This month’s staff profile features James Castle, associate director of the Office of Online Learning.
Castle has worked in the field of education for 17 years in roles ranging from classroom teacher to instructional technologist and designer. Learn about his career path and the projects he is excited to be working on in Online Learning, and enjoy a special recipe for James Castle’s renowned chocolate chip (or chunk) scones below.
Q – Can you tell us about your current role and responsibilities? What is your favorite part about your position?
A – I am the associate director of the Office of Online Learning. I manage the instructional design team, direct our data and analytics work, and help with anything involving technology.
I was hired as an instructional designer at UGA Online 11 years ago. Even though instructional design has been rising in prominence over the past few years, it’s still a largely misunderstood area. I see instructional design as a field that relies heavily on knowledge of pedagogy, design thinking, communication, project management, and technical skill.
As I’ve moved from practicing instructional design full time to more of a leadership role, I’ve tried to retain the qualities that I think made me successful as an instructional designer, and my favorite parts of my current job reflect that. I still design solutions to instructional challenges, I probably work with technology more deeply now than I ever have before, and I get to work to put our instructional designers in contexts to succeed.
Q – What has your career path been like and how has your role shifted in your time at UGA?
A – After I finished my undergraduate degree at UGA (Grady College, Class of ’02), I spent three years as a UGA police officer. It was a valuable and unique experience, but I didn’t want to spend my career in law enforcement.
When I left the police department, I became a middle school teacher, and that eventually led me into a district-level role as an instructional technology specialist. In that role, I worked with teachers (primarily middle and high school) to meaningfully integrate technology into their teaching. That job involved a lot of planning meetings, curriculum development, lesson design, and co-teaching.
From there, it was a short leap to being an instructional designer in higher education.
Q – What are some Online Learning projects you have completed that you are proud of? What are some current projects you are working on that you are excited about?
A – One project that I always enjoy telling people about is our online physical education courses. I’ve worked with Dr. Ilse Mason in Kinesiology for the past 11 years to facilitate online physical education using heart rate monitoring, which enables students to make meaningful connections between their physical activity and the outcomes of their exercise. We do this via a custom integration between Fitbit and eLC, so a student can see their individual progress toward course heart rate goals on the homepage of their course. Since launch, we’ve had well over 1,000 students complete their physical education credit online, many while away from campus on study abroad or internship.
More recently, we’ve made huge strides in launching high-impact online programs at UGA. We know that about 80,000 Georgians attend fully online programs at schools outside of our state every year. We want to help UGA put programs online so that some of those students have more high-quality in-state options from USG schools. Our work with the MSW Online, Online MBA, and Online MPH all help to bridge the gap in online offerings in our state.
Finally, I’m excited by the work I’ve done with technology over the past few years. On the instructional design side, I don’t serve as a primary instructional designer on course projects anymore, but I can create and support tools that enable our designers to do great work.
I maintain the UGA Online Design System, which powers design both on our public facing websites and in our eLC courses. I’ve worked on systems and processes to help programs manage course materials, which provides new faculty with seamless access to their materials and maintains consistency with what is offered elsewhere in the program.
Lately, I’ve been working on how we can integrate AI into our course design processes. We estimate that the baseline time commitment for a faculty member to make a high-quality course with us is 150 hours. We know that is a huge commitment, so I’m trying to find opportunities where generative AI can accelerate that design and development process while keeping faculty voice and presence in the design process.
Q – What do you like to do outside of the office? Any hobbies/favorite things to do around Athens/organizations you’re involved in, etc.?
A – I have a teenage daughter, Anna. My favorite hobby is gaming with her (she’s a big fan of RPGs and point-and-click adventure games – the Mass Effect Trilogy and The Blackwell Series are her favorites). We’ve been gaming together since she was about three years old.
I’m an active member at CrossFit Oconee, where you can find me every Monday through Friday at 5:30 a.m. My 10-year anniversary at the gym is coming up this May.
My wife and I have done animal rescue work over the years. Several years ago, we were heavily involved in fostering dogs (We placed ~30 dogs in homes around Athens). We don’t do as much fostering nowadays, but we do have three dogs – a boxer mix (Maggie) and two rescue Great Danes (Quinn and Carson). Both Danes started out as fosters but ended up staying with us.
I graduated from UGA’s Learning, Design, and Technology Ph.D. program in 2021. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure to teach several classes in their fully online programs.
Q – We heard rumors about an impressive chocolate scone recipe. What is the trick to making a proper chocolate scone?
A – I’ll share the recipe below. I think the most important parts of making scones are:
1 – Freeze the butter, then grate it into the flour to ensure even distribution
2 – Don’t overwork the dough
3 – Refrigerate the cut scones before cooking (I refrigerate overnight)
James Castle’s Chocolate Chip Scone Recipe
2 Cups Flour
2.5 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Cinnamon
.5 tsp Salt
1 Stick Butter
.5 cup Heavy Cream
.5 cup Brown Sugar
1.5 tsp Vanilla
1 – 1.25 Cups Chocolate Chips or Chunks (I recommend 72% or darker)
Get two Bowls: 1 medium, 1 large
1 – In the medium bowl, mix the Heavy Cream, Brown Sugar, Egg, and Vanilla. Set Aside.
2 – In the large bowl, mix the Flour, Baking Powder, Cinnamon, and Salt
3 – Grate the butter into the flour mixture, stopping periodically to stir. The butter should look like flour covered peas and be well distributed throughout the flour mixture.
4 – Stir the wet ingredients into the flour mixture along with the chocolate chips.
5 – Sprinkle flour on a flat surface and empty the dough mixture onto the surface. It’s okay if it’s not well mixed yet.
6 – Work the dough until it has a cohesive consistency. Keep flour nearby in case parts of the dough are too sticky. Be careful not to overwork the dough.
7 – Shape the dough into a flat circle (or close to a circle).
8 – Cut the scones. This recipe makes 6 large scones or 8 smaller ones.
(Optional) Refrigerate in a sealed container overnight. This helps the dough get set better than baking straight away.
9 – Bake at 400 degrees for 22-25 minutes. Use a pizza stone or baking sheet.