Author: rebeccasailor

When New IDs Meet Old SMEs: Advice for Understanding Facultyspeak

As an instructional designer (ID) new to an institution of higher education, you are no doubt bright-eyed and eager to help improve university-level learning and to assist with much-needed faculty development and support.  Armed with your excellent education, great awareness of instructional design, comprehension of pedagogical theory, and technological know-how, you’re ready to dedicate yourself to the cause.  The problem is that nobody seems to want what you have to offer.

Perhaps the first slap in the face a new ID receives is a baffling lack of faculty enthusiasm for your subject and goals.  As Brenda Litchfield, U. S. Faculty Developer, writes, the hardest part of being a faculty developer might be “getting faculty to come to workshops” (Reiser and Dempsey 224).  Indeed, subject-matter experts (SMEs) are often resistant to IDs, despite the benefits each can offer the other.  At times, it may seem that teachers themselves are the ones getting in the way of good teaching.  If only IDs had a handbook for understanding SME language (aka Facultyspeak)!

According to Jacquie McDonald, an Instructional Designer in Australia, the ability to “’sell’ ID theory (which often means more work to time stressed staff) is a key ID skill” (Reiser and Dempsey 221).  I asked several SMEs at a local community college this question:  What do you wish IDs would understand better when delivering workshops or helping you design classes?  Perhaps their responses, below, will give you insight on how to speak the language.

SME #1:  Humanities Professor

“Trust me.  Assume I know something about technology.”

  • Sometimes, when IDs sit down with SMEs, they may make assumptions about instructor abilities with technology.  Many instructors typically possess a great amount of experience with technology (or believe they do).  It should not be assumed that instructors having technology problems lack enthusiasm and skills with technology.

SME #2:  English and literature Professor

“Don’t make me relearn things I already know.”

  • IDs can mistakenly assume a lack of pedagogical understanding on the part of SMEs; for example, one ID writes that SMEs are “trained in content, not pedagogy” (226).  While instructors may indeed lack formal academic training in pedagogy, it is rarely true that they are without intense on-the-job training.  Try to assess the actual needs of instructors before delivering trainings; time-stressed professors feel dishonored by professional development that “teaches” information that is already known, whether technical or pedagogical.

SME #3:  History Professor

“You can never go wrong putting the emphasis on the human element.”

  • IDs can build credibility with professors by listening to “big picture” instructor goals, which often mix both content-level goals and affective goals (to connect, to guide, to help students grow).   IDs, understandably, get excited about new tools that can help instructors but are disappointed when teachers don’t employ them.  However, many instructors resist technology because they perceive impediments to the interpersonal relationships that create the matrix where effective learning occurs.  In other words, IDs could do a better job showing instructors that they get the intense emotional work that professors often perform.

SME 4:  Philosophy Professor 

“Stay focused on where students are coming from.”

  • Instructors are the institutional members who develop and support long term interpersonal relationships with students.  While IDs offer essential services for professors, they are typically distanced from the realities of the one-on-work with students experiencing a course.  While a problem may be “fixed” quickly from a technological viewpoint, damage to an instructor’s credibility and students’ engagement may take much longer to repair.  Sometimes, it feels that IDs do not recognize the high stakes for success, nor are they the ones to “face the music” when failure occurs.  Finally, it is essential for IDs to understand that, in two-year institutions especially, students may be using computers for the first time.  It’s essential that instructional design addresses student technological skills on each end of the high-low spectrum.

To summarize the spirit of most of the interviewees’ comments, IDs could improve by honoring the two factors professors seem to value most:  1) knowledge (of their subject matter, of technology, of pedagogy) and 2) a sincere desire to help students. 

These interviews illuminate only a few faculty opinions and no ID opinions.  The author hopes to develop this idea further in the future and would welcome an ID point-of-view.


Designing Effective Cross-Cultural Instruction

by Rebecca Sailor

The Rise of Cross-Cultural Communication

According to Monica Tracey and Gary Morrison, the need for developing effective cross-cultural training in the workplace is growing rapidly (Riser and Dempsey 184).  Innovative tools such as email, internet, and Skype allow us to expand our business borders and work both nationally and internationally, and as our communities become more diverse, we regularly employ multiple-language speakers.

The need for effective instructional design is increased when the content of the training relates to worker safety, institutional compliance, public health, etc.  If workers cannot access, utilize, and employ the information provided in such trainings, the consequences can be devastating to all involved.

Factors to Consider

Tracey and Morrison emphasize that two factors should be considered when designing cross-cultural instruction:  societal cultural factors and learner cultural factors.

Societal cultural factors may include:

  • generational and social heritage and/or traditions
  • the ideas, values, and rules for learning;
  • the way problems are solved;
  • the interpretation of patterns, colors, and symbols;
  • and the comprehension of ideas and behaviors (Riser and Dempsey 182)

Learner cultural factors may include:

  • Learner/instructor role expectations
  • Concept of time and use of authentic activities
  • Learners communication styles
  • Learners approach to interpersonal relationships
  • Environment to which a learner transfers the learning (Riser and Dempsey 182)

Instructional designers should first research and consider each aspect of societal- and learner-cultural factors when designing training materials.

Tips for Effective Design

Instructional designers may use a variety of tools to deliver instruction; however, Richard Johnson-Sheehan, author of Technical Communication Today, suggests that those desiring to communicate well internationally and/or cross-culturally should spend plenty of time researching the target culture.  Different expectations in content, organization, style, and design can greatly affect the usability of materials.  Here are some questions that instructional designers might ask.

  • Content:  What types of information are acceptable?  Must an instructor establish his/her reputation in order to establish trust before delivering training?  Are persuasive techniques favored or disdained?  Is the trainee allowed to bargain with content, or is s/he expected to accept it compliantly?
  • Organization:    What are the target culture’s expectations for document and presentation structure?  Does this culture value “getting to the point,” or must contextual or interpersonal bonds be built first? Is repetition favored or disdained?
  • Style:  Does the target culture value plain or ornate language?  What levels of formality are expected?  Do trainees expect to collaborate in training sessions?
  • Design:  How do readers in the target culture visually scan a page or screen (Left to right?  Right to left?)  Does the target culture have strong associations with specific colors, symbols, etc?  Will your visuals and graphics translate to the target culture?  (Johnson Sheehan 28-37)

The Importance of Good Cross-cultural Design

It’s important that instructional designers work to meet the needs of all learners in order to make sure that both employers and employees are safe, that human performance is maximized, and that business goals are met. 

More Resources That Could Help:

  • SAGE Publications, including journals such as Cross-Cultural and Intercultural Communication, Global Media and Communication, and Journal of Business and Technical Communication.
  • Intercultural Communication Institute.

Works Cited

Johnson-Sheehan, Richard.  Technical Communication Today.  4th Ed. Boston: Pearson, 2012.

Reiser, Robert, and John Dempsey.  Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology.  3rd Edition.  Boston:  Pearson, 2012.