Monday, October 17, 2011
Ask My Readers: Working With an Instructional Designer
My college will bring its first full-time Instructional Designer on board soon.
For those of who have worked with instructional designers on your campuses, what should we try to encourage? What should we be extra careful to avoid?
The point of the hire is primarily to help take the online courses to a higher level of quality. Having someone whose job it is to be current in the technology field, and who has a background in teaching, will (I hope) help faculty find and adapt the innovations that work best for their courses and styles. (I assume that process will involve a fair amount of culling. Tech that might make sense in one course might not in another.)
I can imagine that if we aren’t careful, the instructional designer could quickly be relegated to the status of a helpdesk technician. Alternately, if we go too far in the other direction, she could come off as an imposition.
To my mind, she’s be part scout, part coach, and part consultant. But the devil is always in the details.
For those who have experience either as instructional designers or as faculty working with them, what are the traps? If you knew then what you know now, what would you have done differently?
I've heard her say it to other people too. If the only tool you have...?
I would clearly articulate what you expect with regard to "and who has a background in teaching". Teaching, or teaching on line? One class, or a full load? Math, or composition, or anatomy, or history? How many courses can be fully redesigned each year?
What works for composition may not work for algebra, or vice versa, so you might be optimistic assuming that this person's toolbox includes hammers suitable for algebra or chemistry. (We've seen that locally in a different context.)
My experience with faculty is that they DO know how to teach, and mightily resent being told by an ID that they don't. Faculty want control over the delivery of their courses as well as the content, because the two are inseparable.
I'd try to make sure both sides have realistic expectations...
Two years later, I think our ID would say it's difficult to do her job well because of the culture of our institution. Our administration is slow to change and is distrustful of technology, except when we can use it to increase our head count. A lot of that is just the "old guard" waiting out retirement. If you really want someone in this position, you have to be willing to listen to what he/she recommends.
(Our ID has teaching experience, but isn't an instructor at our school. She has a degree in education and a master's in instructional technology. At my school, she's FT professional staff. She teaches online classes PT at other area schools.)
You need an ID who keeps the academic quality of course content (reliability, currency, multiple perspectives on points of debate in a field) FRONT AND CENTRE.
One thing I've liked about SOME of our ID people is that they regularly demo multiple ways to use the latest "cool new" tech in multiple academic fields. It is great that we have whatever the new "it" thing is - now, show me several examples of how it gets used in multiple disciplines so that I can start brainstorming about how **I** might want to use it in my classes.
That keeps the pressure off me to stay on top of all the new tech trends myself - and I can cherry pick what I want to adopt and adapt, based on what I see others doing, as facilitated by the ID team.
The key to working with an ID is that they need to show faculty how to use the tools and then let (make) them do it on their own. They can jump in and trouble-shoot the course delivery system, but ultimately, their job is to be a consultant for the faculty.
I'm currently developing two new online courses for the first time. I'm familiar with the CDS -- but have never done a 100% online course before. Our ID has developed a program in which he makes appointments with us to check on progress and answer questions as the course is being developed. It is then assessed by someone in the discipline and someone with online teaching experience -- that input is then used to refine the course before the Dean signs off on it..
There are several good course design rubrics out there, if your ID has a sense of what's going on in the online teaching realm, they'll have an idea as to how to implement them...
Teachers know how to teach. Teachers have ideas about how to apply a new technology to what they know. Sorting through those ideas is arduous and responds well to educated help.
The other side of the coin to look at is: what incentives do faculty have to seek out help? Here's where the administration can help. At my school, if your teaching record was subpart, the department chair would come talk to you and suggest you seek help, and point you to the facilitators. When you prepared your promotion case, if you wrote about seeking help, you got points for that. Also, people who did seek help got lots of useful tips and actively found it helpful, and this spread by word of mouth. So, I think there's a lot of opportunity to establish a culture that helps make an instructional director helpful to faculty and accepted by them.