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Considering What Faculty Value When Working with Instructional Designers and Instructional Design Teams

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Abstract

The purpose of this research was to study what university faculty valued when working with instructional designers and instructional design teams to develop educational simulations. We did this through a case study of three faculty, where we analyzed what they discussed among themselves or communicated to other team members about what mattered to them about their team relationships or the design processes they employed. We structured our case report around three thematic issues that expressed how our participants depicted good relationships and processes. Our report concludes with a discussion of how instructional designers could use our findings in their practice.
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Considering What Faculty Value When
Working with Instructional Designers and
Instructional Design Teams
Jason K. McDonald, Salma Elsayed-Ali, Kayla Bowman, & Amy
A. Rogers
The purpose of this research was to study what university faculty valued when
working with instructional designers and instructional design teams to develop
educational simulations. We did this through a case study of three faculty, where
we analyzed what they discussed among themselves or communicated to other
team members about what mattered to them about their team relationships or
the design processes they employed. We structured our case report around three
thematic issues that expressed how our participants depicted good relationships
and processes. Our report concludes with a discussion of how instructional
designers could use our findings in their practice.
Keywords: educational simulations, Faculty Collaboration, Higher Education,
Instructional Design
IntroductionIntroduction
-00:00
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A key to success for instructional designers in higher education is the relationships they
develop with faculty. Research has shown the positive effects working with instructional
designers can have to improve faculty’s ability to integrate technology into their teaching
(Scoppio & Luyt, 2017), or to develop high-quality online courses (Olesova & Campbell,
2019). Research has also pointed towards several factors important for instructional
designers to develop or maintain effective relationships with faculty. A common conclusion
in the literature is that designer/faculty relationships should be collaborative (Chen &
Carliner, 2021), presumably meaning that both designers and faculty work towards shared
goals, and attempt to develop their association into a productive partnership (Ritzhaupt &
Kumar, 2015). Other findings include that relationships should be flexible (Scoppio & Luyt,
2017), built on trust (Richardson et al., 2019) and empathy (Bawa & Watson, 2017), and
allow designers to serve as mentors for skills in which they have expertise (Olesova &
Campbell, 2019; Richardson et al., 2019).
As Chen and Carliner (2021) concluded in their systematic literature review on this topic,
however, much of the research into instructional designers’ relationships with faculty has
been carried out from the designers’ point of view. As useful as these findings have been,
then, they have likely missed important insights that could be discovered if the faculty
viewpoint had been studied as well. The scope of Chen and Carliner’s review ended in 2017,
and some further research has been published since that did provide more understanding
of what faculty were looking for when working with instructional designers (e.g., Olesova &
Campbell, 2019; Richardson et al., 2019). But even with these additional studies, it appears
instructional design researchers have not explored the faculty worldview in the sense
encouraged by Liu et al. (2007), who advised designers to seek to understand matters that
faculty care about from
the faculty perspective
, and not only from how those concerns fit
into the designers’ communities of practice.
Our purpose in this paper was to contribute towards this end. We used a case study
methodology, focused on three faculty members who were part of an instructional design
team, to understand what they valued when working with other team members
(instructional designers, software developers, and subject matter experts) to develop a
suite of educational simulations. We focused on how the faculty depicted what mattered to
them about work relationships and team processes when communicating with each other
and with other team members. This case presented an opportunity to analyze faculty
values from their own point-of-view, largely independent from the perspective they might
have provided if they were directly asked what they thought about working with
instructional designers or with their design team. This provided a way of understanding
faculty concerns and interests that instructional designers can consider to help their own
relationships with faculty be more effective (cf. Packer, 2018). The specific question
guiding our study of this case was: how did university faculty depict what mattered to them
about instructional design relationships and processes, both in conversation with each
other as well as in communication with other members of an instructional design team?
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The Relationship Between Instructional DesignersThe Relationship Between Instructional Designers
and Facultyand Faculty
Given that only a minority of faculty work with instructional designers in meaningful ways
(Jaschik & Lederman, 2017), how to build relationships between designers and faculty is an
important issue in instructional design research. Among other factors, this issue carried
with it broad implications for how the results of their work (e.g., projects they complete)
could affect the ultimate performance of the students they are both attempting to serve
(Chen & Carliner, 2021). Prior studies showed two trends, both of which pointed towards
the importance of improving designer/faculty relationships in higher education. The trends
were summarized by Pan et al. (2003), who observed that the “relationship between the
instructional designer and the faculty is intimate but vague” (p. 292). On the one hand,
research indicated that faculty generally found their experiences with instructional
designers to be rewarding (Olesova & Campbell, 2019; Richardson et al., 2019). Along with
this, faculty reported enhanced course design (Brown et al., 2013; Drysdale, 2019) and
improved student outcomes (Chittur, 2018) after collaborating with instructional designers.
Further, Olesova & Campbell (2019) found that faculty skills and teaching strategies
improved after being mentored by designers. Overall, faculty who worked with designers
perceived it as beneficial (You, 2010) and were enthusiastic about continued collaboration
(Drysdale, 2019). But at the same time, faculty have also experienced the other side of Pan
et al.’s (2003) observation. Many faculty did not know what to expect from a designer, or
understand the roles designers played in relation to faculty (Drysdale, 2019; Richardson et
al., 2019). This hindered the relationships designers were attempting to develop with them,
which sometimes led to unsatisfying collaborations (Halupa, 2019).
Several factors seemed to be important in developing or maintaining instructional
designer/faculty relationships. In a systematic literature review, Chen and Carliner (2021)
found seven factors recurring in the research. These were: “communication, attitude, trust,
commitment, flexibility, empowerment, [and] healthy workplace culture” (p 13). These
reflected a conclusion drawn in Ritzhaupt and Kumar’s (2015) study of skills needed by
instructional designers in higher education, who stated that a key competency designers
should cultivate was the ability to interrelate with faculty in a professional manner. As
valuable as these factors were, however, they were not a comprehensive list. For instance,
Richardson et al. (2019) concluded that faculty appreciated a sense of assertiveness on
the part of designers they work with. While faculty wanted designers to be flexible as well,
they also expected designers to take stands on important matters, in a spirit of being an
effective mentor (cf. Olesova & Campbell, 2019). This suggested that instructional
designers should seek to tailor their approach to what faculty expected in their working
relationships (cf. Bawa & Watson, 2017).
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Conversely, research indicated there were also factors that could interfere with
instructional designer/faculty relationships. Chen and Carliner (2021) found five hindering
factors in their literature review:
Not understanding the role of the instructional designer, including beliefs on the part
of some faculty that instructional designers are primarily “technical-support staff” (p.
15).
Not being able to communicate clearly, especially when faculty or instructional
designers used technical terminology that is unclear to the other party.
Being overworked on the part of both faculty and instructional designers; having so
many assigned tasks or expected duties that these got in the way of faculty and
designers’ ability to consistently work together on a project.
Uncertainty about independence, where faculty believe that working with instructional
designers will impede their ability to teach what or how they want.
Issues of institutional authority, where it was unclear who was really in charge, the
faculty member or the instructional designer.
Problems could also arise when institutions sent mixed messages, such as when research
universities deemphasized teaching improvements (Richardson et al., 2019; see also Bawa
& Watson, 2017). Differentials in power structures (Schwier & Wilson, 2010), lack of
professionalism on the designers’ part (Liu et al., 2007), or faculty being required to work
with instructional designers (Albrahim, 2018) could also be concerns.
Our study explored factors that faculty valued in their relationships and processes when
working with an instructional design team. Of course, prior research has also examined
faculty attitudes about educational technology, online course development, and related
issues (Harrison et al., 2017; Smidt et al., 2014; Tabata & Johnsrud, 2008; Wingo et al.,
2017). Our study differed in that we did not focus on issues studied in prior research, like
the effects of technology on students or challenges that faculty encountered when
teaching online. We were interested in how they would depict valuable relationships with
instructional designers or design teams, along with how they depicted the processes they
thought would lead to worthwhile ends, apart from other issues that might also affect their
satisfaction with matters related to educational technology. We were also interested in how
faculty would depict these issues
in situ
as their work was unfolding, which also differed
from prior research that often asked faculty to talk after the fact about their relationships
with instructional designers (Richardson et al., 2019). This differing focus should provide
new insights for instructional designers to understand how to work with faculty more
effectively.
MethodMethod
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We used a qualitative case study methodology, focused on three faculty leading a project
to design and develop educational simulations. The case bounds were what they discussed
among themselves or communicated to other team members about what mattered to them
in their work with the instructional designers, software developers, and others associated
with the project. Data were drawn from our ethnographic study of the team, specifically
emails the faculty sent to each other about team organization, and project newsletters they
used to communicate with the rest of the team. We completed a thematic analysis of this
data, drawing on techniques associated with ethnography (Packer, 2018) and hermeneutics
(Fleming et al., 2003), to develop an interpretive account of how the faculty depicted good
working relationships and team organization, grounded in the details of their
in situ
project
communications. Our report took a narrative form, common in interpretive research
approaches like case studies (Newkirk, 1992). We did this to draw attention to the
interrelated character of the values that mattered to the faculty, and to avoid reducing their
experiences into an overly simplistic view that can occur when qualitative data is reduced
into an abstract system of codes (Packer, 2018).
Case Background
The data for this case were taken from our ethnographic research project, studying an
instructional design team that was developing educational simulations to teach students to
collaborate in STEM careers. Our research began when the team was formed in June 2019.
To date we have gathered 97 video observations of team meetings or other interactions, 30
interviews with team members, and over 800 artifacts team members produced (emails,
design documents, project newsletters distributed to team members, etc.). The team itself
was distributed across three universities, and was overseen by faculty members who had
received an NSF grant to study the simulations. In addition to three faculty who were
consistently involved as principal investigators, five other faculty worked on the project to
perform certain tasks (including the lead author, who coordinated video production for the
simulations). Over 30 graduate and undergraduate students have also worked on the
project, some for a few weeks with others engaged for its duration (including two of the
three co-authors, one of whom conducted an evaluation of the team’s on-boarding
processes and the other who provided research support for the principal investigators).
The specific team members we studied were the three faculty leading the team, referred to
by the pseudonyms of Jack, Stacy, and Tim. Jack and Stacy worked at one university in the
Eastern United States, and Tim at another university in the Western United States. All three
belonged to departments of Information Technology and had extensive experience in the
field of human-computer interaction (HCI). Although Jack had an advanced degree in the
learning sciences, none of the three identified as instructional designers. All three faculty
members played very active roles on the project, directing the day-to-day work of the other
faculty and students. Other faculty and students, in turn, were the instructional designers,
software developers, and subject matter experts engaged in designing and developing the
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simulations. They also provided subject matter expertise themselves, as well as
contributed substantive ideas about the learning outcomes, pedagogical models and
activities, and methods of assessment for each simulation. Finally, they coordinated the
simulations’ testing and evaluation, either in their own courses or those of colleagues in
their departments.
Our case began five months after the project was funded. In November 2019, Jack, Stacy,
and Tim flew as many team members as they could to one location, where they held a
series of intensive meetings to begin designing the simulations’ instructional components
(basic learning outcomes, ideas for instructional events, etc.). Upon returning from these
meetings, the three faculty began emailing each other about how to continue the progress
they had made in-person. Over the next three months they debated how to configure the
team to encourage relationships and processes they thought would help them complete
the project, discussed advantages and disadvantages of different configurations, and
communicated their conclusions to persuade the rest of the team to align with their ideals.
Data Sources
The data for the case were 51 emails and newsletters the faculty wrote over a three-month
period, from mid-November 2019 to mid-February 2020. This was a time early in the project
when the faculty were setting norms for their team relationships and design processes, and
so were having frequent email discussions to persuade each other about the value of
certain relational or process factors. They were also frequently communicating what they
valued to other members of the team. Even though this data set included communication
about, and to, team members other than instructional designers, since the background
context was an instructional design project the way the faculty depicted their relationships
and processes can still be a contribution to instructional design scholarship. As McDonald
et al. (2021) argued, “it seems an unnecessary constraint to say that instructional
designers cannot be informed by the motives of their colleagues, especially in the context
of team-based design” (p. 1646).
The research value of this data derived from it being what Flyvbjerg (2001) called an
“extreme” case (p. 77). Extreme case studies are not meant to test a hypothesis, but rather
to yield large amounts of information about a single phenomenon. Their usefulness is at
least partially found in their uniqueness. It is less important that a case can be generalized
than that it provided a unique vantage point to view a phenomenon, one that could reveal
fresh insights about common things (Packer, 2018). Our judgement that this case would be
able to generate the type of information useful for our research questions was based on
three criteria: (a) because the team was distributed they addressed even minor issues
through email, leaving a rich record for analysis; (b) during this formative phase of the
project a number of issues arose that drew out details about what mattered to the faculty
about their working relationships and team organization; and (c) the faculty were
discussing these matters among themselves, not with instructional designers or
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researchers, so it is unlikely they were shaping their comments based on what they thought
other audiences wanted to hear. While they all consented to be research subjects and knew
the artifacts they generated could be analyzed, this specific case was not chosen until after
the events had transpired, and the faculty members did not know in advance these specific
emails would be selected for study, so it was unlikely that any of them were positioning
their comments for public display.
Data Analysis
We conducted a thematic analysis of our data based on a procedure developed by Packer
(2018), and a theoretical framing described by Yanchar and Gong (2019) that provided
techniques for determining matters of significance to research participants. Beginning with
the email and newsletter texts, we identified instances where the authors argued for some
facet of their team relationships or processes as being better or worse than an alternative,
as being good or bad, leading to better or worse simulations, etc. These claims provided
material to analyze our participants’ preferred ways of relating to each other (cf. Yanchar &
Slife, 2017). Through close readings of these instances, we carried out a hermeneutic
analysis of the effects participants’ comments had on their own, and each other’s,
understanding of their experiences. This took place as we identified: (a) the context of each
artifact its background, purpose, and information it contained about our participants’
project involvement; (b) participants’ attempts to persuade each other along with other
team members about the importance of certain relational or process factors; (c)
breakdowns in their experience, and how participants’ depicted their values or underlying
assumptions while working through the difficulties; (d) any explicit values or other
knowledge a participant identified as important for the team’s progress; and (e) instances
where a participant directly responded to another’s statement of value, indicating the effect
the original statement had for them.
From these details we developed a thematic structure of values depicted by our
participants. This consisted of: (a) summarizing details using a word or short phrase that
described the original participant’s comments; (b) comparing/contrasting individual
phrases, looking for relationships between phrases, merging similar phrases, etc.; (c) using
whole/part analysis (Fleming et al., 2003) to refine our interpretations by considering
individual phrases in light of all our data, as well as comparing the whole to the details of
our growing structural system; and (d) selecting illustrative quotes from the original
artifacts to build an account of our thematic structure. We reported these themes using a
narrative style (Newkirk, 1992). This is common in ethnographic and case study research,
because it allows for research to be presented in the context of the circumstances in which
it is relevant (Stake, 2000; Van Manen, 2015), allows researchers to better explicate
interconnections between findings (Flyvbjerg, 2001), and avoids the reductions of meaning
that could occur when relying on methods like reporting the number of times certain codes
were found in the data (Packer, 2018). Narrative reports have a tradition in educational
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research (Gong & Yanchar, 2019; Packer, 2011; Taeger & Yanchar, 2019), including
instructional design research (McDonald & Rogers, 2021; Mertala, 2020; Nelson & Palumbo,
2014).
Limitations
This was a single case study, and so the particular issues that mattered to our participants
will not necessarily be universal to faculty in all circumstances. There also might have been
other issues that mattered to our participants that either they did not articulate, or that they
were unaware of but were still shaping the situation in which they were working. Further,
the context of our study was higher education; subject matter experts or clients that
instructional designers work with in other industries may hold to different commitments
than the faculty members we studied. We recommend future research investigate such
issues in other industries. Finally, our qualitative method did not allow us to make causal
claims about our participants’ experience.
FindingsFindings
We structured our case report around three thematic statements that expressed how our
participants depicted good team relationships and processes. Each theme contained a
dual pair of concepts; each concept within a pair tended to arise near the other when the
faculty were discussing the team qualities they sought. These were:
Collaborative and inclusive – making decisions through discussion and consensus,
while actively seeking to include team members’ ideas and perspectives.
Rational and efficient – valuing objective decisions, made in a cost or time effective
manner.
Expert and engaged – seeking to include individuals with sufficient expertise, as well
as those who had demonstrated their commitment to the project.
In the first two themes the concepts seemed to reinforce each other, while in the third the
faculty sometimes experienced each as being in tension with the other. Additionally, there
were sometimes tensions across the themes as well. Table 1 summarized the themes
along with narrative accounts from our data that illustrate each. We then elaborated on
them in the sections that follow.
Table 1Table 1
Summary of Themes and Illustrating Narratives
ThemeTheme Illustrating NarrativesIllustrating Narratives
Collaborative and inclusive – faculty valued Jack proposed a design task force to allow many team
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making decisions through discussion and
consensus, while actively seeking to include
team members’ ideas and perspectives.
members to be involved in design decisions.
Tim and Jack promoted the value of including student
employees.
Stacy promoted the value of including people from different
disciplinary backgrounds.
Jack and Tim promoted the value of including work from all
team members.
Rational and efficient – faculty valued
making objective decisions in a cost or time
effective manner.
Jack advocated for design processes based on rational
criteria.
A project newsletter promoted the team’s rational ideals.
Tim trusted that orderly and efficient processes would
facilitate the team’s progress.
Jack asked Stacy to generate design options that could be
evaluated through rational criteria.
Expert and engaged – faculty valued the
inclusion of individuals with expertise, as well
as those who had demonstrated their
commitment to the project.
Jack and Stacy proposed a subject matter expert be
appointed leader of the design task force.
Tim proposed that he and Stacy lead the task force because
they had design expertise and had been most involved in the
project.
Tim advocated for other team members to take leadership
positions because of their expertise.
Jack resisted Tim’s proposal because one of those
individuals had not demonstrated commitment to the
project.
Stacy suggested participation from someone with expertise
in the team’s instructional design process.
Jack changed his mind about the task force leader because
his first choice had not demonstrated commitment to the
project; at the same time he requested further involvement
from an instructional designer who had expertise in an area
of need.
Collaborative and Inclusive
The artifacts we analyzed indicated that our participants treated design relationships as
good when they collaboratively made decisions through discussion and consensus, and
actively sought to include team members’ ideas. They sought this across institutions,
across disciplines, and between levels of their social hierarchy (e.g., faculty and student
employees). This should not be taken as evidence that their work was always as
collaborative and inclusive as they claimed. While we did not analyze their actual decision
making in this study, we noted that in reality small groups made many of the significant
decisions about the simulations (such as each one’s learning outcomes, the instructional
strategies underlying their design, or how outcomes would be assessed). Yet, regardless of
how their practice unfolded, the faculty depicted themselves as embracing collaboration
and inclusion, while claiming that deviations were necessary adjustments needed to
manage the project’s complexity.
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Our first examples were drawn from an email conversation where Jack proposed creating
“a design task force” consisting of members from all three universities, to carry forward the
momentum the team had generated during their in-person design meetings. Task force
members would meet regularly to “share info and gather ideas from others who are not in
the group so that others are involved,” as decisions were made about the learning activities
students would complete during each simulation. While Jack realized that “adding [people
to decision making structures] adds complexity, he wanted to include anyone who was
interested, “if a person feels strongly they want to be involved I would be open.”
Although both Tim and Stacy had questions about Jack’s proposal, as they replied they
also expressed the same commitments of collaboration and inclusion. Tim agreed that
“bringing in input from those on your list seems critical.” But he was “concerned” about the
specific structure Jack proposed, so he suggested that he and Stacy lead the design. He
also attempted to preemptively resolve concerns Jack might have about his
recommendation by saying, “perhaps you are worried that we would exclude others’
opinions? . . . I can assure you that would not be what happens.In a series of additional
emails, while they continued to disagree about the task force itself, they both affirmed their
interest in collaboration and inclusion through statements like, “I would like a process
where alternatives are discussed;” “any member(s) of the team can propose how things will
work;” “I really like the idea that anyone can contribute designs;” and “we can all be part of
decision-making.” Stacy also agreed with the values her partners expressed and specifically
noted the importance of including a certain individual with instructional design experience,
“I don’t see why he should not be included – it’s better to be inclusive at this stage.
We found similar commitments to collaboration and inclusion in other artifacts. At one
point Tim promoted the value of including student employees in the process, “it’s essential
that we get students heavily involved in the design.” Later, in an email to students, Jack
assured them that they would be meaningfully involved. Even though “because of logistics
we are going to be a small group making the final decisions,” he wanted the students to
know “we will include people and support your ideas being part of this.” In another email,
Stacy proposed including people from different disciplinary backgrounds, offering an
example of one individual who would be “an excellent sounding board” while the team was
selecting instructional material. And finally, in another email, Jack asserted, “I am
determined to include the work of everyone.In his reply, Tim began by reiterating Jack’s
position, “I like how we’re trying to incorporate work from everyone.
Rational and Efficient
The artifacts we analyzed also suggested that our participants valued rational and efficient
decision making, which they seemingly defined as making decisions based on objective
criteria, in a cost- and time-effective manner. This was more than discussing options in a
utilitarian sense, attempting to dispassionately weigh alternatives based on rational or
efficient criteria. While at times they debated the merits of specific options in terms of how
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to maximize their ability to make rational or efficient decisions, they also described
rationality and efficiency as being goods in themselves. They treated them like
fundamentally better ways to design educational products. This suggested they viewed
those motives as more praiseworthy than alternatives. Their team would be a better team,
and their simulations would be better learning experiences, the closer they aligned with
rational and efficient ideals.
One example was an email from Jack to Tim. Jack noted that, “I am primarily interested in
a process that gives us a good design and team.” He highlighted that a reason for this was
if they did not have such a process, “we might just move forward and lose things we could
have learned,” and thereby become less efficient decision makers. Jack then encouraged
Tim, “you and I will need to . . . exercise some discipline to have a complete process.” Jack
also alluded to how their process should be rational. He suggested that the right process
would facilitate a principle-based “analysis” of instructional design “options” the team
generated. He added that, “[if] we give it what it needs . . . as a group we will find the best
options.He also suggested that using rational decision-making criteria would mean, “our
first iteration [of the simulation] is the better in my view.” We draw attention to the language
in Jack’s email suggesting the qualitative value he was attributing to rationality and
efficiency. The team would find the “best” options if they followed a process that allowed
them to rationally weigh alternatives. The first iteration of the simulation would be “better”
if they did so. An efficient process was a “good” process. Even stating that they should
have the “discipline” to follow such a process suggested that Jack saw these motives as
being more exemplary than alternatives, as if those who did not adhere to them were
lacking the virtue of self-discipline.
A similar tone was evident in other writings. In one instance, the faculty sent a newsletter to
team members that included a section seemingly meant to convince them of the value of
the team’s rational ideals. Contrasting their instructional simulation with off-the-shelf
games, the newsletter stated that entertaining games could presumably be designed
through any process. But the intricate simulations the team was designing, that were
meant to be more than “fun and engaging” but also would allow “student players to take
away some knowledge,” needed a different approach. It “requires a deliberate design
[process]” that would help them “structure” the many components of a simulation, so they
aligned with the objective principles of the instructional strategy and the learning outcomes
on which they were relying. And at another time, Tim described his trust in an orderly and
efficient process that would facilitate the team’s “progress” towards decisions about “high
level learning outcomes and the core [instructional] structure. A further instance was an
email where Jack proposed having Stacy and another individual generate some alternatives
for the simulation narrative, which would then be evaluated by team members who “would
look at it in terms of pros and cons.” Jack reiterated that Stacy and her colleague would
generate “different possibilities, but that “we will need some way to evaluate options” to
choose the best one. In context, all these statements evoked a similar sense that rationality
and efficiency were virtues, as they were entwined with expressions that suggested our
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participants considered such forms of decision making to be praiseworthy. These included
Tim’s declaration that “I really like the idea” of a honed, efficient process, and Jack’s
statement that “I expect we would be happy” to adopt ideas generated through rational
means.
Expert and Engaged
As the faculty conversed with each other they tended to describe their relationships and
processes as good when they placed people with what they called “expertise” in key
positions. Although they rarely, if ever, explicitly defined how they were using the term, they
used it often, frequently discussing it as a quality they should seek out and promote when
they found it. However, in contrast to a pure expert-centric approach, they also routinely
argued that at least in some circumstances people’s demonstrated commitment to, and
prior engagement with, the project should be prioritized over expertise.
One example was found in Jack’s proposal for the design task force. This instance not only
illustrated how expertise was important to the faculty, but also how they moderated its
importance by also considering how engaged people had been with the project. When Jack
proposed the task force, he also suggested a certain team member, Ann, be appointed
“chair of the task force” because he thought it was “a good fit for her expertise.” She was
the instructor of classes that taught similar subjects to those students would learn in the
simulations. She also had HCI experience and so could provide input into the simulations’
user interface. Later, Stacy similarly recognized the importance of including Ann because
of her expertise, or, as she put it, “she brings a wealth of knowledge.” But in contrast, when
Tim expressed his concerns about the task force, he stated that while he agreed that
“including [Ann] is wise,” he thought appointing her as chair was “unwise” because she had
not “been involved in everything people have been learning over the past 6 months”
(expressing his concern that Ann had not been as engaged as others). Further, when Tim
argued that he and Stacy should lead the design, he justified the suggestion both by his
own expertise, saying he had years of experience designing educational simulations and so
“I typically play a similar role” in other projects, and because of Stacy’s prior engagement,
since she had been “the most involved from [her university].
The debate about Ann’s proposed leadership continued a few days later in further emails.
Jack continued to advocate for Ann being the task force leader, “I need to have a role for
Ann, and I thought that by chairing this group we could use her expertise as we work
through alternatives.” In contrast, Tim argued for including Ann somehow, but not to
appoint her as leader, “don’t get me wrong, I think we should use her expertise, just not put
her in a leadership role over design. Tim also pointed out how promoting Ann might be
problematic for those who had been committed to the project for a longer period of time.
He said, “it may also seem strange” to other team members if Ann were given a leadership
role, in the sense of wondering why a person who had not been involved was given a key
position, and not one of them.
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The faculty’s commitments to promoting expertise and engagement were also evident in
other emails. In a discussion about two individuals in particular, Tim advocated that either,
or both, of them should be included because they “both have extensive experience with
this.One was an instructional designer and the other was a creative writer, both of whom
had worked with Tim on previous simulations. But Jack expressed reserve about how
committed and engaged one of these individuals had been, “I would be worried with [this
person] based on him not showing up to . . . meetings that were designed for him
specifically.In another email, Stacy seemed to prioritize an expert-centric quality to the
team’s design relationships. She observed that a certain individual should be sought out
and invited to participate because he was “familiar” with an instructional design process
that “is aligned with our approaches.” Finally, at another time Jack requested that a
particular instructional designer be brought into a discussion about the process the team
would use to create learning activities, since that type of work “seems in his wheelhouse”
(that is, an area of expertise). Additionally, by that time Jack had also become less
enthusiastic about including Ann in the design task force because she had stopped
responding to his emails, which indicated to him that she was possibly not as engaged as
he wanted her to be.
Tensions Across Themes
At times in our analysis, the faculty’s commitment to certain themes seemed to be in
tension with their commitments to others. One example was tensions between the values
of rationality and efficiency, contrasted with their commitments to collaboration and
inclusion. For instance, when discussing how to collaborate with various groups, the faculty
would occasionally note there was a limit to how inclusive they would be—usually justified
on grounds of helping the team be as efficient as possible. Some of these examples were
described earlier, such as when Jack emailed student employees about their involvement.
Before soliciting their participation, he was careful to state that “because of logistics”
students would not be decision makers, but could offer “suggestions. Also, when
proposing the design task force Jack alluded to how “adding more [people] adds
complexity, and so as the principal investigators one of their roles was to “keep our
meetings manageable.” And in a project newsletter, the faculty wrote that “we need to be
efficient in how we use [the] expertise” of the individuals involved, due to the difficulties of
“getting a large number of people” together, “complicated by geography and time zones.”
Similarly, at times our participants seemed to recognize that their commitment towards
collaboration and inclusion could be in tension with an expert-centric approach, or,
alternatively, promoting team members who had been most engaged. We illustrate this by
referring back to Jack’s concern that a certain individual was “not showing up” to meetings.
In the same message where he expressed his concern, he reiterated, “again, anyone can
spend time designing and propose a design,but this did not mean those who were not
committed could assume any role on the project. Those with a history of engagement were
to be prioritized over others.
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It was also notable that while faculty members’ communication among themselves and
with the rest of the team reflected the existence of competing commitments, they never
explicitly or directly commented on the tensions. We can imagine that if any friction had
been pointed out to the faculty, they would have been able to recognize it, and even been
able to comment on why the tensions existed, or what commitments they consciously
thought should be prioritized. Yet in the moment, such self-reflection seemed to be absent.
There was not evidence of any conscious attempt on the faculty members’ part to
reconcile the tensions. Instead, if any sense of why they were acting as they did was
evident in their communication, it seemed to be based on their affective responses to
salient features of the individual situations. Certain situational aspects presented
themselves as the decisive motive for taking an action. This was evidenced by statements
from the documents that highlighted faculty members’ affective motivations, such as a
newsletter’s claim that logistical challenges “raises the importance” of choosing a team
organization that balanced collaboration and efficiency, or when Tim noted that he was
“extremely anxious” that the team not let collaboration get in the way of making efficient
decisions about the simulations’ learning outcomes or learning events.
Discussion and Implications for PracticeDiscussion and Implications for Practice
The themes our participants expressed throughout our study suggested several
possibilities for action that instructional designers could consider to help their own
relationships with faculty be more effective. First, the consistency between our findings and
prior research could increase instructional designers’ confidence in what scholars have
previously reported about important elements in designer/faculty relationships. Second, a
more unique contribution of our findings was the further detail they provided about
concepts found in prior literature, that address gaps in the field’s understanding about what
might matter to faculty in instructional design relationships and processes. Third, our study
illustrates our participants’ commitments to multiple values about design relationships and
processes. This highlights the importance of instructional designers being sensitive to the
same possibility in their own relationships with the faculty they work with. Further
discussion of each of these points is provided below.
We first note the consistency of our findings with previous instructional design research.
For instance, collaboration was a recurring theme among our participants, aligning with
one of the more common findings about instructional designer/faculty relationships in the
existing literature (Chen & Carliner, 2021). Similarly, our participants also valued efficiency
as found by Olesova and Campell (2019), engagement as found by Bawa and Watson
(2017), and expertise as found by Chittur (2018). Although case studies can be valuable
even if they differ from prior literature, the alignment of our findings with other research
suggested a useful implication. At least in part, it means this study is a form of source
triangulation with what other scholars have reported (Lincoln & Guba, 1985), and helps
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contribute to the soundness of what scholars have investigated in instructional designers’
relationships with faculty. For instance, because our findings were generated from analysis
of faculty communications when they did not know researchers would be listening in, this
supports the trustworthiness of similar factors that faculty have reported to researchers
through interviews (the method used for many prior studies). Consistency between studies
is evidence that the results of prior research have not been a result of faculty giving
researchers what they perceived to be socially acceptable answers. This should increase
instructional designers’ confidence in regard to aligning their relationships and processes
with what the literature has previously reported. A further practical implication of this
consistency is the likely overlap it indicates about what matters to instructional designers
and faculty about their working relationships. This suggests that instructional designers
could explicitly talk to faculty about their similar values, which might help lay a foundation
for developing a successful relationship themselves (cf. Rogers & Ballard, 1995).
Second, our findings offer a more unique contribution through the further detail they
provided about some of the concepts reported in prior literature. This can address gaps in
researchers’ or practitioners’ understanding of what might matter to other faculty about
instructional design relationships or processes. Using collaboration as an example, Chen
and Carliner (2021) noted that while many researchers have discussed its importance, they
have not defined the construct itself; “despite a strong pattern . . . of studies that
characterize the working relationship between faculty and instructional designers as
‘collaborative. . . few studies actually provide definitions of a ‘collaborative’ relationship”
(p. 20). While our study did not provide a formal definition of the term either, the detail our
participants provided about it could help instructional designers develop robust notions of
what faculty might mean when they talk about collaboration, without reducing what is likely
a multi-dimensional construct into a simple definition that could eliminate the nuance or
distinctions that mattered most (this was a particular strength of our narrative case
method; it allowed for rich exploration of topics that could be easy to oversimplify). For
instance, when our participants talked about collaboration they included sharing ideas,
actively seeking out others’ opinions, allowing any team member to propose ideas,
discussing alternatives people might raise, and joint forms of decision making. If
instructional designers understood collaboration in the rich way our participants discussed
they could be better prepared to have meaningful discussions about the type of
collaborative relationship they might develop with the faculty with whom they are working.
The same is true for other themes from our findings. The detail our participants discussed
about rationality in instructional design (e.g., deliberate action; finding the right process)
could inform designers’ conversations with other faculty about what types of processes
will be most advantageous to them. Or, our participants’ understanding of engagement
(e.g., commitment to the project’s cause; being present and involved with other team
members) could contribute towards designers’ understanding of why faculty they work with
may or may not welcome the help of certain individuals in an instructional design project.
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Third, there were times in our analysis when it appeared that issues that mattered to our
participants were experiencing tension with each other. For instance, even though our
participants valued expertise and often attempted to align their team structure with this
ideal, expertise was not the only value they held to about the team, and so at times we
found them prioritizing engagement or collaboration over expertise. Similarly, while there
were instances where they prioritized collaboration over efficiency, there were also cases of
them doing the reverse. Overall, the faculty in our study were navigating a rich landscape of
values that mattered to them, while at the same time trying to cope with the practicalities
of their situation as they encountered it. This meant that at certain times one value could
speak to them more loudly than others, and their different values were either more or less
relevant based on the most salient characteristics of the moment. So, it appears overly
simplistic to promote a set of values as being what matters to faculty about team
relationships or processes, without also recognizing how those values could be stronger or
weaker in certain contexts, or how certain values might be what faculty prioritized in one
setting, while in a different setting they prioritize others that might even appear to be in
competition with what they had valued only a short time before.
This observation could help contextualize factors regarding instructional designer/faculty
relationships reported in prior research. For instance, Chen and Carliner (2021) described
good designer/faculty relationships as being based on “clear [agreement] upon the
ownerships and leaderships involved in the design process beforehand” (pp. 14-15). They
also described good relationships as being flexible, “adjusting instructional-design
processes and types of support” as different needs arose (p. 14). While much of the time
these values could complement each other, it could also be possible for them to be at least
somewhat incompatible as well. For example, there may be circumstances where a more
flexible approach could overcome a roadblock in a project, yet such flexibility might conflict
with agreed upon responsibilities that faculty and instructional designers had previously
determined. Instructional designers should be sensitive to these possibilities, and consider
the particular needs of the faculty they are working with at a particular time, which could
alter how the faculty might value one course of action over another. Explicit conversations
with faculty about potential value conflicts could also help instructional designers navigate
these kinds of circumstances.
ConclusionConclusion
In this study we investigated what university faculty valued when working with an
instructional design team to develop educational simulations. This provided insights into
matters the faculty found to be significant about their relationships and processes with the
team. Specifically, they valued: (a) collaboration and inclusion; (b) rationality and efficiency;
and (c) expertise and engagement. In the first two themes the dual concepts seemed to
reinforce each other, while in the third the faculty sometimes experienced each as being in
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tension with the other. Additionally, there were sometimes tensions across the themes as
well. These issues were consistent with prior research, suggesting that instructional
designers can have confidence in the growing body of scholarship pointing towards what
kinds of factors matter in designer/faculty relationships. Unique contributions of our study
were the further detail it provided about constructs our participants found to be important
in their relationships and processes, as well as how it illustrated that their commitment to
multiple values about design relationships and processes can be in tension with each
other. While further research will be useful in understanding how these factors could affect
instructional designers/faculty interactions in other settings, even with the limitations we
noted our study pointed to some of the ways that instructional designers can build a
foundation for successful relationships when engaged with faculty in instructional design
work.
FundingFunding
Part of this work was supported by the National Science Foundation grant number
1915620.
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Suggested CitationSuggested Citation
McDonald, J. K. , Elsayed-Ali, S., Bowman, K., & Rogers, A. (2022). Considering What
Faculty Value When Working with Instructional Designers and Instructional
Design Teams.
The Journal of Applied Instructional Design, 11
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Jason K. McDonaldJason K. McDonald
Dr. Jason K. McDonald is a Professor of Instructional Psychology & Technology
at Brigham Young University. He brings over twenty years of experience in
industry and academia, with a career spanning a wide-variety of roles connected
to instructional design: face-to-face training; faculty development; corporate
eLearning; story development for instructional films; and museum/exhibit design.
He gained this experience as a university instructional designer; an executive for
a large, international non-profit; a digital product director for a publishing
company; and as an independent consultant.
Dr. McDonald's research focuses around advancing design practice and design
education. He studies design as an expression of certain types of relationships
with others and with the world, how designers experience rich and authentic ways
of being human, the contingent and changeable nature of design, and design as a
human accomplishment (meaning how design is not a natural process but is
created by designers and so is open to continually being recreated by designers).
At BYU, Dr. McDonald has taught courses in instructional design, media and
culture change, project management, learning psychology, and design theory. His
work can be found at his website: http://jkmcdonald.com/
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Salma Elsayed-AliSalma Elsayed-Ali
Salma Elsayed-Ali is a PhD candidate at the University of Maryland, focusing on
Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), participatory design, and collective creativity.
Kayla BowmanKayla Bowman
Kayla Bowman has an MS degree from the department of Instructional
Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University, and is currently a senior
instructional designer at Weave.
Amy A. RogersAmy A. Rogers
Amy Rogers is a graduate student in the department of Instructional Psychology
and Technology at Brigham Young University. As a former school counselor, she
hopes her degree will allow her to design effective instructional materials and
experiences that help bridge the gap between research and practice.
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