It Takes Two: Fostering Collaborative Faculty-Instructional Designer Relationships for Student-Centered Learning

Concurrent Session 6
Streamed Session Leadership

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Relationships matter for successful collaborative work. Our session will feature an interactive strategy for developing collaborative relationships between faculty and instructional designers based on curiosity, enthusiasm, and mutual respect. Attendees will learn how to cultivate the kinds of successful design team relationships that create online learning environments for student success. 


Meghan Naxer (Ph.D. University of Oregon, 2016) is an Instructional Design Specialist at Oregon State University. Prior to joining OSU, Dr. Naxer was Assistant Professor of Music Theory at Kent State University. She has presented research on online higher education, game-based learning, and music theory pedagogy at regional, national and international conferences. Her work also can be seen in Game-Based Learning Across the Disciplines (Springer, forthcoming), Music in the Role-Playing Game: Heroes and Harmonies (Routledge), The Routledge Companion to Music Theory Pedagogy, and Engaging Students: Essays in Music Pedagogy.

Extended Abstract

Relationships matter for successful collaborative work. Yet, when it comes to online/ blended/hybrid course design, development often begins with a focus on course content, assuming that the collaborative relationship between faculty and instructional designers is secondary to the design process (Tate, 2017). If we care about student success, we must turn our attention to the ways in which effective collaborative relationships among design partners contribute to the course “feel” — that is, the online learning environment as perceived by students. In this presentation, we propose an interactive strategy for developing collaborative relationships between faculty and instructional designers based on curiosity, enthusiasm, and mutual respect. 

Relevance and Literature

Faculty and instructional designers often find themselves at cross-purposes. The design process expects two groups of experts to bring their unique perspectives and skill sets together in course creation, without providing instruction or support for the kinds of intentional shared knowledge transmission and production necessary for collaboration (Richardson, J. C., et al., 2018). Faculty, though experts in their course subject fields, seldom receive formal pedagogy training, particularly when it comes to online teaching and learning. Instructional designers, though experts in pedagogy, seldom have formal training in other course subject fields. For example, a faculty developer may have taught history courses for over 10 years, but never received formal training in history pedagogy; likewise, an instructional designer may have studied and taught general online higher education pedagogy seminars, but might only have limited or no knowledge of the norms and values of the history field as a whole. It is not enough to assume that the unique skills, experiences, and perspectives that instructors and instructional designers bring to the table will play a part in the kind of productive cross-fertilization of knowledge that enhances student outcomes. In fact, faculty buy-in to a collaborative working relationship ranks as the number one obstacle to instructional designers’ success (Intentional Futures, 2016, pp. 3, 15). Institutional frameworks must be in place that set up instructor-instructional design teams for success, so that together they in turn can set up students for success. 

Drawing on job satisfaction literature, studies on effective online learning environments demonstrate the importance of faculty satisfaction in student success (Moore 2011, 92). Less work has been aimed specifically at instructional designer job satisfaction in student success, but it is reasonable to extend this finding for all parties involved in course design. After all, if we know that motivation and student autonomy drive student learning outcomes (Evans & Boucher, 2015), then we must not focus exclusively on student motivation and thereby neglect the role that motivation plays for instructional designers and instructors in constructing pedagogically engaging virtual spaces. However, in order for students to perceive autonomy support in their learning experience, a prerequisite is that instructors and instructional designers, too, have autonomy support during the design process. As Ryan and Deci (2017) point out, “we assert that for teachers to support students’ autonomy requires that they be afforded their own autonomy professionally. It is, in fact, a necessary part of the equipment they need for responsive, engaging, teaching” (p. 1170). In this presentation, we propose fostering curiosity in each other’s disciplinary norms and approaches as an igniting spark for establishing effective instructional designer-faculty autonomy supports. In this way, relationships begin with trust, mutual respect for professionals’ expertise, and socioemotional growth.


During our session, participants will become familiar with some of the frameworks and theories in this literature, and reflect on their own unique experiences and biases using prompts for a word cloud. In a second step, they will explore the complexities of the instructor-instructional designer relationship through a variety of interactive scenarios and guiding questions (via small-group breakout rooms and flexible assessment rubrics). These activities will provide a real-time model for initiating relationships between faculty and instructional designers. Finally, these questions will form the basis for collaboratively synthesizing a group of relationship-building questions on a shareable matrix to consider when embarking on forming new relationships or reinvigorating existing instructor-instructional designer partnerships. 


The conclusion of our session will deliver both documentation and experience for participants to actively take back to their home institutions that they can adapt to meet the specific needs of their course development processes. All tools used in this session will be made available online for use with a Creative Commons License. We envision this session as the basis for a later community-driven project that identifies evolving best practices for both the individual- and institutional-level supports needed for robust relationships.


Evans, M., & Boucher, A. R. (2015). Optimizing the power of choice: Supporting student autonomy to foster motivation and engagement in learning. Mind, Brain, and Education, 9: 87-91.

Intentional Futures. (2016). Instructional Design in Higher Education: A report on the role, workflow, and experience of instructional designers. 

Moore, J. C. (Dec. 2011). A Synthesis of Sloan-C Effective Practices. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 16(1): 91-115.

Richardson, J. C., Ashby, I., Alshammari, A. N., Cheng, Z., Johnson, B. S., Krause, T. S., Lee, D., Randolph, A. E., & Wang, H. (2018). Faculty and instructional designers on building successful collaborative relationships. Education Tech Research Dev 66: 855–880.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-Determination Theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development and wellness. New York: Guilford Press.

Tate, E. (2017). Easing Instructional Designer-Faculty Conflicts. Inside Higher Ed.