I attended an interesting professional development session this afternoon. Offered through the university’s teaching and learning center, the session involved two online teachers showcasing the design and organization of their virtual classroom spaces. One of the presenters who has been teaching online for years discussed how he organizes his class primarily to manage due dates and to communicate classroom expectations. Another presenter with an art and design background explained that he looks at his online classroom space from a very different perspective. When he builds his course, he systematically uses typography and hierarchy to communicate the importance of concepts and to help students focus on the course material and processes that he deems as being the most critical. Hearing the presenters discuss their instructional decision- making and their classroom design, it was clear that their backgrounds and expertise informed their choices.
A few attendees shared other perspectives, however. The session was attended by two of the instructional designers on campus. While both have worked individually with the presenters, their views of the course designs were very different. When they looked at the courses being shared, the instructional designers commented the courses’ ADA compliance and how organization of content helped to support student learning and participation. While these different viewpoints amicably collided in the session, they also offered a more complete picture of the way our students will navigate an online class.
These kinds of conversations are important and need to happen more regularly. Besides helping us improve our online courses by offering peer review, these discussions also help us recognize the “professional vision” shared by our colleagues and offer us new ways to see. The term “professional vision” may be new to some readers. It comes from a 1994 research study in American Anthropologist, where Charles Goodwin examines how beginning archaeologists develop their ways of seeing. Introducing the term “professional vision,” Goodwin writes that it is a “socially organized ways of seeing and understanding events that are answer to the distinctive interests of a particular social group” (p. 606). In his conceptualization, professional vision is a way of seeing that is unique to an individual profession or field. It’s how a police officer can view a crime scene and see evidence that an average citizen would miss. It’s how an archaeologist can look at a patch of discolored mud and see a decayed fence post. It’s how a therapist can examine a patient and identify signs of stress, depression and anxiety.
In Goodwin’s view, one of the critical practices to professional vision is the ability to “articulate graphical representations,” to explicitly examine visual artifacts and apply the theories and ways of knowing that are unique to an individual profession. These “ways of knowing” are learned through participation in communities of practice. Veteran police officers train rookies. Experienced counselors train beginners through practicum sessions. Novice archaeologists study dirt alongside experts in the field who help them learn what to see. Each of our ways of seeing and knowing is distinct to the communities in which we’ve been enculturated and learned.
And that’s what played out in the professional development session today. With the variety of the backgrounds of the people involved, each offered a different professional vision, which informed how they built their own course and how they reviewed the course design of others. Considering these different perspectives, one may wonder, “whose professional vision is valid?” When designing an online course, I think it’s important that we consider multiple points of view and build our classroom spaces to coherently draw on as many as possible. Developing different ways of seeing can help us recognize potential gaps with our design and better attend to the needs of more learners.