Growing up in the mountains of southern Ohio, Dr. Lisa Jones never imagined she’d be living her dream, getting to work with technology while teaching students about instructional design and using the latest emerging technologies.
Jones began working as the assistant professor of Instructional Design for Asbury University’s Adult & Online students in July 2018, and her journey to Asbury has been long and winding.
Though it surprises even Jones herself, it was partly her Appalachian roots that led her to work in instructional design, a field that has grown in popularity in recent years.
The Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) defines instructional design as “the theory and practice of design, development, utilization, management and evaluation of processes and resources for learning.”
Jones describes it this way: “Let’s say you had to teach me how to write a page of marketing and I know nothing about the skills of marketing,” Jones said. “I’m a learner and there’s a gap between me and that knowledge. In between me and that knowledge is a path to learning it. The instructional designer actually intervenes, usually in a digital space, and creates that path. We figure out where the gap is and then fill that in with content in a way to move you from ‘I don’t know how to do “x”’ to ‘I now have these skills or knowledge.’ The cool part is, most of the time, you get to use technology.”
Jones’ uncle made a living fixing television and radio sets in the early days of television communication. When Jones was around 5 years old, she would visit his shop and experiment with the various tech trinkets there, her uncle encouraging her fascination with the technologies of the day.
“It was never, ‘Oh no, don’t touch that.’ It was very encouraging and supportive, ‘Here is this welder. Experiment with it and take this apart and put it back together,’” Jones said. “That formed me somehow to not be afraid of technology. He made me see the importance and opportunities of science and technology. At 5 years old and on he was coaching me in how to realize the use of the latest technologies. As instructional designers, we are really doing a more advanced version of that now.”
In school, Jones struggled with technical subjects like mathematics and science but loved reading and writing. She’s still an avid reader to this day. Step into her office and it won’t be long before she mentions the books she’s currently reading. However, she notes that her grades in arithmetic and chemistry might have improved had she grown up with the classroom technologies available today.
“If I had the resources that people have now, I would’ve done much better in my undergraduate work,” Jones said. “We now use learning models and their associated technologies for what is called the Flipped Classroom Model. If you’re a student that struggles with math, you can go online anytime and watch videos of an instructor working out the problems through the medium of technology. That would’ve helped me. Some time in graduate school, I came to this epiphany that this is the future, combining technology and education. I just really wanted to be a part of that.”
While working as a high school teacher in Eastern Kentucky and pursuing a degree at a nearby college, Jones began teaching as an adjunct professor at that same college. It was there that she became familiar with classroom technologies such as smartboards and learning management systems during the early days of online education. She learned to design online courses, and began using more emerging technology in the classroom, further igniting a passion that continues today.
As Jones works with Adult & Online students, all of her classes take place online. In her own words, she is “always on.” She finds a particular joy in working with non-traditional students, as she was herself one, having returned to college to pursue higher education after getting married and having children.
“I try to be there when they need me,” Jones said. “I tell my students, jokingly, ‘If you send me an email at 1 a.m., I’ve been known to answer, but don’t count on it.’ The idea that online education is somehow “distant” is not really accurate because students who engage in online courses often have even more access to their professors than in a face to face setting.
Even so, she enjoys taking a step back from her passion of tech every now and then, exploring nature and going on hikes with her husband.
“It’s becoming my new goal to figure out additional ways to unplug and really just connect back to nature, to God, to my family and just realizing that we probably shouldn’t be plugged in as much as we are,” Jones said.
As technology continues to advance, Jones hopes that people, especially Christians, are able to distinguish its place in their lives, being intentional about finding balance.
“After a while, it does become too much and could potentially mute the voice of God in our lives,” Jones said. “We read a book for the Freshman Liberal Arts Seminar at Asbury. In that book, it describes setting boundaries. It quoted ‘Gulliver’s Travels,’ the late 18th century novel. When the little people had captured Gulliver, they said he was always taking his pocket watch out and looking at it. They said, ‘That must be his god.’ And I thought, ‘Wow, that is just like us today in our tech dependent and obsessed world.’ If somebody captured us today, they would likely think that these little rectangles in our pockets are somehow our ‘god.’ That really hit me. We should think about how much time we spend and be mindful of what we are losing when we are always ‘on.’”
Getting to marry faith, technology and education has proved to be a dream job for Jones. Though her time at Asbury is just beginning, she’s excited to see what God has in store for her at the University.
“This is the perfect job for me, because I can do what I love to do in my career. I still get to experiment with technology, just as I did so long ago in my uncle’s shop, but more importantly, I can be there for my students across time and space and support not only their academic success but their faith journey as well,” Jones said.
As for that little girl from Appalachia tinkering around in her uncle’s shop? We think she’d be pretty proud.