Tasneem: If you know me in any shape or form, I like being transparent and honest – as far as humanly possible. Starting this book project came with many learnings and unlearnings which are important for me and the team to share with you. If you are thinking about starting your own open book, or for authors who want to know more behind the scenes of the book, you are in the right place. I hate to sound clichéd but this book is the perfect example of the stereotypical entrepreneurial philosophy such as “start before you’re ready” or ‘just do it’.
If I am honest, I am not too sure where the idea to create an open book on learning design came from. Perhaps it was a moment of insanity. During 2020, I saw a university email calling for submissions for a UCT teaching grant and I thought ‘why not?’. I often have a desire to start new projects and do new things because I get bored easily– so it wasn’t unlike me to pursue something like this. Although I *really* did not understand how much work it goes into writing a book – let alone a collaborative book. All I knew was that excessive burnout would not stop me from pursuing this project!
I knew it was a project I could not conquer alone. This led to me convincing Shanali Govender to be a co-lead for the book. We both like taking on passion projects we have no time for, so I knew we’d work well together. We had a common desire to create a book that would share learning design practices from local or marginal contexts. Not like your typical research papers, but chapters that channelled the voices of learning designers and educators. When we submitted the grant, this was the educational issue we set out to address:
“The demand for access to flexible, quality education continues to grow. While online education is by no means the “silver bullet” solution, online responses have a role to play in addressing this need. Increasing interest in online education has driven a need for learning design capacity. The shortage of formally trained learning designers and the constraints around staffing push academics to develop learning design competencies and orientations. While there is substantial research on online learning design, there is an opportunity to create a text deliberately oriented to practice. Most online learning design texts are written largely from a global North perspective and pay little attention to the particular constraints and opportunities of online learning in developing world contexts. Thus, there is a desperate need for multimodal textbooks, grounded in commitments to equitable access and success, and framed in reference to the particular challenges of developing world contexts.”
Looking back at it now, I see that we had a strong emphasis on developing world contexts, but that goal had to expand to all contexts that had a perspective that emphasised the marginalised. It has been so interesting to realise that the issues of marginality do not only happen in developing country contexts. They happen pretty much everywhere in different ways. When we reviewed the chapter proposals we realised we had to expand our idea of marginality.
Of course, we all know that creating a book preferably needs (lots of) money. The maximum teaching grant only provided R20 000 in South African money or $1500 US dollars – not nearly enough to cover the expenses of an actual project of this size. But, the money would not stop us. This was a passion project driven by the need to share learning design practices – and that was enough to fuel us. Although I would really encourage that you do find the money if you want to pursue a project like this.
We submitted the proposal for the book in September 2019, with the interim book title “Designing Online Learning: From Constraints to Possibilities”. We had (un)reasonably estimated that our book would be completed by August 2021, a big LOL since it is currently December 2021 and we are only at the peer review process. Also our book is now called “Learning Design Voices”, undeniably, a much much cooler, fitting title.
Shanali and I started meeting to brainstorm the specifics of the book – but we felt something, or rather someone was missing. We needed to turn this duo into a trio and we recruited our final team member, the one and only, Laura Czerniewicz. (Fun story, she actually hired me for the learning design role I am currently in back in March 2015, so she’s one of the reasons I am where I am today. Oh how far we’ve come!) At times when Shanali and I had difficulty making decisions or felt some sort of imposter syndrome, Laura would (gently) nudge us along.
We all had a specific role and purpose that fit perfectly into the puzzle: Laura, a sought-after keynote speaker, experienced researcher, publisher and ex-director of CILT’s teaching and learning unit; Shanali a lecturer, an editor, a PhD student working in staff development and me, the learning designer and self-proclaimed jack of all trades.
The team was set, but now the real work had to start.
Shanali: Although Tas and I share a love of shiny new “to-do’s”, my interest in the book is actually driven by something quite different. I convene an online learning design course and one of the things that we find difficult is helping to get our students to see what it’s like to think and be a learning designer. The course is taught at a post graduate diploma level and we often spend a lot of time looking for materials that make visible the sometimes invisible work of learning designers. We also find it difficult to source materials that reflect our students’ realities. Much design work that is reported on comes from the global North and the perception, at least in the local context, is that the global North is well resourced, has access to good infrastructure and experiences fewer inequalities coming into the education space – all of which are possibly comparatively true but perhaps not absolutely true in the experiences of the people living those lives. So in some ways, this book became, for me, something I felt my students would need.
Laura: When Tasneem and Shanali invited me to join the editorial team for the planned Learning Design Voices book, I was thrilled. During my many years of working with learning designers, I have always been so struck by how unrecognised the work they do is. Learning design is only noticed when it is done badly. What kind of job is that? Success is invisibility! Learning design is so multi-dimensional and complex. It is such an unusual mixture: it requires technical skills, a nuanced understanding of learning and teaching, deep respect for disciplinary knowledge and the ability to work with quirky academics. What attracted me to this project – in addition to working with the inimitable Tasneem and Shanali 🙂 – was the opportunity to provide a platform for the imaginative designs (within constraints) produced by very real human beings living normal messy challenging lives just like everyone else.