Student Spotlight: Melissa Jones

Jennie Kroeger

Name: Melissa Jones
Hometown: Panama City, Florida
Program: Instructional Systems & Learning Technologies (Ed.D.)


What made you choose FSU and the Instructional Systems & Learning Technologies (ISLT) program?

I have worked in higher education for about 15 years, and much of that time has been spent as an educational developer. A few years ago, recognizing a need to be better positioned to work with instructional design and online learning, I started researching graduate certificate programs. What I realized as I was reviewing the programs, was that so many of the names I was familiar with in the field of instructional design were faculty in the ISLT program. I knew their research, and the certificate program offered courses that I knew would be of great value to my work. Admittedly, I was also somewhat biased. I earned my B.A. in English in 2001 from FSU, and as someone who grew up in the Florida Panhandle, I always considered Florida State home.

I completed the first course in the certificate program in 2017 and knew that this was where I needed to be. I had been looking into doctoral programs for years, but as a practitioner who was trying to understand how to best conduct and apply educational research, one of my highest priorities was working with faculty who were not only research leaders in the field, but were also known for their dedication to supporting students. At the time, ISLT was offered as only an on-campus PhD, and given my professional responsibilities, I needed an online program. After I had finished the certificate, and just as I was reluctantly beginning to consider other universities, something rather amazing happened. I had stayed in contact with Dr. Dennen, and during an email exchange, she told me about the new online Ed.D. program. I am sure a few things happened in the months that followed that conversation, but my next vivid memory is of arriving on campus for the Cohort 1 orientation. Nearly every aspect of my life has been enriched since becoming part of the ISLT family, and it is easily one of the best decisions I have ever made.


What are your research interests?

My primary area of research is in how we can create inclusive and equitable spaces for students in online learning environments. Situated between studies in both the cognitive and affective domains, my work explores the ways in which marginalized learners understand their identities, form meaningful communities, and engage with their courses as online students. Specifically, my research is focused on LGBTQ+ students, a group that has, historically, been especially reliant upon the creation of supportive networks and safe spaces both on and off university campuses. In addition to my primary research, my professional roles in training and development have been rooted in human performance improvement. At the university level, we often implement various practices, technologies, and processes that are intended to improve teaching and learning. However, without a focus on systemic analysis, and with the sometimes siloed nature of higher education, we tend to see gaps in performance. While these two areas may not at first appear to be connected, I believe that work in the field of diversity, equity, and inclusion should be holistic and should take place not in departments, but at the institutional level.


What are your plans for after graduation?

After graduation, my goal is to move into an academic leadership position at a university committed to the continuous improvement of online teaching and learning, especially for their most vulnerable populations. Ideally, my position will afford me the opportunity to help shape the development of online programs and the training of faculty and staff who share in the vision of a more just, equitable, and inclusive educational system. I have no doubt that my time in this program will offer me the knowledge, skills, and support I need to pursue my goals. I often joke now that the reason I had not started my doctorate sooner was because I was simply waiting for the perfect program to be created – and that is exactly what I have found here at FSU.