Instructional Design in Higher Education: The University of Wisconsin Perspective

Concurrent Session 9

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This session brings together a panel of instructional designers from the University of Wisconsin system to discuss how they encompass an important role and fit into the UW strategic framework. This diverse group offers a unique perspective on curricular change, and learning innovation, and organizational politics in higher education.


Kevin’s instructional design career has been focused around supporting faculty and students mostly at the community college level. For the past four years, he has been working with a team of instructional designers at University of Wisconsin Colleges Online, developing courses, facilitating faculty training, and participating in shared governance. Prior to taking the position in Wisconsin, Kevin practiced instructional design at Bristol Community College, leading course redesign efforts as part of a Title III grant. As a graduate assistant, Kevin had worked at Syracuse University Project Advance, and led a team of instructional designers on a consultant intern project for a private firm. His interests and presentation work has focused on investigating how instructional design is practiced in the higher education setting and identifying ways to improve online course design. Prior to his instructional design career, Kevin had taught English as a Second Language (ESL) in China and in the Chicago area.
Szu-Yueh Justine Chien is currently an instructional designer at University of Wisconsin Extension. The house is divided while Justine earned a masters' degree from the Educational Communications and Technology program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a doctoral degree from the Learning, Design, and Technology program at University of Georgia. After graduating from UGA, Justine started as a faculty at University of Wisconsin-Platteville. While she was re-designing the courses to integrate here interests in authentic learning by adopting the idea of multimodality, she re-affirmed her passion in instructional design. Therefore, she switched the career path and decided to be an instructional designer. As an instructional designer at UW-Extension now, she enjoys working with instructors to create more meaningful learning for the students.
Emily started with UW Colleges Online in October 2015. She has her Master’s Degree in Instructional Design and Technology from Western Illinois University and her undergraduate work is in K-12 education. She taught Fifth Grade for a number of years in NW Illinois, and more recently worked in Student Services at a four-year institution of higher learning. Her interests lie in using her creativity to build engaging classes for lead instructors, evaluation, video production, and human performance technology.

Extended Abstract

Over the last two decades, the expansion of online learning, the widespread adoption of instructional technologies, and shifts towards learner-centered course design has fueled structural and cultural changes across colleges and universities (Bates, 2015; “Reimagining”, 2017; Linder & Stritto, 2017). Instructional designers, who occupy a unique role between faculty and academic staff, have often been at the forefront of such change.

Instructional designers (IDs) are a relatively new addition to the higher education workforce, but with an increased focus on distance education and other instructional innovations, their ranks have expanded rapidly. Recent reports (Intentional Futures [IF], 2016; OLC, 2017) have sought to explain the background and responsibilities of instructional designers working in higher education, highlighting the diversity of responsibilities and challenges faced. Nevertheless, the profession remains difficult to define. It is within this context of a burgeoning, yet undefined, academic profession that instructional designers working within the University of Wisconsin (UW) system have been inspired to share their stories and seek to establish a sense of community among their peers.

The UW System, consisting of 13 4-year, 14 2-year campus, and a multitude continuing education programs, has been employing instructional designers to support these institutions. However, a comprehensive vision of instructional design across the system remains rather elusive. Individual institutions differ in how they approach instructional design, which translates into how they task and support instructional designers. Some campuses, such as UW-Madison, employ instructional designers in both a centrally managed model, often through an IT office (DoIT Academic Technology), and have instructional designers located in individual schools, colleges, or departments around the campus. Other campuses employ instructional designers to support distance education (UW Colleges Online), competency-based programs (UW Extension FLEX), or within a center for teaching and learning (UW Stout, UW Green Bay, UW Eau Claire). The community is large, diverse, and dispersed throughout the state, but committed to a common cause of supporting teaching, learning, and technology on their campuses.

This session will bring together a small panel of instructional designers from a variety of UW campuses to share their perspective on how instructional design is practiced across the state. Through this conversation, the panel will share information on the successes, challenges, frustrations, and aspirations of instructional designers in a large statewide public higher education system. The panel presentation will open a valuable dialogue on instructional design in higher education, discuss the barriers and opportunities that instructional designers face, and hopefully help attendees identify with similar situations they may be experiencing.  Additionally, the session will provide administrators with insight into building, evaluating, and supporting an effective and impactful instructional design team. One important undercurrent the panel will discuss, involves how the role of instructional designers have changed over the years, towards duties beyond education technology and eLearning design support. Noting this shift is important in advocating for a stronger instructional design presence and voice on campuses. The conversations also bolster survey findings described in the IF report (2016) and ideas espoused in the 2017 OLC instructional design webinars series.

The session facilitator will present some background information on the University of Wisconsin and share preliminary results of an independent survey of UW instructional design professionals. Then the panel participants will be asked to remark on a series of questions related to their work, the challenges they face, how their effectiveness is measured, and how their work may align with the University of Wisconsin strategic framework: 2020FWD []. The audience will also be given an opportunity to ask the panel questions.


Bates, Tony. (2015). Teaching in a Digital Age. Retrieved from

Intentional Futures. (2016, April). Instructional Design in Higher Education. Retrieved from

Linder, K. & Dello Stritto, M.E. (2017).Research Preparation and Engagement of Instructional Designers in U.S. Higher Education. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit. Retrieved from

OLC Instructional Designer Webinar Series. (2017, May 18). Retrieved from 

Reimagining the Role of Technology in Higher Education. (2017, January). Retrieved from