Faculty Perceptions of Instructional Role

Concurrent Session 1

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Instructional roles for faculty in higher education have increasingly become disaggregated, or unbundled. Existing research on unbundling focuses mainly on theoretical and conceptual constructs. Emperical research is needed to examine how faculty's perception of their instructional role, agency and professional identity are impacted by the trend towards disaggregation


Ilona Marie Hajdu, M.S.Ed. As Senior Associate Director in the Office of Online Education, Ilona also serves as the Compliance Officer for Distance Education at Indiana University. Ilona provides strategic leadership and management over all functional areas of the office, including administration, finance, compliance, online course and program development, data reporting, marketing, and student services. Ilona has presented her work on evolving instructional roles for faculty , core judgments of practicing instructional designers, collaborative seamless services for online students, and facilitating engagement and innovation in higher education compliance at OLC, UPCEA, AECT and AERA.

Extended Abstract

Expectations for faculty in higher education institutions include demonstrated achievements in research, teaching and service. These expectations have not changed in almost a century. Macfarlane (2011) describes the conventional academic role of a professor as one comprised of the holistic practice of teaching, research and service, with compensation and promotion tied to achievement in each of these areas. Historically, professors were expected to impart knowledge to learners as a byproduct of their engagement with research.

Until the mid-20th century, faculty exerted primary control over the development, integrity and implementation of curriculum through the closely guarded principles of shared governance over institutional decision-making and academic freedom (Gerber, 2014).  Several decades of technological innovations, increasingly complex state and federal regulations, economic pressures, and calls for accountability in student achievement have challenged the organizational structures and operations of institutions of higher education (Eaton, 2011). Institutional responses to these changes have significantly impacted faculty in a variety of ways. Data-driven decision-making through mandated learning management systems, expansion of online courses, integration of digitalized learning tools, and  increases in a variety of student support services, including advising, remediation, and financial literacy have become the norm at most institutions. Many of these services had historically been provided by, and considered a part of, faculty instructional roles within the institution. Today, these academic roles are often separated into specialist functions that may be provided by faculty or nonacademic staff, resulting in faculty roles that are described as disaggregated (Eaton, 2011), fragmented (Smith, 2008) and unbundled (Gehrke & Kezar, 2015, Macfarlane, 2011, Schulster & Finkelstein, 2006).

Research focused on the concepts of unbundling of instructional roles is fairly recent, and primarily addresses theoretical and conceptual constructs (Gehrke & Kezar, 2015), or on outsourcing instructional tasks and the cost-effectiveness of doing so (Metros & Getman, 2012; Neely & Tucker, 2010).  Little empirical research exists that examines the significance or impact of disaggregation on traditional faculty labor (Hora, 2014; Latucca & Stark, 2011), or analyzes faculty perceptions of their agency and professional identity within the context of disaggregation. Researchers studying the impact of massive open online courses (MOOCs) on faculty labor applied Braverman’s (1974) labor process theory in arguing that the unbundling or breaking down of traditional faculty responsibilities into separate, specialized or simplified tasks to be performed by a “lower level instructional work force” (Noble, 2001) is a product of the neoliberal approach to public education policy that values “marketization and privatization over public support for broad social programs such as public universities” (Rhoads, Camacho, Toven-Lindsey & Lozano, 2015, p. 2).

Research related to instructional roles and decision-making by faculty seems to be focused primarily in community colleges, and particularly in STEM courses, where decisions made in the classroom are observable, and instructors reflect on those decisions later (Hora, 2014). Professional development for faculty primarily focuses on specific pedagogies and/or use of instructional materials (cite). As Bickerstaff, Lontz, Cormier & Xu (2014) note, we know little about the types of questions or concerns faculty may have when developing a new course, and Hora (2014) describes the planning of new courses by faculty as a “black box” approach that involves the integration of context, decision making and practice (p.2

The purpose of this study is to examine faculty decisions when planning to teach a course the instructor has never taught before, in order to ascertain which tasks and functional responsibilities for instructional design faculty perceive to play an integral part of their professional practice. It is hoped that the results of this study will serve to inform faculty about their instructional design practice, identify opportunities for faculty professional development, and inform key decision-makers in higher education about instructional roles that faculty consider as essential aspects of their professional identity.