Monday, October 17, 2011

 

Ask My Readers: Working With an Instructional Designer

Sometimes I take questions from readers, but today I have a question for you.

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?

Thanks.

Comments:
When I've mentioned a problem with online instruction, our AD looks at me with condescension and suggests I find and consult an instructional designer. I translate that as: "You're clearly incompetent at your job, and I haven't time to listen to your nonsense."

I've heard her say it to other people too. If the only tool you have...?
 
You've already hired this person, or are you thinking about the duties before making the hire?

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 instructional designers is that they think faculty know "the content," but don't know how to teach at all. They want to control the "delivery of the content."

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...
 
We hired our first "real" instructional designer about two years ago, and she's fantastic. I think the key is finding someone who really has his/her finger on where technology is going. I was on the search committee for that position, and one of the questions we asked had to do with what technology blogs/writers the candidate followed. We really wanted someone who was current in the field.

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.)
 
Currently working in a group as the faculty area expert for an online course development being done by someone else. Our ID does nothing but congratulate the course designer, and thwart consultant input. That is, because it is time consuming to change things that are incorrect or incomplete, I have been reduced to a rubber stamper, and the ID is just pushing the course through without respect for quality of the content.
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.
 
There are a whole lot of things that an ID CAN do or recommend to tweak, change, or entirely reconfigure a course. That doesn't mean that these things are useful; they might or might not be, given the starting point. So to me one of the big things is determining (or shaping) the ID's way of approaching each course that's on the table. Elementary education provides a good analogy: it's possible to impose a new approach or a new technology every year. Possible, but not wise.
 
I think you need someone who will think of themselves as a facilitator rather than a teacher. This makes it more likely that they will help take people to the next level - whatever that level might be. You want someone who can offer basic classes for those who are just starting and more advanced classes or assistance for faculty who are already more capable. I would also consider asking some of your heaviest users of tech in the classroom to answer this question for you. Our ID folks always got bogged down in administraria with the learning management system and never offered more than basic courses for faculty - they were of little use to me.
 
You want someone who will LISTEN to faculty. Our ID folks like to tell us how we should do things from a perspective of efficiency. But frankly, that often means design efficiency and not pedagogical utility. And sometimes "efficient" for them is not "efficient" for students in my class.

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.
 
I'd second the reader who recommended "background in teaching." Our institution's instructional designer is more helpful and better accepted because his teaching experience has helped him understand both faculty members' and students' priorities. The only thing he consistently has trouble with is remembering that most faculty members don't have his tolerance for experimenting with technologies that might or might not work as intended.
 
We have two amazing ID folks for our CC -- the first was so good we hired a second.

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...
 
Honestly, I'd think that the biggest thing she can do is listen, act as a sounding board, and recommend some technologies to interested parties.

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.
 
We had a great instructional facilitator at my school (he just retired, sadly). He viewed his role as there to help if faculty asked for it. The key is that the faculty had to take some initiative to seek out assistance. The facilitator ran various structured meetings (e.g., monthly lunches) and was available upon request to help assess a course and provide feedback to a faculty instructor. But the facilitator never dropped in on a faculty member and told them what to do; it was always in response to a faculty request for help. I think that helped a LOT with keeping faculty on board.

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.
 
Instructional Designer? what the hell is that?
 
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