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.