like the STEM education gender gap, a perfect pairing with my study on the characteristics of effective games for girls.

Jolie today

Fall 2011: University of Minnesota Online. It’s a video bonanza! With v-walls and video chats, I’ve got a hat full of hope for a soft focus filter. I’m a seasoned learner by now. As an expert learner I know what works for me. It’s about people, stories, and viewpoints. I dig cognitive dissonance. What I don’t like… electronic textbooks. I’m all for saving trees and I like the search feature, but the digital highlighting, bookmarking, and note taking sucks. I resign to use them anyway in hopes they get better soon.

Online courses are as different as the professors who teach them. Some are boring correspondence courses; others are the polar opposite.

  • Professors are facilitators and co-learners who respect the qualities we bring to the table. Some call this “dignity and democracy” in education.
  • We develop lessons for the class, devise Socratic questions to challenge classmates, and hold each other accountable.
  • We create podcasts on distance learning topics, record videos about helpful Internet resources, and keep reflective journals by blogging.

Fall 2014: Destination Unknown. Jolie Kennedy, Assistant Professor. Maybe. Could happen. Oscar Wilde wrote, “When the gods wish to punish us they answer our prayers.” Right now with a full course load, a graduate assistantship, and a dissertation coming up it’s hard to see beyond today.

When I teach, I hope my students will feel engaged, challenged, and cared about. I hope they will think it’s worth the money. I worry they’ll think I’m a windbag. If I refer to pop culture like Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, will they think I’m trying to bribe them into a “creepy tree house?”

I must confess that all of the hoopla around tech in higher education today sometimes gives me pause. MOOCs, ipad programs, flipped classrooms… Maybe it’s just another way of telling us to perform with fewer resources in a declining economy. I wonder where this will lead. As social animals, will we see more natural lifelong learning networks? As creatures of habit, will we see more of the same impassioned drive towards all things Internet? How will this change the learning experience and outcomes?

After two decades and three degrees, I continue to believe in the technology, the experience and the value that comes from focusing on helping students find their goals and their way. Don’t stop believin. I haven’t.


Jolie Kennedy is an instructional designer who specializes in online learning in higher education. She is also a full-time PhD student in the University of Minnesota Learning Technologies program. She has an MA in Educational Technology from San Diego State University and a BA in Psychology from Queens College, CUNY. Her research interests combine instructional design, interactive narratives, and the affective domain of learning. She tweets @joliekennedy. Here is Jolie’s site: http://joliekennedy.com/


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