I’ve been thinking lately about my role on campus, or my official role, what it should be, what it could be. These thoughts often revolve around language and labels and titles. For example, what’s the difference between an Instructional Technologist and an Instructional Designer? Recollections of past conversations come to mind, like the time the new Academic Dean came to meet me and asked, “So you’re the instructional designer on campus?” I replied with enthusiasm, “That’s the kind of work I’d like to do more of.” Another memory is of a casual conversation I had with a colleague at Capital U. Her department had just created a new ID position; I expressed interest in it. She asked if I was certain–the role involved many hours working closely with faculty to effectively use online tools and, basically, redesign their courses. Yeah, I’m excited by the thought of creating engaging learning environments/exercises and facilitating that “Aha!” moment.
To me, it seems the difference is somewhat subtle with some overlap–a venn diagram of sorts. (Or like the difference between the two pieces of artwork my daughter did, above.) “Instructional Technologist” and my background, btw, is more about tech support, while “Instructional Designer” is more about educational consultation, crafting educational experiences. Technical training fits in there nicely with both. I had the title “Help Desk Manager and Technical Trainer” when I first started at OWU and, when I took the newly created position of OWU’s first Instructional Technologist, the second part of the title was dropped but the duties continued. I don’t have a problem with that, as technical training supports both technical support and instructional design. It just doesn’t directly get at the heart of educational course design.
My well-worn professional sense is that instructional design (ID) by an instructional technologist or anyone else in higher ed is largely about faculty development. It’s not on the front lines of teaching, but it aims to equip and empower instructors to be the best that they can be. It also aims to do the same for students, and it goes about that by making the best use of tools to accomplish excellence in teaching and learning. As the previous Academic Dean once told me, encouraging me to be a part of Teaching Circle and other faculty forums, faculty don’t always know what tools are available to them, let alone how to use them. Getting them to understand the value of good instructional design is a large part of the work, at least initially.
As more colleges like ours experiment with online offerings and embrace technology as a distinguishing feature of what they offer incoming students, the value of good instructional design will become more evident. Certainly if administrators wish to do any data analysis on learning outcomes institution-wide, they’ll need learning and teaching processes that can produce such data. Most of all, faculty who wish to excel at teaching and make a positive difference in the academic and adult life of their students should be interested in instructional design, as the professors who attend Teaching Circle are.
Lastly, these thoughts of “Designer” versus “Technologist” play on my own sense of professional identity. Am I a technocrat, as an international colleague oft referred to me? Or am I a designer of instruction, one who happens to be familiar and highly-skilled with several good instructional tools? I just learned about POD, the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education, a professional association. Knowledge of this network has me intrigued; the focus is not on technology. It’s on teaching and learning. It sounds like it would be a good affiliation for me to do more faculty development, regardless of my official title.