Frontiers in Online Education Research: The Role of Instructional Designers
Concurrent Session 3
With their knowledge and skills, Instructional Designers (IDs) can positively impact research in online teaching and learning. Yet few ID job descriptions include research activities. In this panel session, ID supervisors and IDs at a top research and online education institution will offer pathways for IDs to engage in research.
As a part of their course design work, Instructional Designers (IDs) are “avid consumers of research” (pp. 1), playing a critical role in putting research into action through the application of theory and findings to course design (Cherrez, 2021). IDs apply a set of research skills in a variety of ways, from conducting literature reviews to inform the development of a new course, to conducting iterative testing of tools to improve students’ and subject matter experts’ (SMEs) experience in developed courses. In essence, engagement in research is a core component of a broader constellation of skills that IDs bring to course design (Cherrez, 2021).
In addition, IDs are arguably at the forefront of innovation in the scholarship of teaching and learning online. Because IDs cyclically respond to the needs of a range of stakeholders (e.g., students, SMEs, ID supervisors, and e-learning institutions), IDs have their “finger on the pulse” of the timeliest questions in course design that could be addressed with research.
However, engagement in research is often not included in the job descriptions of instructional designers. In a national survey study of IDs conducted by Linder and Dello Stritto (2017), only 25% of respondents indicated that engagement in research activities was in included in their job descriptions and only 22% indicated that research was included in the evaluation of their work as an instructional designer. ID respondents also expressed variation in their confidence with a range of research related tasks. For example, only 53% percent of the IDs surveyed in this report indicated that they had a high level of confidence in completing literature reviews and only 35% indicated a high level of confidence in creating a survey instrument for research purposes.
Part of the variation in confidence expressed by IDs might be due to some of the challenges or barriers in engaging in research activities. In the same national survey conducted by Linder and Dello Stritto (2017), ID respondents endorsed time and collaboration barriers as the top two challenges in engagement with research activities. Nevertheless, IDs in this survey also expressed a desire to continue honing their research skills, citing the following as the top five reasons for ongoing engagement in research activities: 1) opportunities for professional development; 2) understanding student needs: 3) understanding SME needs; 4) opportunities for collaboration with SMEs; and 5) opportunities for discipline innovation.
Given the critical role IDs play in online education (Cherrez, 2021) and their desire to improve their research skills (Linder & Dello Stritto, 2017), providing pathways for IDs to innovate through engagement in research is a natural next step in the evolution of higher education online. Therefore, the purpose of this panel is to:
- Describe how IDs currently engage in the scholarship of teaching and learning online based on the national survey conducted by Linder and Dello Stritto (2017)
- Situate IDs as collaborative innovators who can advance research in online teaching and learning
- Suggest pathways for IDs to engage in research at a variety of levels
- Discuss challenges to ID engagement in research, and how these challenges can be addressed within ID units, as well as within an e-learning institution
By attending this session, attendees will be able to:
- Describe how IDs currently engage in research
- Describe at least one way in which IDs can positively impact the future scholarship of teaching and learning online
- Describe at least 3 ways in which IDs can engage in research at their institution at 3 different levels (entry level, mid-level, and senior level)
- Identify how barriers for IDs to engage in research can be addressed within units and/or at the leadership level
Panel Overview and Audience Engagement Plan
This panel will consist of four speakers who will present in five short presentations (5 -7 minutes each), followed by 3 minutes of questions and/or discussion with attendees after each presentation.
The first presenter will be an Assistant Director of Research, who leads a program that pairs IDs with faculty members to work on funded research projects in online teaching and learning. This first presenter will begin the panel presentation by describing key findings from the national survey of IDs by Linder and Dello Stritto (2017), including IDs current engagement in research activities, their confidence in pursuing different aspects of research, and current barriers for research engagement. This presenter will then describe how IDs are well situated to innovate research in online teaching and learning, and make the case for expanding opportunities for research engagement. After this presentation, the speaker will ask attendees to consider how barriers affect IDs’ ability to engage in research at their respective institutions.
The second presenter will be an Assistant Director of Instructional Design, who directs and supervises IDs at a top institution of higher education online. The presenter will describe a range of research activities that ID can engage in, based on their confidence and skill levels. This presenter will also discuss how their institution has addressed barriers in providing opportunities for interested IDs to hone their research skills, focusing specifically on: 1) creating new opportunities within the institution; and 2) allocating additional time for IDs to engage in specific research projects, such as collaboration with faculty on funded research projects. Following this presentation, the presenter will ask the audience to think about and discuss how their intuitions are currently/or can expand opportunities for IDs to engage in research.
In the next presentation, the first presenter (the Assistant Director of Research) will describe a funding program at their institution that partners IDs with faculty members to work collaboratively on funded research projects in online teaching and learning. This presenter will first provide a brief overview of this program, focusing on program goals, the review process, and timelines. The presenter will then describe how IDs can become involved in the program, and how they are paired with faculty members to work on the research projects that have been selected for funding. The presenter will then describe successful outcomes of these funded projects for IDs, such as the opportunities to present at conferences and become authors on peer reviewed publications. Following this presentation, the presenter will ask attendees to consider why it might be beneficial for IDs to have more opportunities to present at conferences and author peer-reviewed publications.
The fourth presentation will be given by an ID who is currently/or has participated in the funding program described by the Assistant Director in Presentation 3. This ID will describe their research background, how they learned about this research opportunity, what interested them in pursuing this opportunity, and what their experience is/was like collaborating with faculty members on a research project. This presenter will describe both successes as well as challenges, and how challenges are currently/or were addressed. This presenter will then describe how their participation in this program has impacted their research confidence and/or skills. Following this presentation, the presenter will ask attendees to consider why collaboration with faculty on research is an important experience for both IDs and faculty alike.
In the final presentation, a Senior ID will describe a new role they have accepted as a specialist in research and evaluation at their institution. This presenter will begin by describing their current role, and the proportion of their time that is allocated to research and evaluation. They will then describe their interest in pursuing this role, and how their work currently differs from the work they performed as a general ID. The presenter will then briefly describe the projects they are working on, what their experiences have been like so far, and what they are looking forward to contributing as their work as a specialist evolves. Following this presentation, the Senior ID will ask attendees to consider the ways in which roles like this can provide pathways for innovative research in higher education online.
Following the 5th presentation, the Assistant Director of Research will conclude the panel, summarizing the need for IDs to engage further in research, the ways in which IDs can and do participate in research activities, and how the panel provides examples of ways in which ID roles in research can expand. Attendees will be invited to address any follow-up questions to this Assistant Director, who will provide contact information.
Jaramillo Cherrez, N. (2021). Instructional Designers Leading Through Research. In J. E. Stefaniak, S. Conklin, B. Oyarzun, & R. M. Reese (Eds.), A Practitioner's Guide to Instructional Design in Higher Education. EdTech Books. https://edtechbooks.org/id_highered/instructional_designV
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. https://ecampus.oregonstate.edu/research/study/research-instructional-designers/