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Laura: Hello! Welcome to the Creative ID Podcast. My name is Laura Ramie and I’m your host. This podcast is about Instructional Design - the vast profession involved in creating instruction - whether it’s job aids, in-person trainings or e-learning.
In this podcast, I will be interviewing creatives - artists, designers, animators, videographers — and getting their takes on how the creative process can meld with design for learning.
Today I am joined by Juliet Pusateri, an instructional design professional with experience in fine art and art education. I first met Juliet through the non-profit art education scene in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We met through Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse.
Now I’m happy to welcome Juliet to the show. How about we start - Juliet can you tell us about your background in the arts?
Juliet: Sure, thanks for having me. Happy to be here. So, let me go back and I can say, my undergraduate degree is actually an interdisciplinary degree in art and creative writing. So I did have a formal art training. After that, I worked in experiential learning for children and families at Carnegie Museum of Art for about nine years. And so the audiences I worked with in that role were pre-school age through teens, mainly. And that was all kinds of programming. So that included school programming as well as informal classes - so weekend classes, drop-in programs, family programs, summer camps - all kinds of things.
I also worked as a teaching artist for various Pittsburgh organizations, like I taught painting classes for Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and Sweetwater Center for the Arts, some classes for Falling Water. Work in Exhibitions and different venues in Pittsburgh and my art practice has always been connected with education. After working for the museum, I then worked in an early childhood context at the Cyert Center for Early Education, which is a preschool and also it’s younger than that. Its starts with infants. Its ages 12 weeks through kindergarten. And the pedagogy of the school is that they studied the Reggio Emilia approach, which as a pedagogy has core component of the atelier - or the studio. So my role there, I got to still be in a studio context and it was using materials and teaching materials proficiency with those young ages. So I say teaching materials proficiency, but the pedagogy was more like - my role was to be like the one who’s asking questions - the one who is challenging, the one who is provoking. So you would create experiences or environments that in themselves encourage deeper thinking or using materials in different ways, or kind of advancing what their understanding might be of these materials and with one another, too. So in that sense I felt like those ages - you know infants and toddlers, are the best conceptual artists. Because everything is sensory and everything is something that you experience or express with your body. There isn’t really a distinction between two dimensional, three dimensional, installation - it’s just like all your live experience.
Anyway, and then while I was doing that I was also doing a Masters Program in Educational Technology and Learning Sciences.
Laura: As an aside, this program that Juliet refers to is the Masters of Educational Technology and Applied Learning Science at CMU (also called METALS for short).
Juliet: Part of that Masters Program and outside of that, I did some additional educational technology projects. Like for example, I worked with Pittsburgh Glass Center to create a hybrid glass blowing curriculum. So that was for beginner glass blowing classes, so we made that a hybrid class.
Laura: So by “hybrid,” you had some virtual elements and some in-person elements?
Juliet: Right, so beginner glass blowing is a class that the glass center has offered and already offered for years. What I worked on with them is creating an online component. So the students have their once-a-week session in person, and obviously there’s a lot of physicality to glass blowing. You’re holding tools and you’re gathering glass out of a 2500 degree furnace. Don’t quote me on the temperature, I don’t know if that’s exactly right. But so there’s a lot of physicality there, but there’s also some learning loss that happens when you’re only doing something once a week. So what I worked on was I interviewed the artists there - the experts. I interviewed students, the novices and did some cognitive task analysis and worked with them over several semesters to basically create a class where once in between taking the class in the studio, the students would do the class online and that was meant to help keep some of the concepts fresh so that some of the physical parts - they could focus more on those when practicing in the studio.
Laura: That’s amazing! And what was the age - is that high school or adults?
Juliet: This is a class that is for adults. I’m not sure how young can be to take that class. But what I can say is that most of the participants were either in undergrads in college or adults. So it’s possible that someone younger then college age could enroll, but it was an adult audience.
Laura: Wow. So is that one of your first - well you’ve been doing instruction in education for a long time. Was that one of your first e-learning type experiences?
Juliet: Yeah, it was.
Laura: What tools did you use to make that - the online portion?
Juliet: So, I started working on it when I was part of the Masters program that I was doing, which was through Carnegie Mellon University. And so, because I was in that program, I used the Open Learning Initiative - OLI, which is a platform that CMU - I mean, there’s really a lot of content on there that many universities and just individuals can tap into and use content and modify content for themselves. But it’s an authoring tool.
Laura: Oh my gosh, that sounds amazing. So could I sign up for OLI or do you have to be connected to CMU?
Juliet: You can. So there’s a university portal where if you’re affiliated with CMU you can log in that way, but you could separately. You don’t have to be affiliated.
Laura: That is so cool. Wow! So is your course actively being used still?
Juliet: So what’s interesting is that it was only being used at the time that I was there to help in terms of the administrative side of things to make sure that the teachers knew how to use it and log in. So we used it while I was doing the program and for a couple of semesters. It’s not something they continued on using after I - they had agreed to partner with me on this and we did for that for a set amount of time. They didn’t continue using it however then during the pandemic suddenly they couldn’t have in-person classes and they reached out to me to see if we could reopen it, especially for the students who had been in class and then suddenly they couldn’t finish their semester. So we had actually opened another section of it to allow those students to - I mean it wasn’t the same obviously, and it wasn’t used totally as intended where it was interleaved with the in person classes, but it was still able to give those students some content to keep going with it from home.
Laura: That’s such a good idea. I love the thought that by doing the online context-building, that it alleviates the cognitive load of when you are learning the physical skills and you don’t have to think about all of the background knowledge as much, or you don’t have to learn it right there and then. So that was also a different experience with adult learners, and all of your prior experience was mostly with very young children and families. How was that jump from the age of your learners?
Juliet: You know, I guess it’s a different way of designing. With adults, you sort of have this baseline of what their skills are going to be as far as they can read instructions and comprehend them. If you thinking of an early childhood audience or an elementary audience, or a middle or high school audience, there’s some question of what’s the right level of vocabulary. How much text you are including and that kind of thing. In some ways its much easier with adults because you don’t have to back up in that way to think about what they are seeing. But I really enjoyed that project with the hybrid curriculum.
Laura: So after your Masters program, you started working in instructional design?
Juliet: Yes.
Laura: What was that transition like?
Juliet: Yeah, so that led to many wonderful things. One was actually a kind of research direction into game design - which I know we’re not talking about in here so I won’t -
Laura: That could be a whole other episode.
Juliet: [Laughs] That could be a separate thing. But I had taken a class in transformational game design and then it was one of those things where a project from the class became an independent study and then the independent study became another independent study and it became a research paper and so that was a separate avenue that came out of this.
So then coming out of the Masters program I took a full-time position as an instructional designer in a large, global organization where I work remotely as part of a global learning team.
Laura: Wow. So what does that tend to look like - what do your general job duties look like?
Juliet: Yeah, so something that is possibly unique is that my role is quite narrow in the sense that I am really responsible for the learning design. And when I say that, what I mean is that I’m not actually doing any project management tasks. I’m not doing any kind of graphic design or UX design or development. I’m really only responsible for the learning design. So what that means is that I’m very close to the content and I’m working closely with the subject matter experts and visioning what the outcomes will be- sort of working through a backwards design process to start from what are the goals, what are the learning objectives? What are the desired behaviors that are going to come out of this? And then building assessments, practice and instruction backward from there.
Laura: Amazing. Ok, so would you say that it’s more of what you’re doing is the front end of the process - like it does all sound like pure instructional design. Right? You are conducting the interviews and deciding how the content will be arranged for the learners, right?
Juliet: Yeah, definitely.
Laura: So are you able to use your creativity from your arts background in your present work?
Juliet: Yes, for sure. So the way that it’s creative - so I already mentioned I’m not doing graphic design, so it’s not creative in the sense that I’m creating something visual. There are visual elements, but typically the actual design of a facilitator’s slide deck or the design of a job aid or something - that’s going to be done by others, not by me. But it’s creative in the sense that I’m taking a problem space - or theres some gaps, or there’s something that needs to happen - and I am thinking creatively about how to solve that. Or how to design learning that will address that. So in a sense like what artists do, you have to envision something that doesn’t exist yet. So in that sense, it is creative. And it’s also creative in the sense of iteration. I think artists would be familiar with how a lot of times you will have an idea and you will be making something again and again or even working over top of something you did before. Or even the ideas need to like cycle over and over again to become more solid or refined. So there’s a lot of iteration in the process as well. You sort of have this understanding that the first try is not going to be the final, so it’s less pressure on that.
Laura: Yeah. Ah, that reminds me of creating art and that process of sketching - gathering your reference materials, or gathering inspiration or your ideas are percolating. And then you start really rough sketching and then gradually they get more refined and tighter and then you have a product - that is - is it ever finished? I don’t know.
Juliet: Yeah, that’s a great comparison. Because you can always keep improving it. In some ways it’s hard to move on to the next project - well, can we make this one better?
Laura: Do you find that you are always wanting more time? Or is it easy to call it when it’s ready to ship?
Juliet: No, that’s true. I do. I think it’s part of my temperament - my preference is to get things right than to get things done. But from a successful work perspective, I am able to see that tendency and to put some limitations on there. I have to complete this by whatever time - so the point that I can get it to in that time is the right decision. So it’s definitely my tendency is to want to keep working indefinitely on everything, but it’s just unrealistic. [Laughs]
Laura: Yeah, definitely, so it’s deadline driven. [Laughs]
Juliet: Yeah, so I think another piece is knowing that that iterative process is built in. So it’s also like - wherever we are, we are at this stage. So maybe a design document is currently being reviewed by someone else and I have an idea - oh, this would be better if we did it this way - I can propose that as the design moves forward in the next cycle. So it’s not so rigid that there’s only one time to revisit things. Like learning objectives get further refined as the project moves along, for example.
Laura: What is it like at the end of a project when you’re getting feedback?
Juliet: Yeah, it is satisfying - it definitely is. I think getting something like learner surveys - it’s still obviously satisfying because you can still read comments and also you can see a broader picture because there’s obviously more data behind what the overall responses were to things. But when there’s feedback, let’s say from a virtual classroom or even pre-pandemic, a physical classroom. And right there in the class you can really observe how it’s going for the learners or you can debrief with the facilitators afterward and hear from them too, how successful it felt. It’s more anecdotal because you’re not seeing that big picture, but it’s also a nice way to see the outcome.
Laura: So, do you find that you can still find time for other creative outlets?
Juliet: [Laughs] Yeah, so I haven’t been making things recently. I need get back to it because I feel like it’s not something I can fully move on from, nor would I want to. But my husband and I have a son, he is nearly eighteen months old now.
Laura: Congratulations!
Juliet: I think part of, I think having a little baby/now toddler has also contributed to the fact that I have not been making things.
Laura: Yes!
Juliet: But I do use materials a lot with him. And I mentioned there is creativity in my job. I still intend to get back into a making practice, but I’m not pressuring myself with putting in the time to.
Laura: How did you make that decision to enroll in that Masters program and follow the instructional design or educational technology path?
Juliet: Yeah, that’s a good question. So in the jobs I had had, I was working in different kinds of educational settings - you know informal settings. I did go into schools sometimes but I was more drawn to those spaces where you could be more experimental and I was interested in different educational pedagogies like I was mentioning briefly the Reggio Emilia approach with the Early Childhood program I was involved with.
I really could tell that technology is increasingly a part of how we understand the world and how we take in content. And there’s a lot of things that are badly done. [laughs] So it would be nice to contribute to things that are well done. And I also had a friend and co-worker who - she and I worked together in various contexts over time. She had gone through the METALS program and so I was familiar first-hand with her experience and I had gone to some info sessions and was thinking about graduate school in general and was just very impressed with even their approach to being a graduate student was flexible and realistic. So I could do the program part-time so I would still be working full-time. So I think it was just - I was thinking about what does educational technology - what can it mean? How does it happen? What do we know about how that can happen in the right way?
Laura: Yeah, I also agree that I got interested in this field because of bad trainings. Which, is - I feel like this could be better.
So for my next question, I want to ask: do you have favorite technology tools you use in instructional design?
Juliet: You know, I don’t actually because I would say that it varies a lot by project. And also because I’m not generally using authoring tools. A lot of times the kind of documents I’m working on are more like mapping type documents, or even just a synthesis. Like I’m interviewing and I’m synthesizing that in a written form. So, but I do sometimes. Like I’ve used Articulate Storyline and other Articulate tools like Rise 360.
Laura: Yeah, those are fun.
Juliet: Yeah, and then I mentioned that I also used the Open Learning Initiative, the OLI tool.
Laura: Yeah. That sounds fantastic. What’s your interviewing process like? If you are interviewing your subject matter experts or your learners or anyone else you need to interview? Are you recording them and then writing about it later? Or are you just taking notes while you are interviewing? How do you capture what you get from an interview?
Juliet: Yeah. So, I’ve used different formats for interviewing. I would say you generally need some way beyond yourself to help capture that. Because if you are trying to be the interviewer, you’re trying to be in the moment following the conversation, active listening, pressing on areas that are compelling in the moment or redirecting to whatever topics you need to stay on - then it’s hard to also be capturing the download by taking notes. So either recording or having other people present who are there as documenting or observing as well. I would say is pretty key.
Laura: Ok, yeah I bet the strength of your interviewing skills can really help you a lot when you are doing the instructional design, learning design.
Juliet: You also have to be generally curious. Which I feel like is true of people in the education field in general, but maybe is also true of artists in general?
Laura: Yeah!
Juliet: But yeah, you have to go into it with that frame of mind.
Laura: Right, I feel like that’s a good connection between art and instructional design. Being curious - about any subject. There is nothing that is not interesting. You can make art about anything. That curiosity can really help you to make interesting art and also to make compelling learning design.
Juliet: Absolutely.
Laura: But realistically, do you ever have to strategize about keeping interested in the content? Is it ever dull or tedious?
Juliet: Oh yeah, for sure, it is. I just try to use that though to think like - ok, if this is confusing to me - I try to parallel myself to the learner. So it depends. Sometimes you are expecting that your learner is going to have prior knowledge so it’s not always the same as putting myself in that position. But I try to use that to say ok - if it’s feeling tedious or it’s feeling confusing, then what needs to change? How can we address it?
Laura: Ok, so that’s a good indicator.
Ok, so I asked about design tools, or technology tools. Are there theories that you refer to a lot in your practice or is it a real mixed bag depending on the project?
Juliet: Well, I guess that depending on the project I would potentially try to draw upon studies or evidence that is directly related to the topic at hand. So, like, I’m trying to think of what an example might be. So - if growth mindset is included - there was a study that showed that in the experiment the group that had the growth mindset intervention plus some instruction on the science behind Neuroplasticity - like the science behind why this works in your brain - had the best outcomes. And it’s not to say that the growth mindset intervention without that didn’t also have good outcomes. If I’m citing this paper correctly, that was the best performance. So something like that would be something that I would feel I would need to draw upon that existing work if it’s relevant to the topic that doing.
Laura: (aside) This paper called “Mind-set interventions are a scalable treatment for academic underachievement” is linked to in the show notes.
Juliet: But, just as far as leading practices - taking a backwards design approach.
Laura: Is that the model you use most frequently?
Juliet: That is essentially the only model I use.
Laura: Awesome. It’s a model that makes a lot of sense.
Juliet: Also I can’t leave out the Clark and Mayer book - the E-Learning Design and Methods - no, wait. I’m misquoting the title. It’s on my desk. E-Learning and the Science of Instruction.
Laura: Yes! That was one of the texts I read last semester.
Juliet: Yeah, so that I also go back to all the time.
Laura: Oh! Now that we’re talking about books, are there any other books that you like to refer to a lot?
Juliet: Yes. So the Schwartz - The ABCs of How We Learn. There’s the Bain book, What the Best College Teachers Do. How Learning Works. I can send you a list.
Laura: This is great!
Juliet: And also the - this is a paper, but the KLI Framework is also one that I reference often as well.
Laura: Do you have a portfolio website?
Juliet: I don’t. I have a website that’s in progress that doesn’t help because it’s not live.
Laura: Well thanks so much for joining me for this interview, Juliet.
Juliet: Thanks for having me.
Laura: I have come away with some really great parallels between art and learning design, with the emphasis on creativity and the problem-solving space - where both disciplines  have to visualize something that has not been created yet. And you use iteration to get there. You also have shown the importance of user empathy, or empathy for learners when you said you imagined yourself in the learner’s shoes.
So, that’s a wrap, friends! Check out the show notes for resources mentioned in this interview. I’m Laura Ramie, your host. Stay tuned for the next episode of the Creative ID Podcast.
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