All Aboard: The No Reservations Method to Collaboration Between Instructional Designers and Faculty

Concurrent Session 1

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Sometimes faculty have big reservations about working in the online environment.  Building collaborative relationships with faculty allows instructional designers to make their vision come alive in the online classroom.  In this session participants, will learn best practices for building relationships with faculty to eliminate reservations during the design process. What reservations do you have about working in the online environment? Send your response, questions, or other comments to and we will cover it in our presentation. 


CherRon has been involved in various roles in higher education: student support, instructor, academic affairs and operations, faculty development, and instructional design. She is guided by her experiences to approach projects holistically. Her holistic approach drives her to create curriculum that engages students and faculty while achieving desired learning outcomes. CherRon loves connecting with people, has a passion for helping others maximize their strengths, and is an accomplished team builder. A lifelong learner, her current focus is on learning new technology to innovative classrooms, program and project management.

Additional Authors

Mike Burnett has been in the field of instructional design since 2014. His favorite part of instructional design is designing assessments, because it allows him to think about the design of the student experience. Also, writing can be a lot of fun! When he is not working on designing courses, he likes to play games, read, and spend time with friends and family.

Extended Abstract

Obj1: Explain the benefits of building a collaborative relationship between instructional designers and faculty

Obj2: Describe ways to build better collaborative relationships between faculty and instructional designers.

Obj3: Explain how to generalize an approach to building collaborative relationships for a variety of environments



This presentation is a distillation of the knowledge of how our Academic Services group, a collection of instructional designers, multimedia experts, and technology specialists, successfully collaborate with a geographically and culturally diverse group of professors, adjuncts, and deans to create high-quality higher education courses. In this presentation, we’ll address our philosophy of collaboration, and how that philosophy impacts our practice, even down to the level of our hiring, and then we’ll address how these practices can be adapted to any instructional designer’s work.


The Philosophy of Building Bridges

When Synergis Education was new on the scene, and didn’t have much of a reputation, it was critical that the Academic Support and Development team was performing outreach to faculty, in addition to building great curriculum. It mean that, in many ways, the success of the partnership between the company and the schools was in the success of relationship building between the instructional designers and the faculty.

Thus, it is essential that each instructional designer knows how to carry the load of forming these relationships.  


Managing the High Level Relationships

When Synergis started, we had ten instructional designers, and half of them were tasked with managing the relationship with each partner’s program chair or dean. They made themselves fully available to the partners, having weekly meetings to discuss and formulate the procedures and guidelines each partner wanted, helping each partner to have a vision and an institutional stamp on the curriculum.

Instead of having cookie cutter relationships, each relationship was hand-crafted, leading to each partner getting curriculum that fit their students, instructors, voice, and mission. There was a lot of fruit borne of these relationships. It helped the subject matter experts at the institutions know they had a strong voice in the process of developing their online courses - each program chair was in constant contact, and they could reach out if they had any questions or concerns. It also allowed for the development of custom course development frameworks to fit each of the partner’s certification and timeline needs. These development frameworks allowed all instructional designers to anchor their processes on shared principles and ideas.


Orientation to Design: Follow the Right Process

The development of the custom frameworks for each partner helped ensure sure that all instructional designers are on the same page in terms of process - meaning that we want instructional designers to be guiding all of the experts and professors through the same basic outline of steps as they progress through the course development process. Having a strong process translates into several advantages for relationship building: experience, expertise, and efficiency.


By using the same general process outline for each course and each development, we ensure each partner has the same course building experience during development. Each subject matter expert gets to be grounded in the theory and design of how a ground course or concept becomes a fully fledged online course, and they have a scaffold that shows them how that process happens. This helps build confidence in the process and in the expertise of the entire outfit. It also makes it easier for managers to support instructional designers, since each development follows a relatively predictable schedule of design and development.


As instructional designers begin to take subject matter experts through the course design process, they develop insights into the ways in which each course might be modified in order to reach its potential. Having experienced instructional designers, who are able to deviate from the basic course development process, gives each course within the framework flexibility to incorporate the instructional designer’s insight. In turn, this gives the subject matter expert flexibility, since deviations from the design process are controlled and accounted for by the instructional designer.


Instructional designers work with multimedia designers, editors, and instructional technologists creating a team of experts who work concurrently to produce courses more efficiently. When an instructional designer has internalized the process of designing courses, they can use a simple checklist to ensure they’re hitting all their spots, and they also become better at fitting the process to the individual development, leading to quicker developments that cover the same amount of ground.


Graceful Negotiation: There’s Usually Room to Be Wrong

In the process of development, you usually have two visions: the instructional designer’s and the subject matter expert. Sometimes these visions are aligned, and the development goes smoothly. Sometimes these visions clash, leading to choices having to be made about where an instructional designer should stand in regards to curriculum, university standards, and other important considerations.

The most important thing for an instructional designer to remember in these situations is that there are many roads to student understanding. Be ready to improvise when you encounter a situation where those things are being rejected and make sure to communicate your ideas clearly.

I once had a subject matter expert who I was helping to develop a statistics course. The subject matter expert had written an exam which included trick questions and other types of instructional design no-nos. When I asked if the subject matter expert could revise the assessment, they told me that they would not be willing to revise them, because they worked in a normal classroom setting. The tone I was hearing seemed a little hostile, whereas we’d had a good working relationship before that.

At that point, I had to decide how to react. I could have explained how the assessment wasn’t going to be useful, I could have taken offense at the subject matter expert’s tone, but what I decided to do was to ask if there was anything I could to help with the assessment - could I re-write the quiz question and check with them to make sure it was okay? That ended up being an acceptable solution for the subject matter expert, and they appreciated the approach.

In the end, building a course isn’t about whether I get my way, or whether the subject matter expert gets their way. It’s about creating a course that students can use to enrich their lives, that they can recommend to their peers, and that helps them grow. If the subject matter expert had told me that they didn’t want me to re-write the quiz questions, I’d have dropped it. You can’t win every battle in a collaborative process, and you shouldn’t try to. You have to make the best course you can with the resources and people you have. There’s a give and take to the process that depends on building a level of trust and relationship that can whether situations that are more difficult.

A tricky part of course development is that your best intentions can lead to strife when it’s not communicated effectively. Recently, I was finishing a course with a faculty member, and emailed some post-meeting thoughts and suggestions about the final sequencing of some assignments based on a comment the faculty had made during the previous meeting. This caught the faculty off-balance, because they had thought that the assignments were finalized; the faculty explained that the assignments were intentionally designed and situated, and shouldn’t have been under review. At that point, I realized that we had miscommunicated, and that I hadn’t clearly explained my intentions to the faculty. They thought I was being critical instead of helpful. I acknowledged my mistake and offered an apology and we moved forward to complete the project. That apology wasn’t a sign of weakness on my part - it was a way for me to validate the faculty’s vision and expertise.


Capturing the Imagination: Instructional Analysis

A large part of my approach to getting to know the subject matter expert is conducting an instructional analysis with them. My instructional analysis process is like an interview - it depends upon asking leading questions that get at the core idea of what the course is, and what the subject matter expert wants the course to be. It’s a time to be aspirational, and to think about possibilities that might be just outside our reach - which helps us push to build better courses.

These core questions always seem to get a good reaction from subject matter experts:

  • What skills/knowledge do we want students to walk away with?

  • What do you love about this course? Why?

  • What do students have a really hard time with?

  • If you could only give students one grade, pass or fail, and you could only give them three questions or tasks to assess them, what would they be?

Each of these questions has a definite purpose that ties back to some aspect of instructional design, but it’s much more conversational and leads to more interesting discussions, and more interesting courses, than if we were just filling in an assessment grid.