DT&L conference helps instructional designer meet shifting demands of higher education

Online Education On Digital Screen

As both an instructor and an instructional designer at Worsham College of Mortuary Science, Heather Braatz understands firsthand the importance of online learning. She believes it’s especially beneficial for adult learners whose schedules may conflict with traditional in-person classes.

Braatz first attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison Distance Teaching & Learning (DT&L) conference in 2018 at her supervisor’s recommendation. She was working for a nonprofit trade association at the time, while also studying in the Administrative Leadership: Adult, Continuing and Higher Education master’s program at UW–Milwaukee. Her supervisor believed the conference would be relevant to both her work and studies.

Since 1984, higher education administrators, faculty and instructional designers have gathered at the annual DT&L conference for the latest in online learning, design, teaching and administration — along with practical strategies and information for incorporating best practices and technologies. This year’s conference will be held virtually, August 2-5, with preconference events beginning July 30. Registration for this year’s conference will remain open until July 30.

Heather Braatz
Heather Braatz

“I absolutely loved the entire conference, as it was jam-packed full of practical applications and amazing speakers, and it had a vibe of genuine comradery that I had not experienced at previous conferences,” Braatz recalls of her first DT&L conference. “I was able to glimpse into the world of higher education and was inspired to become a part of this community.”

That first experience left an impact on Braatz, who has since become a frequent attendee and is even copresenting the “ABCs of DE” at a preconference event for new distance educators this year. She even found a mentor at DT&L.

 I ended up meeting Penny Ralston-Berg, an instructional designer at Penn State World Campus, who I kept seeing in the same instructional design-centric sessions,” Braatz says. “There were so many good sessions offered concurrently that we started to ‘divide and conquer’ our conference schedule, comparing notes during breaks.

“A year later, when I started working at Worsham College, I was surprised to find Penny had been hired there as a consultant. I was thrilled to work with her to build the college’s inaugural online program. We’ve since collaborated on an article for New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education.”

Adapting to a fast-paced field

When it comes to education, Braatz believes accessibility is key.

“Learners want to be able to learn on their own time, in their own environment, on their own terms,” she says. “We will continue to see a major acceleration in institutions adopting distance learning options — including hybrid and remote teaching and online education programs — as they improve access to learning.”

Braatz also sees online education as a valuable component of both distance and traditional classrooms. She hopes the pandemic has helped more educators realize its benefits and become more open to adapting their courses to a more online-friendly format. She credits the DT&L conference for preparing her for the continuously shifting education landscape this past year.

“As we collectively learned the hard way during 2020, it’s better to be overprepared than underprepared. The great thing about distance education is that it’s accessible, adaptable and constantly evolving. The DT&L conference is a great way to keep on top of a fast-paced, innovative field.”

The conference has also helped Braatz better grasp the successful strategies, best practices and emerging technology trends happening within the field. She highly recommends DT&L for everyone — from new distance learning coordinators to seasoned program administrators to students considering a future in education.

“This conference helped me get my bearings, be inspired by the devoted community of practice and passionate presenters and better understand the field I was entering. It helped me realize my long-term professional goals.”

To learn more about the DT&L conference — or to register — visit the website or email dtl@dcs.wisc.edu with questions.