May 12, 2022

Resolving conflicts between instructional designers and faculty

When Michael Knemeyer was approached last year to convert his logistics management course to an online course, he had his share of reservations. Knemeyer, a logistics professor at Ohio State University, didn’t want to sacrifice the face-to-face interaction and personal relationships he enjoyed with his students.

Knemeyer worked closely for nine months with Jessica Phillips, a senior instructional designer in OSU’s Office of Distance Education and Online Learning, to develop her online course. The professor said he had a positive experience with Phillips – she heard his concerns and respected his vision.

But he acknowledged that this is not always the case with the faculty/instructional designer dynamic.

“As an instructor, you feel like you own that classroom and the classroom interaction,” he said. “But if you’re willing to let your guard down a bit, reevaluate, and ask someone to challenge you, I really think that helps.”

The problem is that not all instructors are ready to let their guard down, which often leads to conflicts and misunderstandings with professors and instructional designers, who are increasingly important in institutions where the number of courses online continues to grow.

During course development, designers and content experts often spend months together — meeting, brainstorming, exchanging ideas, and editing and revising course material. These meetings are often cordial and constructive, but sometimes the designer and the trainer are at odds.

Instructional design teams interviewed for this story say they establish ways to anticipate, address, and avoid tension or conflict between designers and faculty members. A number of such successful methods are described below.

1. Create a perfect match

Instructional design teams strive to match people they think are compatible. At Ohio State, lead instructional designer John Muir is responsible for pairing designers with instructors. “One of the things I do proactively at the start is get to know the instructors and do my best to pair people up beforehand,” he said.

However, some institutions are too small – or too large – for this strategy to be foolproof. So, instructors and designers can be matched based on the experience and expertise of the designer or just the available designer.

If the momentum doesn’t work, Muir said he’ll move the designers. But if the pair works well together, he can assign the designer to other course projects in that department.

“This allows [the designer] to have consistency with the courses and to have a better understanding of the culture in this part of the university,” he said.

At Rio Salado College in Arizona, Michael Medlock assigns each instructional designer to two or three faculty department chairs, who appoint subject matter experts for online courses.

Medlock, associate dean of instructional design and technology at Rio Salado, said he wants teachers to know (and hopefully respect) the designer to overcome the initial, natural tension and begin to build a relationship. .

Most colleges and universities pair an instructional designer with an instructor, but others — often when creating a MOOC — may assign an entire design team to work on a single course.

2. Convince the skeptics

Many instructors have never taught an online course before, but now need to teach one. This usually doesn’t get the teacher-designer relationship off to a good start, said Penny Ralston-Berg, president of the Quality Matters Instructional Designers Association.

“If it’s forced — faculty members have no choice — we’re starting from a point of contention,” she said.

But instructional designers can mitigate the conflict by helping faculty members acclimate to an online teaching environment. Providing examples of successful online courses and connecting skeptical professors with online instructors generally works better, Muir said.

“This kind of thing at the grassroots level seems to allay a lot of fear,” he said, adding: “[We try] leveraging our faculty champions – some who may have started hesitantly, but have come back and adapted or embraced their role as online educators.

Another approach instructional designers can take is to get a “win” early in the course development process. “Something small that would have a big impact,” said Patrice Prusko, instructional designer at Cornell University, such as introducing a video conferencing tool into the online course so the instructor can meet with students in face-to-face as they do in face-to-face classes.

3. Clarify roles

The most common cause of conflict between instructional designers and subject matter experts stems from a misunderstanding of what each does and what is expected.

“Role clarification can help build bridges between faculty and instructional designers — two sets of professionals with complementary skills and expertise,” said Ralston-Berg, who is also a senior instructional designer at Penn State World Campus.

Like Ohio State’s Knemeyer, other interviewees for this story said some faculty members fear losing control of their courses if an instructional designer helps them develop them. That’s why it’s important for designers to be clear about their role in the partnership, Ralston-Berg said. Instructional designers can offer suggestions and ideas, but they know that ultimately the instructor has the final say.

“Faculty members really know what works in the classroom,” Ralston-Berg said. “It’s not that we want to change everything, we want to keep what works as much as possible.”

Prusko said she tries to be open-minded and receptive to every faculty member she works with. It begins by becoming familiar with the teaching approach, objectives, concerns and priorities of the instructor. She asks what he wants his students to take away from the course in four or five years.

“I let them know that this is a partnership and we’re in this together,” Prusko said. “I think it’s really important to develop that relationship with them.”

Early in the development of online courses, Prusko said she avoided saying no to anything. “I try to let a lot of ideas flow.”

Sometimes faculty members question a designer’s expertise or intentions — not out of disrespect, but out of misunderstanding, said Shawn Miller, director of Duke’s Center for Instructional Technology.

“None of us want to create a course that somehow doesn’t work or fails,” Miller said. “We want to make sure learners have the best possible experience. We can all bond by trying to improve the overall student experience. »

Karen Paulson, an associate professor of higher education at Penn State University, said some initial tension arises when instructional designers suggest changes to a faculty member’s teaching methods or course structure. Until this process begins, many instructors have probably not comprehensively reviewed their teaching approach.

“That’s where you get people who can get defensive,” Paulson said. “Everyone has to respect everyone as a professional. It can collapse on either side.

On the other hand, when the subject matter expert is responsive to a designer’s feedback, it can be a constructive experience for everyone involved, one manager said.

After converting his in-person course to an online format, Knemeyer said he’s now a more thoughtful and intentional online instructor.

“I had been teaching this course in person for so many years that it became simple, which I was going to do every week,” he said. “I really had to think about how to bring it to life online.”

4. Consider the weather

The development of online courses can take several months and sometimes several semesters. Often this requires at least a few hours of the faculty member’s time each week. “Some of the resistance…really comes from time [constraints]said Ralston-Berg.

The same problem is common at Carnegie Mellon University, said Martha Lovett, director of the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation.

“We get the busiest professors doing this job,” Lovett said. “The biggest thing we can do to reduce the tension around time is to be very clear with faculty members about the time and the types of activities they will be doing.”

Pedro Lasch, Associate Research Professor in the Department of Art, Art History, and Visual Studies at Duke University, knows how time-consuming developing an online course can be. He worked with a team of instructional designers from Duke to create a MOOC series that launched in 2015. Lasch tracked the time he spent developing two courses – 900 hours over approximately 10 months.