Teach and learn
3 keys to involving teachers in instructional design
Most instructional designers will tell you that their job starts with getting a foot in the door with professors and building relationships from there. Here are three ways to make this relationship a success.
With the growth of blended and online courses and the introduction of open educational resources, active learning concepts, and new learning spaces, it’s an exciting time to be an instructional designer in higher education. More faculty members need help redesigning course activities, materials and assessments.
Yet, like campus librarians, instructional designers sometimes struggle to publicize the variety of services they can offer and to form meaningful partnerships with other campus stakeholders, in part because some members of the faculty consider them IT support staff. This misconception is amplified if the instructional design team resides in IT and reports to the CIO (which tends to be the case about half the time, according to instructional designers).
“I learned very early in my career not to install printers because maybe that’s what puts a particular perspective in people’s minds,” said Erin DeSilva, associate director of Learning Design and Technology at Dartmouth College (NH). Still, DeSilva and other instructional designers interviewed for this article agreed that helping professors solve their immediate technology problems is one way to get a foot in the door, especially with professors who don’t teach online and therefore do not want to seek help with instructional design. “They may come and talk to you about building a Canvas site,” she said, “but end up talking to you about homework design.
Like many colleges and universities, Dartmouth has people who work on instructional design located at individual colleges as well as a small centralized organization with four instructional designers who work primarily with undergraduate programs. Also, DeSilva noted, you won’t find people in Dartmouth with the actual title of instructional designer. “We call ourselves learning designers here,” she said. There is a connotation to instructional design that comes from the corporate world, whereas a learning designer is more focused on the user experience, she explained. “We really wanted to indicate that the focus of our attention was the student and not the material development. We have a background in learning experience design, but we also have a background in motivational interviewing, which is a therapeutic technique and which is probably used in our work as much as the design stuff.”
Build a network
A former middle school science teacher, Sara Davis served as an instructional designer in the Teaching and Learning with Technology department of Pennsylvania State University for three years.
When she started at Penn State, her job was to help faculty migrate from the old learning management system to Cloth. “Because we’re migrating to a new platform, it opened the door to conversations about how the course was designed — because we had to restructure them anyway,” she explained.
Davis said she realized early on that it would be important to network to develop relationships with people whose expertise she could benefit from.
“There’s so much technology in use now that it’s impossible to be an expert on it all, so you have to find people who are experts and build a network,” she said. “One of the first things I did as an instructional designer was to seek professional development in project management. This helped me make many connections with people who were IT project managers. and other fields. I am fortunate that our department is full of people who are not only instructional designers, they also have expertise in OER, research and multimedia. These colleagues have helped me improve the projects I work on thanks to their knowledge and expertise.