When I began my career in residence life, I remember one of my mentors giving me a manila folder full of photocopied handouts. These were handouts she collected from various conferences and colleagues that included sample forms and policies and ideas for icebreakers, teambuilders, and bulletin boards.
Although the idea of sharing photocopies seems somewhat antiquated today, residence life professionals have always been known for freely sharing their ideas and resources. With the growth of social media and the web, opportunities for sharing and connecting with colleagues have become more prevalent and easier to access than ever. Now, there are a number of websites and social channels dedicated to professionals seeking out and sharing new ideas and high impact practices.
We wanted to highlight one of these online resources, Luminstruct. Luminstruct was started by Mark Jestel, the Director of Residential Education at Piedmont College. We interviewed Mark to find out how he started and built Luminstruct and for his insights into how to develop and grow an online presence and resource.
Where did you get the idea for Luminstruct and what were your motivations?
Just like many creations, Luminstruct was founded after a failed project. Back in 2013, a friend of mine, Nolan Goubeaux, and I wanted to create a YouTube channel which provided helpful resources and content to assist resident assistants with their program planning skills. We were inspired by the resources already online such as Residentassistant.com and Reslife.net and wanted to highlight successful methods of teaching within the residence halls on a social media platform. When considering our goal: “Illuminating new possibilities of instruction,” we created the name Luminstruct.
The first video we were going to launch was going to be called “50 Ice Breakers in Five Minutes.” As you can image, this project took a long time to develop and plan. Although the YouTube video was never created, and Nolan eventually moved onto new adventures, I quickly discovered how much fun it was to develop a list of the 50 activities and created a slideshow depicting each one in detail. The ice breaker list can still be found on our website. After this project, I decided to continue with our original goal of illuminating new possibilities of instruction and started creating the website you see today.
What have been some of your successes so far?
Hands down, the biggest success I have received from the creation of this site has been meeting so many amazing individuals along the way! I had the privilege to meet some of the student creators on Pinterest and have even been able to highlight some amazing work that is being done by professionals in the field. This past month, I was speaking with one of these professionals, Francesca Catalano, who created over 50 Behind Closed Doors (BCDs) training scenarios and was excited to share these with others in the field! One of the biggest moments for me, personally, was meeting Dan Oltersdorf, founder of ResidentAssistant.com, who wanted to collaborate on some future projects. As someone who was greatly inspired by his work from the beginning of this project, this was a bit of an unreal moment for me when he contacted me in order to collaborate.
The final large success was seeing the impact the site has had on the viewers. As a very small development team, it has been remarkable to see Luminstruct’s audience count rise on a daily basis. Pinterest just pasted 130,000 monthly viewers and it has been humbling to know that all of this started from a single idea, the desire to learn. This has been the most rewarding aspect of all.
What did you learn during the development of Luminstruct?
The easiest lesson I have learned is that it is okay to fail. Since the site was founded on a failed video attempt, I’ve quickly learned to be flexible in my planning and to go with the flow as the website evolves and changes. To be honest, a lot of the website is based around a trial and error method. You may have an amazing idea that you are excited to jump into, but as you test the waters, things might change and that’s okay!
The way I stay grounded with my projects is to ask for constructive feedback and to reflect. It is important to learn who your audience is and what they may be looking for. If you reach out to family, friends, or even complete strangers and ask for their input, this will help guide your process. It is also important to step back from time to time and reflect. Take a look at how much time is being taken by a given project and compare it with your original goal. If you are drifting from your overall mission, go ahead and cut out the unnecessary fat. A few years ago, I set out to write a daily blog about being a professional in higher education. Although I greatly enjoyed the project, I realized it was taking up a lot of my personal time and was not “illuminating” any new possibilities of instruction. I may return to the blog someday and reformat it, but at this time, I have removed this task and have moved on to other projects.
What are your future goals for the project?
Many of the online resources for student staff are currently outdated or inactive. It is my hope to establish a website which acts as a centralized platform for professionals and students to come together and learn in a fun and interactive way. I think it is important to establish a curriculum not only for students, but for staff as well. Although higher education professionals are always striving to learn more, I feel as though there is room for growth in resources necessary to essentially “train the trainer.” In order to positively change the lives of our students, I feel as though it is first and foremost important to ensure each staff member is properly trained and is taken through an enjoyable curriculum to further their skill sets.
What advice would you give to others who are interested in starting something similar or in developing an online presence or resource site?
When I was an RA, my supervisor once told me “inch by inch, life’s a synch, yard by yard, life is hard.” I echo this statement. Too often than not, I have found individuals get intimidated by the scale of a project as large as Luminstruct and fail to even take the first step in creating a website. I probably would have been intimidated too if you showed me the website to me 4 years ago. The key to the process is to start with a simple, manageable goal and try to complete it. If you are successful, challenge yourself to attempt the new step. Projects like these are more manageable if you make it into a game. As a “practically perfect” Mary Poppins used to say, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and snap! The job’s a game.”
It is okay to fail! In fact, it is encouraged! As long as you get back up and either try again or try a different path, failure can bring out some of your most creative work!
The final piece of advice I have to offer is that we are stronger as a team. Surround yourself with motivated people with similar goals and try to create sometime amazing! They don’t need to think the same way as you. In fact, at the beginning of Luminstruct, Nolan and I were very different thinkers. It was our differences which helped us challenge one another and helped lead us to the site Luminstruct is today. You are never alone and you can always find friends in the field who want to help.
What can readers do to engage with Luminstruct?
I am always looking for new content in the field to highlight on the site. If you have something you would like to share, a policy, program, bulletin board, door dec, etc., we have a contact us section on our site. You can also follow us on Facebook or Pinterest.