Faculty development or instructional design?

I recently attended an EduCause workshop on instructional design and several of the speakers were discussing current and emerging trends, as well as, some of their success stories.

One of the speakers was talking about a continuum of course design, ranging from independent to standardized. They were arguing the case for standardized course design to aid with scalability; issues relating to quality assurance (when institutions have too many adjuncts); as well as consistency across multi-section courses. They went on to explain that faculty development can now be focused on better facilitation of online content.

For some reason, that didn’t sit with me very well. I started to reflect on my own experiences as both a faculty member and faculty developer and immediately remembered my first PD session during my first year of teaching, upon completing my teacher training. I remember wanting to integrate what I’ve learnt into my teaching almost immediately, and when this new strategy is the only ‘alternative’ teaching strategy you know, you tend to overuse it. My experiences in faculty development and teacher training have definitely validated the notion ‘not every teaching strategy works for every context’. I regularly work with faculty members from different disciplines, with different backgrounds, mentalities, styles and beliefs and often see one teaching strategy enhancing learning in one classroom with one instructor, and failing miserably with another. There are so many variables and factors to consider in order to design an effective intervention or change of approach or a redesign of an assignment or activity, but that is partly why I enjoy what I do. That reaffirms my belief that the more tools I have in my teaching tool belt that I can effectively call upon when needed, the more effective I can make the learning experience for students.

Returning to the point, standardized courses are not naturally evolving, that sounds vague, right? What I mean is, in a few years time, the platform or environment hosting the course will be outdated, quite possibly the content of the course, the teaching strategies suggested, the design frameworks and methodologies used could be outdated as well. The course can become ‘expired’ or redundant in a few years. It also promotes these ideas of course standardization; and distrust of adjuncts that is seen often now in higher educational institutions, again they’re not trends I’m exactly onboard with.

My current institution runs a blend of independent instructor course design and collaborative design between faculty and instructional designers. and I do genuinely see value in both. But the crucial point to me here is that faculty and instructional designers are naturally evolving with the field. They can easily change their style, design, approach, philosophy or methodology if something comes along that convinces them to do so. This means a course can stay alive with the times, or revived whenever the need for it arises. It allows for on-the-spot instructor decisions and allows easier integration of authenticity and real world content. Standardization may deprive students from some of the brilliant adjunct faculty members out there who pride themselves on their teaching innovation and passion for learning.

This I think is where faculty development comes in. I argue that the process of faculty development aims to empower faculty members to design and facilitate better learning experiences by innovating in their teaching, course design and student interaction and understanding when to use which approach. I believe that the collaborative approach between faculty members, instructional designers and faculty developers is a recipe for success. It allows for rich discussion on the design, delivery, assessment, content and evolution of the course.

To sum up, I think there is room (small room) for standardized approaches to course design in current educational models, however, I am hoping this is not a trend that will catch on. I believe faculty development and instructional design go hand in hand in empowering faculty and promoting a culture of lifelong learning. I worry that separating instructional design, faculty development and content experts will result in narrower foci for all three fields furthering their segregation rather than bringing them together to facilitate collaborative design. I worry that it could dilute the learning experiences, corner faculty into teaching with strategies they are not comfortable with or do not enjoy or worse, hinder the faculty in bringing the best out of their students. I propose that we further develop strategies for faculty buy-in to more comprehensive, appropriate and engaging faculty development opportunities that can facilitate lifelong learning and course evolvement over time.


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