Negotiating the Faculty / Instructional Designer Dance when Developing Online Courses

I have been involved in one way or the other with helping faculty members in higher education make the transition to online learning environments for many years. And I have always been fascinated by the intricate dance that ensues as professors and instructional designers feel each other out, get used to their new “dance partners,” and try to coordinate their steps in a way that works and leaves all toes intact. Sometimes a beautiful waltz results and the partners glide across the floor to the finish of the course development process with perfect coordination. Other times, things move in fits and starts and never get in rhythm as the dance partners are going in opposite directions. It can be painful to watch, and can be a frustrating experience for both partners.

I have thought a lot about the faculty / instructional designer relationship lately, and I offer the following advice to both sides as a recipe for success.

For Instructional Designers:

  • Be aware that there is naturally going to be some anxiety, apprehension, and skepticism from the faculty member initially. Teaching has likely been a very solitary pursuit for them up to now and letting someone else in on the process can be uncomfortable at first. You need to build trust with them slowly, play to their strengths, and not take them too far out of their comfort zone all at once.
  • Assure the faculty member that the idea of online learning is not to “replace” them, but to provide another way for them to reach and interact with learners.
  • Respect the faculty member’s subject matter / discipline expertise, but demonstrate to them that you have some expertise in the teaching and learning realm.
  • Respect the real world limitations that will impact course design. You need to take into account class size, TA availability, and faculty time available. Remember, you are not the one who will have to teach the course, so do not burden those who will with unreasonable expectations.
  • It’s not about you. It’s not about creating an award-winning online course that will get you accolades from your peers. It’s about creating a solid, well-designed course that respects the resource limits noted above and the teaching style of the instructor, and that engages learners as much as possible.

For Faculty:

  • Don’t be so defensive. No one is invading your turf, taking over your course, trying to make you obsolete, or stealing your IP.
  • Treat the online course development process as a chance to grow and learn and genuinely reflect on your teaching practice. You are an expert in your field. And although you may have taught for years, chances are that there some things you do not know about teaching and learning, particularly when mediated with technology. Recognize that instructional designers have expertise that can make you better at what you do.
  • Respect the development schedule. Deliver what you promise when you promise it. Realize that there is a lot of work that has to be completed by design and production staff after you have provided basic course content and directions. Getting behind schedule puts everyone behind the eight ball.
  • It’s not about you and what kinds of approaches to online learning make your life easiest. It’s about creating a learning environment and facilitating a course in such way that encourages deep learning among your students.

The faculty / instructional designer dance, to work well, requires some nifty footwork. There has to be trust between the partners and some give and take from both sides. If this happens, no one’s toes will get crushed and the learners will be the beneficiaries of the outcome.

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