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[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen online instructors and instructional designers work together to develop a course, communication is often one of the biggest challenges as thoughts and intentions on both sides get lost in translation. As a faculty member who’s also spent time as an instructional designer, I’ve had many conversations with my colleagues on the misconceptions each side brings to the relationship.
In this article, I discuss six common misconceptions instructional designers and faculty harbor about the other and how to solve them. My hope is that the article gives both parties some practical, concrete ways to mitigate problems often encountered during the course development process.
1. Faculty members often think that instructional designers are content experts. In reality, many instructional designers know very little about macroeconomics, biology, European history, or any of the various courses they might be asked to design. Their expertise lies in designing learning experiences. Instructional designers should help faculty understand instructional design through their work by presenting themselves as experts in learning and design. As one of my colleagues likes to say, “faculty will eventually recognize that if you’re doing it right.” Instructional designers should be honest about their level of knowledge about the subject matter. This way, faculty do not assume that the instructional designer knows all the nuances of the subject matter. This can help to make communications about specific course content more clear.2. Many faculty see instructional designers as similar to technical support or help desk. Faculty often request videos and other multimedia from instructional designers without realizing that the effective integration of technology is not as straightforward as it sounds, and it’s here that instructional designers can provide valuable support.One suggestion for instructional designers that would alleviate this misconception is that they should help faculty focus on the learners and their experience. Instructional designers can do this by asking clear and concise questions about the learners, the content, and the learning experience, especially in the beginning of the process. A course development checklist might help faculty focus on the learning experience they wish to create.3. Instructional designers fail to fully explain the course development process to faculty. This can lead to faculty having unrealistic timelines for course development. As an instructional designer, I’ve worked on large university projects where the faculty expect their courses to be designed within a month. In most cases, this is just not the reality of course development. Faculty may have no idea about tweaking learning outcomes, assessing content, reviewing learning activities, developing assessments, building in interactivity, and inputting the course into an LMS. On the other side, I’ve seen inexperienced instructional designers brag to faculty about making courses with original video lectures without taking into account the amount of time needed to create such videos.An instructional designer colleague once suggested that determining action items and deliverables up front helps to avoid “scope creep”, or the expansion of project goals. I find that scope creep is a common mistake often made by inexperienced instructional designers. When faculty are not clear on what the deliverables are at each stage of the development process, it is because they are not informed by the instructional designer. This misconception lead to breakdowns in communication and results in a poor final product.4. Faculty think that the online version of their course will have the same flow and content as face-to-face lectures. Many faculty who are new to online teaching have a hard time conceptualizing what their face-to-face lectures will look like in an online setting. They might think that the online version of their face-to-face course is simply the addition of PowerPoint slides or recorded video lectures. For instance, I have seen experienced faculty narrate the bullet points of their PowerPoint lectures and refer to this as an “interactive, online course.”In reality, online courses offer a refreshing level of creative freedom. For instance, interactive presentations created with Articulate or Captivate allow students to learn in multiple modalities, such as audio, video, and animation. Students can create their own pathways of learning a subject by staying on topics serially or by jumping around to different components of the course. This changes the way that students learn the material.Showing examples of good online course designs will help faculty better understand how students can learn and interact within an online course environment. This also gives boundaries of what would work (and not work) for the particular student demographic.5. Instructional designers often focus too much on the use of technology and do not explain how it enhances learning. Instructional designers should not go overboard with technology when designing a course. Some instructional designers (especially those unfamiliar with teaching), sometimes recommend technology that is too complicated, or they don’t think about how instructors would facilitate courses in a blended learning situation.Instructional designers should focus on how technology can help enhance the learning experience for students and not about the technology itself. When speaking to faculty about technology, instructional designers should say things like “The use of [technology X] would enhance the learning because... Done this way, the activity would help students learn this concept because...”In addition, instructional designers should seek to understand the faculty member's course expectations. They should ask questions such as “What does a successful course/learning activity/discussion/etc. look like for you? What would you like students to learn here? What is the most important thing for the students to learn with this module/course/activity?”6. Both faculty and instructional designers fail to communicate and give clear feedback about the progress of the course development. This failure to give feedback and deal with potential obstacles inevitably leads to a course that does not satisfy the educational goals. I’ve seen this happen on large-scale course development projects where timelines get condensed and course prototypes get skipped. This lack of feedback leads to unhappy faculty who are tasked with teaching courses that don’t fully address the learning hurdles experienced by students.It is imperative that faculty and instructional designers work closely at each stage of the course design process, especially at the beginning when determining appropriate learning activities and interactive elements. Instructional designers should hold “live demo” meetings with faculty as the course is being developed so that faculty can experience the various elements of the course and how they all fit together.On the other side, faculty should give clear feedback on each portion of the course. To elicit this kind of feedback, instructional designers can ask the right questions such as “What do you like and dislike about this? Would this work for your students? Are you comfortable with this?”Conclusion
A successful relationship between faculty and instructional designer benefits everyone involved, especially students. In talking with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, for me, the most important takeaway is that relationships between faculty and instructional designers should be highly collaborative and collegial. Together, both parties involved in the course development experience can offer best practices in a constructive, informed way to produce quality courses that facilitate student learning.
Angela Heath teaches online computer courses at Baptist Health Systems in San Antonio, Texas.