Book Club, Coffee Chats, and Burrito Bars: Building Community on Instructional Design Teams

Concurrent Session 3

Brief Abstract

Building team culture is an often overlooked, yet difficult, aspect of instructional design units. Join us to reflect on the history of our culture building, and learn how our leadership team has wielded the power of an internal book club to maintain and strengthen our culture, even in a pandemic.


Adam Davi is an Instructional Design Manager at the University of Arizona who works with faculty to design engaging online courses. Adam has a Master of Science in Educational Technology as well as a Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership. He has experience working directly with students as a teacher and learning specialist before transitioning to his role as an Instructional Designer. He is passionate about developing innovative courses that foster student success and promote ownership over one’s learning. He loves working in a field that encourages collaboration and creativity. When not working, he spends time volunteering for Arizona Camp Sunrise and Sidekicks, a children’s oncology camp, and enjoys playing games, watching baseball, and talking Star Wars with anyone who is willing to listen.
Stephanie serves as a Manager of Instructional Design at the University of Arizona where she brings her science background into online course design. She earned her B.S. in Nutrition Science at the University of Arizona before moving to Boston to complete a Ph.D. in Biochemical and Molecular Nutrition at Tufts University. Upon graduation, Stephanie transitioned into education via a postdoctoral fellowship in curriculum design and evaluation. Before becoming an instructional designer, Stephanie was an Assistant Professor at Tufts University School of Medicine where she co-directed an online graduate-level program that teaches biomedical science to high school instructors nationwide. She also worked with high school teachers to research how partnerships between instructors and biomedical scientists may improve biology courses and student outcomes.
Janet Smith serves as an Instructional Designer leading quality assurance initiatives at the University of Arizona with the Office of Digital Learning. She manages a multitiered and collaborative quality assurance process to ensure that courses developed for UA Online are designed for student success and engagement. Janet works with partners across campus to integrate best practices around course design, copyright, UDL, and accessibility into the instructional design process and leads the Quality Matters program for the university. She received her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from the University of Arizona, her master's degree in Educational Leadership in Higher Education from Northern Arizona University, and a graduate certificate in Educational Technology from Northern Arizona University. In her free time, Janet enjoys spending time with her family and friends, cooking, and practicing and teaching yoga.
Laura McAllister Smith serves as a Senior Instructional Designer focused on global courses for Digital Learning at the University of Arizona and the Office of Digital Learning. She has a M.S. in Instructional Psychology and Technology, a M.Ed, and a B.S. in Elementary Education. Laura is passionate about education and is always looking for innovative ways to engage learners, create positive learning environments, and reach broader audiences.

Extended Abstract

 A supportive workplace culture has been tied to better job performance, higher job satisfaction, and employee retention.  While it is easy to talk about culture and building community, it is a difficult and lengthy process to actually instill in a team.  How do you know if you are actually creating a positive community and culture among your team?  How do you ensure that everyone on your team is included and feels that their voice is heard? How do you encourage colleagues at all levels to present their ideas and challenge each other? These questions are especially pertinent to teams of instructional designers, who are often working alone on their projects and don’t have regular collaboration built into their workload. 

 Our team has a strong history of creating an open, supportive workplace. From its inception, we have encouraged team-building by facilitating regular events such as an annual breakfast burrito bar, monthly happy hours, weekly walk and talks, and daily yoga sessions. We have found that having an opportunity to get to know colleagues outside of the demands of the workplace has led to better idea-sharing and more openness with giving and receiving feedback. 

  When the global pandemic limited our casual workplace interactions, the instructional design leadership team took it upon ourselves to ask how we can build community and a positive workplace culture in virtual spaces. Using a variety of leadership and management books to guide the discussion, the leadership team meets weekly to discuss how the topics of the books are relevant to our teams and how we can use the lessons taught to improve our practices as managers and continue to build a positive and rewarding culture. Books we have read include Radical Candor by Kim Scott and Think Again by Adam Grant. The weekly book club chats have allowed us to reflect on the things we do well and brainstorm ways to improve our practices as leaders and shape the culture of our team. Using guided discussion questions, we are able to take concepts from the books and work together to put them into practice to build a more cohesive team. Come join us as we bring book club to OLC and engage in a lively discussion of community building, managerial practices, and learn how you can help reinforce your team culture.


 In this session we will examine the importance of building a positive community among your team and discuss what steps you can take to ensure that you continue to strengthen the culture, grow as leaders, and provide spaces for your team members to grow. We will share our own insights from the books we have read, and how we have changed our own practices as a result. 

The goals for this session are:

  1. Discuss ways to build community on ID teams

  2. Brainstorm how to improve managerial styles 

  3. Evaluate and reflect on your own practices as a manager

  4. Develop practices to take back to your team

Level of Participation:

We invite you all to participate in a book club chat and reflect on your own managerial style. This session is structured like one of our weekly book club chats with guided discussion questions and reflection opportunities. The presenters will share examples of how they took lessons from the books and applied them to their own work as team managers. Then participants will get the opportunity to reflect on their own practices and share with each other and the larger group to brainstorm ideas on improving team culture.