May 12, 2022

How instructional designers enabled the big shift to digital learning amid COVID-19 — University Affairs

Particularly in the initial phase of the public health emergency, these unrecognized university staff have been doing the heavy lifting to rework face-to-face courses.

More than 18 months into the pandemic, we’ve learned a lot about the extreme lengths university administrators, faculty, and students have gone to to adapt to our dramatically different circumstances — but what about the contributions instructional designers?

Professionals who support effective course design, development, and delivery have been largely absent from public discussions about the emergency shift to distance learning on college campuses. Yet their expertise has been essential in enabling these institutions to continue to serve students.

When it comes to creating a learning experience, instructional designers are typically involved in conducting a needs assessment, setting learning goals, identifying relevant content, determining and implementation of the learning management system, design of teaching materials, coordination with the technical team, teacher training and development of learning assessment tools. During the first weeks and months of the pandemic, they did the heavy lifting to rework face-to-face lessons, introduce new assessment methods, and guide teachers, especially those who were new to the online teaching.

“It was a situation where everyone was on deck,” recalls Sophia Palahicky, who leads a team of more than 30 learning designers, course developers and learning technologists and technicians at Royal Roads University. “My team members were willing to work so hard because they care about their jobs and each other, the people they support, and ultimately the students… This is the only way for us to get out of it.”

Dr. Palahicky’s team serves approximately 80 head teachers and 700 associate instructors through the university’s Center for Teaching and Educational Technologies (CTET). While Royal Roads is a coeducational university that already offered 90% of its programs online, the team faced immense pressure to quickly convert existing in-person programs, as well as the short-term campus residences that some students complete for their online programs, in web programs. and revise or enhance existing online courses.

To meet the sudden increase in demand for CTET services, Dr. Palahicky had to make significant changes. Traditionally, the university’s seven schools and one college have been assigned a dedicated instructional designer (or ids, as they are sometimes called) and learning technologist, but they could also request help directly from the center. To streamline these requests, Dr. Palahicky designated School Liaisons as the sole points of contact and communicated this change to the entire school. Three new instructional designers were hired to handle the increased workload and Dr. Palahicky was involved in direct instructional design work. She replaced her team’s usual bi-weekly meetings with daily digital gatherings to discuss and resolve emergency issues. Together, they succeeded in tripling the number of workshops for teachers on facilitating online learning.

Recognizing the vital role that people like Dr. Palahicky play in Canadian universities, especially in the context of COVID-19, is a high priority for Carolle Roy. She is President of the Canadian Association of Instructional Designers (CAID), which represents the interests of IDs – whether they work in education, government or industry, or as freelancers – and advances the profession by providing training, networking opportunities and job leads. Last year, it added a series of workshops titled ‘Digital Transition in Emergencies: What Lessons Can Be Learned?’ to support people in the field in a demanding period.

Growing demand for credentials

Historically, the title of instructional designer has been widely used by many people without formal qualifications, Dr. Roy said, and it’s not uncommon for schools to hire people who don’t have the proper training. But post-pandemic, CAID has been inundated with requests from educational institutions seeking leads and advice on hiring instructional designers with the appropriate qualifications. The education landscape is vast and encompasses programs and courses commonly referred to as instructional design, instructional design, learning design, or educational technology. Actual credentials are rare, so CAID includes on its websites the Core Competencies for the Profession, recognized by the International Standards Council for Training, Performance and Instruction, which can help employers assess candidates.

“Universities had to hire a lot of IDs that needed to be ready to work immediately. We didn’t have time to train them,” said Dr. Roy, who is an instructional designer at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Montreal with nearly 25 years of experience in the field. “It appeared that IDs without prior experience or knowledge would not be able to start.”

At the start of the pandemic, Dr. Roy said, it became clear that many people in the post-secondary sector had misunderstood the value of IDs, associating their work with solving technological problems instead of facilitating business goals. teaching and learning. “We’ve become a little too tied to the technology rather than the pedagogical aspects of the practice,” she noted. But the perception changed as exposure to their work increased through intensive collaboration with faculty. This was especially the case among instructors who were previously weary of teaching online and resisted interference in their methods. In the face of this game-changing outside threat, she said, they were “happy to have qualified people who could help”.

That’s how John Harper felt when he turned to the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning (CATL) at the University of Manitoba to help with the transition from a environmental design course. Dr. Harper has been teaching the freshman class since 2016 but still face-to-face, which he prefers. When COVID changed the game, he chose to make a quick and easy pivot to Cisco WebEx, using the platform in a simple way to deliver synchronous lectures, present PowerPoint slides, and run open textbook reviews.

But as the summer of 2021 rolled around, he was reassessing whether the format really engaged his students in the material. He also wanted to incorporate more interactive and creative learning methods. For about six weeks, CATL instructional designer Sasha White worked with Dr. Harper to revamp her course content into a framework that better represented the learning objectives. Ms. White has also incorporated a discussion forum for students to brainstorm and discuss course material.

“It was like a dissection, it was very messy, we had to take everything apart,” recalls Dr. Harper.

Dr Harper began teaching the revised course in September and said he has become more comfortable and confident with teaching online. He is also pleased with the way discussion posts allow students to practice persuasive writing skills in a more dynamic way.

“I could not have made this change without the input, resources and support of CATL’s Instructional Designer,” said Dr. Harper. “I don’t think people realize everything they’re doing behind the scenes.”