How Flexible Are You?

If I have learned one thing in my time as an instructional designer and developer, it is that success in this area relies heavily on the element of flexibility with one’s clients. I work in higher education, and flexibility is especially significant when thinking about the overall roles of the instructional designer and instructor in creating an online course.

I assist university faculty members in designing courses using the Blackboard learning management system (LMS). In my current department, a struggle seems to exist at times regarding the instructional designer’s role in the design process. Some view the instructional designer/instructor relationship as one in which the instructor focuses solely on course content (rather than on technologies), leaving creation of the course site and maintenance of the technologies to the instructional designer. Others view the instructional designer/instructor relationship as one in which the instructional designer “empowers” the instructor to complete the Blackboard course design him/herself, learning all the LMS tools and techniques and requiring little support from the instructional designer once the course site is completed. Which of these philosophies do I feel is appropriate? Both … and neither. It all depends on the instructor, the course, and the timeframe for designing the course site.

I realize that, at one end, some instructors have great design skills and want complete control of their courses. In those cases, I’m fine with simply ensuring that Quality Matters standards are met, providing innovative ideas that may make the course better, and using my strong proofreading and editing background to ensure a “clean” site. At yet another end, I realize that some instructors have no interest at all in learning Blackboard and want an adept other person to build the course site and maintain it. I’m fine with that, as I know that I can build a great site to meet their needs and that they will appreciate my work. And in between these two extremes, I realize that many instructors need help in mind-mapping and organizing their content before they can delve into the mysteries of Blackboard and other technologies. In that case, I’m fine with the instructor’s expectation that I will build components in the course site, explain what I have done, and watch as he/she examines those components and builds on them or requests more assistance from me.

As a good instructional designer and developer, I consider it part of my responsibilities to determine what the instructional designer/instructor needs are for any given course. There is no black-and-white answer for designating which party—the instructional designer or the faculty member—should build an entire course site. It all depends on a variety of factors, and flexibility is essential for a resulting successful online course.

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