“I Enjoy What I Do”: Dr. Micah Shippee
By Yuri Pavlov | IDD&E doctoral student (Belarus)
Micah Shippee (IDDE Ph.D. ’16) is an adjunct professor in the IDD&E Department at SU. In the 2021–22 academic year, he teaches IDE 621 Principles of Instruction and Learning, IDE 761 Strategies in Educational Project Management, and IDE 764 Planned Change and Innovation. He is also a CEO and a Social Studies middle school teacher in Liverpool, NY. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What pulled you into instructional design?
As I was reconsidering my career goals in 2005, I contacted Dr. Phil Doughty here in the IDD&E Department. He shared stories of successes, international connections, and the ability to leverage instructional design superpowers on a global level. I was excited, and he sold me on the department. The C.A.S. program was a good fit for me, although at that time it was a 60-credit-hour graduate program. Then in 2007, I continued with the IDD&E doctoral program.
How did the years in IDD&E change you?
The understanding of why things work. As a teacher, you intuitively recognize when students are engaged—which activity or style of instruction works. When one understands the “why,” it helps replicate and scale up one’s work. For instance, when I taught my classes, I used simulations in the classroom to foster empathetic understanding of our historical content. These led to deeper, more meaningful conversations about the human experience in the past and how it related to the present.
Were there any particular courses or themes in your doctoral program that helped you grow the most?
Three courses stood out: Motivation in Learning and Instruction (Rob S. Pusch) had the most impact on my practice; Planned Change and Innovation (Chuck Spuches) influenced my research, and Instructional Design and Emerging Technologies (Tiffany A. Koszalka) was central to my dissertation and current work. In my teaching courses before IDD&E, I had not taken anything on Bandura or motivational design, I had even not heard about Ruben Puetendura’s SAMR model. These things are very relevant for a teacher, but I only learned them as a post-graduate student in our program.
What happened after you defended your dissertation?
In 2015, one year before I completed my study, I connected with a professional development agency that worked with teachers across the world and trained them on improving practice using Google or Apple products in the classroom. From 2016 to 2019, I worked for different companies as a consultant and sometimes independently as a keynote speaker or EdTech guru delivering an inspiring message about why we teach, how we improve our classroom-based practice, or how a certain tool works. In 2019, several colleagues and I were working on a book, and we were calling it “Ready Learner One.” In the middle of the writing process, we decided that the book name was a better name for a company, so we changed the name of a book to “Reality Bytes” (2020) and the company became “Ready Learner One.” Initially, we were focused on augmented and virtual reality professional development for schools. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the company focus pivoted to supporting educators in a hybrid model. Before starting the company, I worked with the Google Earth team and became the lead for the East coast for Google Earth Education Experts. In this role, I worked both with my own students and students around the planet, including in Yellowknife Northwest Territory (Canada). With my students, we used Google Earth tools in a collaborative project for a global audience to create a narrative—digital storytelling—focused on understanding our local community needs using maps and media.
What kind of projects does Ready Learner One do?
Ready Learner One, in effect, is a holding company in the learning and design space. It has a K–12 educational consulting company called ChangeMaker, a corporate consulting agency focusing on instructional design, and RL1 corporate course company where people can take courses anytime anywhere for continuing-education credit. In both the corporate and the education side, we build self-paced courses with Rise Articulate—most of them are video/webinar type courses, and we have over a hundred of them on our education platform right now.
You returned to Syracuse University to teach in 2020. What brought you back?
Teachers want to teach. I enjoy what I do. I taught online courses at Ashford University (CA) and at Le Moyne College (NY). Being back at Syracuse University is like coming home—it’s the place where I learned a lot of the skills I apply in my work. I think it’s very important that I share, not for my own benefit brag, but as an example of what our students can do with this degree. The beauty of our IDD&E program is that while there are heavy theoretical foundations, there are also tangible applications to inform practice. We’re not just thinking about our thinking or participating in some metacognitive exercises, it’s that we are doing. I want people to be excited about what our program can prepare them to do.
What do you think the instructional design field is currently missing in preparing students in terms of skills, competencies, networking experiences, or knowledge?
The field in general has to be very attentive to artificial intelligence and its role in creating responsive learning scenarios. From the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses are realizing that instead of flying people around the planet to get training, they can do it right in their phone or at their office space—and do it very well. That “very well” part is our job as instructional designers, and we have to improve on that. That said, I am a firm believer in understanding the core of theoretical frameworks instead of just understanding goals that build on top of that. I think, artificial intelligence and responsive design are the “what,” and they are the next step. We know what works, but why? The “why” is our theoretical framework, and the more we understand why, the better we can strengthen and scale our practice. I also think instructional design students need hands-on experience with the latest technologies. Not just learning how to create a video, but create a video using the most popular video program out there. Not just how to design courses with Blackboard or another traditional LMS, but design it with the latest technology. Not everyone in a graduate program wants to be an academic—we are educating and training people on the practice employing hands-on experience with the latest media.
In terms of learning, what is the added value of virtual reality to what we’re already doing well as instructional designers?
Virtual reality amplifies instruction by increasing experiential knowledge. If we could put students in a chemistry lab and have them mix chemicals that blow up, they will learn about chemicals and explosive combinations better than an instructor simply telling them: “Don’t mix those two chemicals together in a live lab.” The barrier to entry is expensive, but like Moore’s Law teaches us, costs are going down. I have a friend who designed for a large oil company a whole VR experience to demonstrate how to load a tank with fuel and not spill it. For him to develop that cost $350,000. One spill for the oil company costs $35,000. The return on investment is not tough to sell when you frame it that way.
Going forward, what do you want to be known for among students and scholars-practitioners?
I want to be thinking about what is next in learning as a futurist in the instructional design space. One who is constantly pushing the envelope of learning technologies with solid foundations of theoretical frameworks at my back.
 The title “Ready Learner One” is an allusion to “Ready Player One” (2018, Warner Bros.)—an adventure movie set in 2045 in which protagonists use virtual reality simulation to accomplish challenges in order to obtain an immense fortune.
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