On Oct. 29, 2012, Denise Snyder’s first day at Union, she was sent home early to wait out Hurricane Sandy, the largest East Coast hurricane on record.
A decade later, another storm – the pandemic – sent her and her team home early again, this time to work harder than ever. In two weeks, they helped bring more than 200 faculty to online teaching.
“We worked 24-7 to provide as much support as possible,” recalls Snyder, now director of learning design and digital innovation. “It was all hands on deck and I couldn’t be more proud of my team for responding with professionalism and grace,” she said.
She also credits faculty who “rolled up their sleeves” to take advantage of development workshops in pedagogy and learning technologies. “We were in a significantly stronger position than many of our peer institutions as a result of the high percentage of faculty participation in development opportunities in the years leading up to, as well as during, the pandemic” she said.
She also notes that the pandemic accelerated the use of technologies. “As a residential college, faculty didn’t traditionally use many of these online technologies, like Zoom and recorded lectures” she said. “But [the pandemic] absolutely helped faculty understand how to exploit these technologies once they returned to the classroom.
"For example, some faculty have now “flipped” the passive learning outside the classroom in the form of recorded, 5-10 minute mini-lectures, which students watch as homework. Our PMT ’21 survey revealed students really like recorded lectures and often re-watch them."
Before joining Union, Denise was a lead instructional designer at Empire State College for two years, helping to create their MA in Learning and Emerging Technologies (MALET) graduate program. Previously, she worked for more than thirteen years as a senior academic technologies analyst and project manager at Harvard Law School and has been teaching graduate courses in educational technologies and instructional design at Harvard Extension School since 2007. In 2016, she received the Harvard Extension School’s Petra T. Shattuck Excellence in Teaching Award. She holds a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Fredonia and a master’s degree from Harvard’s Extension School, where she received the dean’s prize for outstanding thesis.
She lives in Saratoga Springs with her husband, Richard; son Bennett, 12; and daughter, Josephine, 10. The family was recently joined by a puppy, Pearl, who is “75 percent bichon frise, 25 percent Cavalier King Charles spaniel and a total sweetheart,” according to her mom.
Her children are active in soccer, lacrosse, horseback riding, and running. Denise and her daughter participate in Girls on the Run, an athletic program aimed at strengthening the confidence and compassion in young girls.
FIRST APP YOU LOOK AT IN THE MORNING:
I always glance at Gmail and text messages first thing and then open my podcast app on my way to work to listen to some interesting audio story.
ONE BOOK YOU HAVE READ MULTIPLE TIMES:
"Understanding by Design," by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. I am constantly pulling this book off my shelf, as I find it is the beating heart for both the graduate course I teach on Instructional Design at the Harvard Extension School, as well as my “Learning Design and Digital Innovation” work with Union faculty. The book’s basic premise is simple–start the process of course design with the end in focus. By the end of the learning experience, what essential content and skills do learners need to “know and do” but also why is understanding these things conceptually important in real world contexts? Why does it matter?
BEST ADVICE YOU EVER RECEIVED:
My father, Ron’s, advice: “Stay calm and level-headed, because the person most upset usually ends up owning the problem.”
From my father-in-law, Bill, when my husband Richard and I were about to become parents: Be flexible.
FAVORITE SPOT ON CAMPUS:
Jackson’s Garden is hard to beat on a warm summer day.
Half the time I skip breakfast and just drink my coffee (which I know is a bad habit). Sometimes my pretty amazing husband will make me an egg sandwich to go as I am walking out the door or I’ll grab a yogurt.
NETFLIX OR AMAZON:
At my house, we’ve been watching Paramount+ more than anything for the live soccer games!
I’ll admit–I am a sucker for a good true crime podcast series. Although, Project Zero just started a new “Thinkability” podcast I am enjoying. I also like the Ezra Klein podcast, in particular this recent one with Annie Murphy Paul that may “change the way you think about thinking."
ONE SKILL YOU WISH YOU HAD:
I really wish I knew how to play the piano. My husband plays and I love listening to him on his baby grand.
BEST PART OF YOUR DAY:
Spending time with family–seeing my children and partner happy, doing what they love after work (e.g., horse riding, soccer/ lacrosse/basketball games, art, walking or playing with our new puppy, Pearl).
LITTLE KNOWN FACT ABOUT YOU:
I was the Onondaga free throw champion when I was 13 and got to pick up this very large trophy at halftime during a Syracuse-Pitt game. I had to shoot free throws before receiving the trophy and I made 2 out of 3 shots. As I left the court, Jim Boeheim quipped to me “do you think you could teach these guys how to make free throws?” pointing to his players (during the Rony Seikaly era. It made me laugh–the players didn’t think it was as funny though).