The senior instructional designer in the Division of Extended Learning, Theresa Gilliard-Cook loves working with her team and faculty members to make online courses as engaging as ones delivered in a classroom. 

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in New York City -- in Brooklyn. When I was 10, my parents built a house in Warwick, New York, which is about 60 miles northwest of New York City. It was a much more rural environment. It was pretty cool.

Can you tell us about your higher education? 

It took me a while. (Laughs.) I went to three different community colleges: Orange, Broome and Onondaga. I amassed a bunch of credits. I had the opportunity to go to Syracuse University -- my husband works there, so I had the opportunity to use a dependency scholarship to finish my bachelor's degree. So at the age of 34, with a teenager at home, I went back to school full time, face-to-face, to finish my degree (in 1996) and go on for my master's degree for two years. I was in the School of Information Studies. I worked, as a graduate assistant, on a project for SU's ERIC (Educational Resources Information Center). I earned my master's in telecommunications and network management. 

Where did you work and how did you transition to instructional design?

I worked in higher education, particularly at Onondaga Community College for nine years. While I was there, the SUNY Learning Network was becoming a bigger thing with the advent of online (courses). At times, I would work with faculty to figure out how to use Lotus Notes, precursor to ANGEL and Blackboard. I kind of fell into this whole idea of helping faculty understand how to put their courses online. I knew there was an instructional design program at Syracuse University. I took a couple of courses and found I really liked it. This is what I love to do.

When did you start working at SUNY Oswego?

June 2012. A friend had sent me a link asking, "Is this what you do?" And I said, "Yes -- that's my job!" It was for an instructional designer. I was promoted to senior instructional designer in January 2015.

What are the duties of an instructional designer?

The primary role of the instructional designers here at Oswego is to work with our faculty to create engaging online courses for our students. We work with faculty to get a sense of their content. It's a partnership, we collaborate, but they're the content experts. We help with the pedagogy, looking at how can we take this content and make it interesting to the students so that they would want to participate in readings, activities, discussions. It's really to help faculty wrap their heads around how they might do this in an online modality as effectively as they do it face-to-face. It's not a direct transition, from face-to-face to online. You have to reconceptualize your course, that's how I always put it.

Can you give us an example of how this transition is accomplished? 

Something really simple: In a face-to-face course, when you're having discussions and trying to elicit responses -- maybe you have a student sitting right on the edge of having the proverbial light bulb go off -- you're trying to encourage them to reason through it. In an online environment, it would be a little different -- it may be through a discussion forum and you'd see that same situation and perhaps encourage that student through additional discussion posts. It can be similar to face-to-face. But when you're thinking about doing group work, the techniques are different -- helping students, for example, figure out how they're going to meet together, suggesting that they can use different technologies, thinking about how they would collaborate.

What do you do now as a senior instructional designer?

I coordinate the activities of the instructional designers (IDs). I make the assignments, who works with whom, send agreements to faculty, work closely with Greg (Ketcham) to make sure that we're providing what we need for our fully online students. Of course, that work benefits all of our students here at Oswego. Having been a nontraditional student myself, that's really important to me. Nontrads are different in their needs; many of them are place-bound. How do we build the courses so they can keep making progress on their degrees? I work really closely with our IDs, Doug Hemphill and Kristen Flint, and we figure out how we make it work. They have lots of other things on their plates, too. For example, Kristin is working really hard with Rebecca Mushtare to tackle accessibility using Universal Design for Learning principles in educational materials in online, hybrid and face-to-face classes.

What achievement are you most proud of? 

I'm proud of what we do as instructional designers. My team is awesome. They do a lot of work to make things work for our faculty. Accessibility, too, is huge -- it will affect everything. Also, I'm a breast cancer survivor. I will be six years out on Dec. 17. Two years ago, I dropped the puck at the Pink the Rink game. I'm a poster child for early detection. It (the cancer) was so tiny, and the doctor found it through regular testing. Diane Dillon had me talk to her (women's ice hockey) team about how important it is to be an advocate for your own health. It's so critical for young women, especially.

What do you think of the faculty you've worked with?

They are so engaged. And they want to engage their students, regardless of modality. Because of what we do in instructional design, we get to learn from them -- we read their content and ask them questions if we don't quite understand something, same as a student would. I've gotten to be really good friends with some of them -- Kevin White, Liz Schmitt, Jeffery Schneider, John Kane, Pam Brand. We can have those great conversations about teaching and about other things. It's a relationship-building job.

What do you think of your colleagues in Extended Learning?

This is such a supportive group of people, from (Dean) Jill Pippin right on through. Karen Moore (coordinator of Summer and Winter Sessions) said it really well, "We have our silos, but we reach out to each other." At the very least, we can be a sounding board for colleagues, and we can bounce things off of them. It's a nice environment to work in and grow in. 

What else do you do on campus?

I'm chair of the Information Technology Council, I'm division representative and on the executive board of CTAB (Campus Technology Advisory Board). I help with (evaluating) TIP grants. I'm on the Open Educational Resources Steering Group, and I'm treasurer of DOODLE (Directors of Online and Distance Learning Environments), a SUNY-wide group.

What do you like to do off campus?

I hang out with my husband and my son, daughter-in-law and grandkids, ages 12 and 14. We do crazy things, like the Warrior Dash obstacle course to benefit St. Jude (Children's Hospital). My husband and I garden, and we go camping. He has a background in natural resource conservation, so we will bird watch, go out in the woods and identify different trees and wildflowers, look for animal tracks and just be outside. We both love the lake, particularly the waterfowl. We live outside of Baldwinsville.

What can you tell us about yourself that perhaps only family and friends know?

When I was younger, I was in music -- classical music. I was a voice major. I'll pick up a guitar and play, though I haven't touched one for three or four months.