Brittany Dillman's Educator Story
This week, we are featuring Brittany Dillman, MAET Graduate Certificate Program Coordinator, within the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Special Education at MSU. Brittany was recognized via iteach.msu.edu's Thank and Educator Initiative! We encourage MSU community members to nominate high-impact Spartan educators (via our Thank an Educator initiative) regularly!
Read more about Brittany’s perspectives below. #iteachmsu's questions are bolded below, followed by their responses!
You were recognized via the Thank an Educator Initiative. In one word, what does being an educator mean to you?
Share with me what this word/quality looks like in your practice?
Being an educator is an act of love. I have always known this, but I don’t think I have always been able to (brave enough or self-secure enough) enact this in ways that I do now.
Have your ideas on this changed over time? if so how?
In previous versions of my educator self, I put content first. Now, I put learners first. This includes checking in with them kindly, sharing myself and my humanity (flaws, quirks, and challenges), and giving them lots of chances. I have learned so much from the work of Lisa Laughman and the MSU Health4U program about emotional wellness to help me make the shift from content first to learners first.
Tell me more about your educational “setting.” This can include, but not limited to departmental affiliations, community connections, co-instructors, and students. (Aka, where do you work?)
I am the Graduate Certificate (GC) Programs Director for the Master of Arts in Educational Technology (MAET) program in the College of Education at MSU. This is my favorite job in my life (so far). In my position, I work very closely with my team to create and maintain curriculum, advise GC students, teach online and hybrid master’s-level courses, support a group of phenomenal adjunct instructors, promote our program and the amazing work of our instructors and learners via social media, recruit students, and anything else that comes up.
What is a challenge you experience in your educator role?
The biggest challenge we face in our program is the increasing prices of MSU tuition and the barriers that cause for potential learners, particularly those learners of color or disability. Our program is phenomenal and students are consistently, incredibly pleased with their experience with us, but the cost is prohibitive for too many learners. In addition to our “assigned duties,” my colleagues and I are looking for grants and other ways we can support our students financially. We haven’t had the success that we want with this, but are continuing to explore big and small ways we can support our learners.
Any particular “solutions” or “best practices” you’ve found that help you support student success at the university despite/in the face of this? What are practices you utilize that help you feel successful as an educator?
I work with an amazing team (program staff and adjunct faculty) and we intentionally focus time and energy on how we work as a team, building our team’s strength, and ways we can improve as a team. This provides the foundation for all of our other work. You’ll notice that most of my answers center around how my team functions because that is what supports me as an educator.
We have a shared mission and vision that we all believe in and buy into. We have it on our website, in our presentations, and on our meeting agendas. We use that to guide us in our decisions. I feel like that sounds a bit cheesy, but it’s true and it really helps!
We believe in and use backward design for course design, and also for program design and decisions to move us forward. So, we make decisions that lead us toward our mission and vision.
Along the way, we make mistakes and so we iterate. One of our instructors emailed me yesterday and wrote, “You are masters of iteration!” We aren’t perfect, but we try to get better.
We rely on each other and our strengths. I bring organization (and spreadsheets!). Other colleagues bring creativity, writing, and networking/connections. We don’t pigeonhole ourselves into these archetypes, but we build off of the best of what we can each bring.
We push each other, question each other, and engage in critical questioning with our ideas. We do this in safe and kind ways, but it helps us all get better when one person asks a question like “have we considered this other way?”
We treat each other, our learners, and instructors, as human beings who are amazing and flawed. We respect each others’ humanity and help when we can. It’s not perfect, but we do our best.
What topics or ideas about teaching and learning would you like to see discussed on the iteach.msu.edu platform? Why do you think this conversation is needed at MSU?
Because my program is educational technology, there is often an assumption that we know everything - all the tools, apps, programs, and all the tricks and shortcuts. We don’t. We ground our program in pedagogy and thoughtful design based on the TPACK Framework (Mishra & Koehler, 2006). I wish all Spartan educators would approach curriculum, design, teaching, instruction, and assessment from a thoughtful, human-centered perspective. How do you design your course to best fit your content, your context, your students, your available technologies, and pedagogies? Then, how do we teach in alignment with this? Then, how do we assess students? Then, how do we improve the whole cycle for the next round? Will specific technologies be a part of this process? Of course! But my wish is that we can keep students at the center of all our work. Two of my favorite MSU events that do this are the Accessible Learning Conference (held in the fall) and the Spring Conference on Teaching, Learning, and Student Success (held in May annually). So, if you are seeking fellow Spartans with this perspective, I recommend starting in those places.
What are you looking forward to (or excited to be a part of) next semester?
My colleagues and I have been taking some Quality Matters courses to learn more about their research, best practices of online education. So, I am excited to use some of my new knowledge this fall with students and experience the impact of some of the design decisions we have made based on our new and improved knowledge.
I haven’t taught, yet, in 2021 (based on my work schedule and some course buyouts) so I am excited to teach this fall. Our program shifted to a program-wide ungrading philosophy and practice in Fall 2020 and I am excited to get “back” into that now that we’ve had a chance to iterate and improve it.
I am looking forward to my children starting school (they just turned 5) and to experience their continued growth and learning...and being a parent of kids who are in school (a new experience for me)
Finally (and maybe most of all) I’m looking forward to fall weather. I know we need to appreciate all of Michigan’s amazing seasons, but fall is my favorite! I look forward to crisp days, colorful leaves, apple cider, donuts, and pumpkin spice flavored everything for the few short weeks it’s with us. I’m so sorry that pumpkin spice has gotten such a bad reputation in the last few years (though pumpkin spice flavored goat cheese does take the trend a smidge too far for even me). So, if there are fellow fall and pumpkin spice lovers out there who want to connect (or talk about pedagogy and teaching), please email me: email@example.com
Don't forget to celebrate individuals you see making a difference in teaching, learning, or student success at MSU with #iteachmsu's Thank an Educator initiative. You might just see them appear in the next feature! Follow the MSU Hub Twitter account to see other great content from the #iteachmsu Commons as well as educators featured every week during #ThankfulThursdays.