Unpacking Role Assumptions: In Pursuit of Exceptional Instructional Designer- Faculty Collaboration

Concurrent Session 9

Brief Abstract

Developing an online course requires collaboration, which can present unique challenges between faculty and the instructional designer. This roundtable invites discussion about assumptions of roles and responsibilities that instructional designers and faculty have during course development, to ultimately improve interaction between the two roles. 


Anchalee Ngampornchai is an instructional designer at University of Central Florida. She earned her MA and PhD in Intercultural Communication and MS in Instructional Systems. Prior to her current position, Anchalee worked for several higher-education institutions including California State University Fullerton, Florida State University, and University of South Florida. Her experience includes developing more than 100 asynchronous online modules and managing multiple online courses in Moodle, Canvas, and Blackboard. With her cross-disciplinary background, Anchalee’s research interest is often at the intersection between learning design and intercultural communication. This includes the adoption of online education in developing countries and cross-cultural interaction in online courses.
Alyssa has been a Knight since 2008 when she started her undergraduate degree at UCF. Upon graduating with her BS in psychology, she became a middle school language arts teacher, which continued to grow her love for education. While teaching, she realized her passion for online learning, which prompted her to pursue her MA in Instructional Design and Technology at UCF with a focus on eLearning. Before completing her MA, she interned with the Center for Distributed Learning during the summer of 2017 and was subsequently offered a position as an instructional designer. Her research interests include quality in online courses, active learning, online engagement, and Faculty/ID collaboration. In her spare time, Alyssa enjoys spending time with her friends and family at Disney, traveling, and reading.

Extended Abstract

The process of developing a quality online course requires effective collaboration between the subject matter expert and the instructional designer. Yet, the collaboration, at times, does not occur without a challenge. In the context of higher education, a challenge may be a conflicting goal. While instructional designers attempt to promote online education, instructors resist the adoption (Intentional Futures, 2016). A number of articles discuss a lack of mutual respect.  For example, instructional designers (ID) have expressed that faculty do not value their role and often utilize them as technology support persons instead of pedagogical experts (Pan, Deets, Phillips, & Cornell, 2003). Moreover, unclear roles and expectations of instructional designers and faculty members in the development of online courses have been discussed as one of the challenges (The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2016).  

A number of articles discussing the relationship between subject matter experts and instructional designers aim to help the latter group gain their credibility and better build positive relationships. Cramer (1983), for example, emphasized trust-building skills and pointed out that the ID’s skills to develop high quality design of instruction are not the same as the skills required to work with another professional as a consultant. Barnstorm (2006) further commented that the instructional designers need to focus on this collaborative aspect of their role by taking time to learn about faculty culture. Solomonson (2008) echoed this by suggesting that a “fluent” instructional designer is the one who knows how to manage a positive relationship with the client. Solomonson further discussed that the positive relationship requires the understanding of each other’s assumptions and beliefs. In the ID-faculty relationship, this means both parties will need to understand assumptions of roles, expectations, responsibilities, and commitment.

Solomonson’s comment (2008) corresponds with the findings of studies that set out to investigate roles and responsibilities of instructional designers. In a report by Intentional Futures (2016), the ID role is often misunderstood to be IT support personnel. Similarly, the survey published in The Chronicle of Higher Education (2016) found that the number-one challenge faced by ID is the faculty’s lack of understanding about what ID do. Moreover, fewer faculty members believe that ID have helped them develop better online courses. These studies report that the role of ID is ever-changing and dictated by the institutional context. And while their efforts were to make the role transparent, these studies discovered that there are still ambiguities and misconceptions about who instructional designers are and what they do, and some of these misconceptions may result from pre-assumptions or attitudes faculty members have already developed about ID. Likewise, instructional designers have assumptions toward faculty members that may have prevented the development of positive relationship. Solomonson stated, “assumptions are not ‘problems’ in the sense of something that needs to be solved. Rather, it’s important to reflect upon how the assumptions relate to the decision-making process and what underlying aspects create and mold them” (p. 18).

This roundtable invites discussion about assumptions of roles and responsibilities that instructional designers and subject matter experts have during course development. The focus is not only to clarify roles; but it is to unpack assumptions of the other’s role. Assumptions are beliefs of how things are and these beliefs are often held without investigation (Pearson, Nelson, Tisworth, & Harter, 2007). Each social group has its own set of rules, values, and assumptions. Each group has formed perceptions or attitudes about the other group based either on personal interaction (face-to-face, emails, phone calls) or vicarious contact (in-group stories, institutional policies, seminars, etc.). When interaction occurs, each party communicates with the other based on pre-existing assumptions, which may help or hurt the relationship being developed. Investigating our assumptions, therefore, will help us better understand ourselves and others, which will ultimately improve our relationship (Ting-Toomey & Chung, 2005).

Participants are invited to prepare a critical incident – a brief description of an interaction or situation where conflict or disagreement occurs – to serve as a starting point for reflective and constructive conversations. Participants will be prompted by the facilitators to consider the cause of the conflict, factors that contributed to the conflict, and possible solutions or proactive steps to stop this type of conflict before it starts in the future. The facilitators will guide the participants to explore their assumptions of self, perceived role of others, and departmental or institutional cultures. The main guiding questions include: What are the instructional designers’ assumptions of their and faculty’s roles and expectations? What are faculty’s perceptions of instructional designer’s role and responsibilities? What may influence the perceptions (e.g., personal conversation, departmental culture, institutional policies)? How does the assumption influence your communication or collaboration with the other? How does your role evolve when working with faculty/instructional designer?

The target audience includes instructional designers, instructors who have interacted with instructional designers (e.g., faculty members, adjunct instructors, teaching assistants), and individuals who are charged with improving online programs. We hope that this roundtable can be a venue for both professionals to better understand each other’s roles and expectations. The results of this discussion should suggest strategies for better collaboration and more meaningful interaction. It may help improve the process of communication within the institutions, which may lead to greater opportunities for quality courses in online education. 


Barnstrom, L. (2006). Instructional designer's guide to working with faculty. Distance Education Report, 10(3), 8-6.

Bawa, P., & Watson, S. (2017). The chameleon characteristics: A phenomenological study of instructional designer, faculty, and administrator perceptions of collaborative instructional design environments. The Qualitative Report, 22, 2334-2355.

Cramer, S. E. (1983). The instructional designer in the role of consultant: Problems and strategies. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the National Society for Performance and Instruction, Atlanta, GA, April 27, 1983.

Campbell, K., Schwier, R. A., & Kenny, R. F. (2005). Agency of the instructional designer: Moral coherence and transformative social practice. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 21(2), 242-262.

Intentional Futures (2016). Instructional design in higher education: A report on the role, workflow, and experience of instructional designers. Retrieved from https://intentionalfutures.com/instructional_design/

Pan, C. Deets, J., Phillips, W., & Cornell R. (2003). Pulling tigers’ teeth without getting bitten: Instructional designers and faculty. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 4(3), 289-302.

Solomonson, W. L. (2008). Toward fluent instructional design in the context of people. Performance Improvement, 47, 12-21.

The Chronicle of Higher Education. (2016). Instructional designers in higher ed: Changing the course of next-generation learning. Retrieved from http://results.chronicle.com/LP=1341?cid=housead