STAFF SPOTLIGHT: Get to Know New Instructional Designer Leah Richards

The Instructional Design team at the Academic Commons is growing! This summer, two new faces will join our team – Elif Gokbel and Leah Richards. Elif and Leah join a group of instructional designers and educational technologies experts who support faculty across Jefferson. Elif and Leah will help faculty learn new technologies to utilize in their courses, implement teaching pedagogies and themes, and develop engaging and accessible learning materials. Contact them today for help with your courses and projects!

Check out the Q&A with Leah below and read our interview with Elif to get to know her better.

What types of projects will you be working on in the Academic Commons?

Currently, I’m learning more about the EdTech tools that the team uses so I can better support faculty, staff, and students, and one of my first projects will be supporting a medical terminology course as it gets put into Canvas.

What interested you in working at Thomas Jefferson University? What are you most excited about in this new position?

When I was searching for jobs, I knew that Jefferson was growing and expanding, and it seemed like a place I would want to be. Once the interviews started, I really liked all the team members I met, and everyone made me feel very comfortable. It felt like a good fit!

I’m most excited to help others with the technology that has become so important over the past year and a half and to make learning new tools as smooth as possible. We have access to some incredible EdTech tools that have a lot to offer, and I’m looking forward to exploring those with the team and instructors.

You have an interesting background in that you previously were an instructor, and now will be supporting the educators with instructional design. Can you tell us a little bit about your experience teaching and why you’re making the shift from teacher to instructional designer?

I started teaching in Fall 2013. I was teaching 10th grade Spanish and K-6 ELL, before moving to high school Spanish exclusively. Over the past 7 years, I taught all the levels from Spanish 1 through AP, but I often felt like something about being in the classroom didn’t feel right. I was always very interested in EdTech and would try to find tools to make the Spanish-speaking world more accessible to my students, so I pursued a master’s in Instructional Design from Penn State, which I finished in May 2020. When we first started quarantine last March, I was excited about creating online lessons for my students and re-thinking my practices and content. I re-discovered an energy and passion for teaching that I hadn’t felt since my first year, and it opened my eyes to a new career path where I could still help people learn and utilize technology.

Do you think that your experience as an instructor will help you in this role? What perspective will you bring to this work?

I do think it will help! I know that secondary and Higher Ed are different, but I understand some of what instructors go through daily, and I have experienced, “the organization is now moving to platform X,” multiple times, so I know how stressful and time-consuming that can be. Over the past year, I have taught in asynchronous, hybrid, and HyFlex environments as guidelines changed, so I understand what works well, what the challenges are, and how instructors might feel.

What are one or two of your favorite educational technology tools and why?

Anything that allows for screen recording became a necessity over the past year, but I also think Nearpod has so much to offer – I especially love their virtual tours of travel destinations. As a teacher, I loved Gimkit for vocabulary practice because the games were super engaging, and students would beg to play.

What can faculty expect when they work with you?

I’m open-minded and will listen to concerns with empathy so that we can work toward solutions collaboratively with all parties feeling heard and valued!

When not helping faculty, how do you like to spend your time? What are some of your hobbies?

I like to be outside as much as possible, doing something active like hiking, fishing, or watching sports. I love cooking and eating – especially trying out Philly restaurants. For indoor activities, I like doing crafty/hands on projects.

How can faculty find you if they’d like assistance?

The best way to contact me is to email me at leah.richards@jefferson.edu. Once everyone gets back to campus, I’ll be located on the 4th floor of the Scott Memorial Library on the Center City campus.