Instructional designers: how to work well with teachers

Viviana Cáceres outlines some of the common difficulties encountered when designing a course together – and how to overcome them

Viviana Cáceres 's avatar
14 Feb 2022
bookmark plus
  • Top of page
  • Main text
  • More on this topic
Teachers and instructional designers can learn to work together in universities

Created in partnership with

Created in partnership with

Technologico de Monterrey

You may also like

Expert Q&A: Course design with strong pedagogy
Online course design using strong pedagogy

Online course design has long been seen as a team effort because of its many dimensions, which would be positively superhuman for one person to undertake alone. The two most prominent roles in this endeavour are usually faculty member and instructional designer, but collaboration between these parties often comes with tension, as addressed by others before.

As an instructional designer myself, I recently took part in a very successful collaborative project alongside academics. My colleagues (in academic and non-academic roles) and I managed to achieve a Quality Matters certification for one of our graduate-level online courses – all while genuinely enjoying the process of working together. I will draw upon this experience to share some advice on establishing a productive partnership between teachers and instructional designers.

Embrace a shared goal

The main goal of course design is increasing the likelihood of students learning. In the design phase of a course, some may take this goal for granted or presume it does not require much effort. This makes it easier to conclude that academic and designer do not need one other’s help, causing collaboration to erode before it’s even begun.

In our case, the experience of trying to get our course design quality-certified gave us a different perspective. External validation as an additional goal – alongside providing quality learning for our students – felt more tangible.

Goals serve as anticipation of success, so it’s useful when they’re made explicit. Knowing where we’re headed and acknowledging its importance can boost willingness to cooperate, which is crucial when working toward a common goal.

Build trust

Trusting others is a rational decision; people usually decide to trust their peers when they observe good reasons for doing so. Whenever a counterpart shows positive professional traits such as competence, reliability, care or responsibility it helps people trust them. Strive to gain your colleagues’ trust by showing your professionalism, dedication and concern – and, most importantly, by doing this consistently over time.

Equally useful as an instructional designer is becoming less defensive and willing to lean on your colleague’s experience in working with students. Never forget that teaching is an invaluable source when it comes to course design. Show your interest and ask questions about what happens on the course. Building this rapport with your colleague will be a good first step in trusting them and their experience more easily.

Organisational culture also plays an important role here – trust needs a healthy environment to flourish. Collaborators will be more comfortable trusting each other when, in light of a new problem, they do not feel threatened and there is no pointing of fingers – instead, the scene should be set to work together to overcome the problem.

Find common ground

Never forget that teachers and instructional designers both benefit from working together. Each brings valuable resources to the table, supplementing one another’s expertise. But this also means they can hold opposing views. As such, some disagreement can be expected, and there is no need to shy away from it. But the key is not to remain stuck there for long.

Handle discussions constructively and with respect, try to move the conversation forward, be open to new ideas, express your views kindly and, if necessary, decide to defer to a fair judge (such as evidence) – whatever it takes to arrive at a mutually satisfactory agreement.

Anticipate common problems and solve them properly

Some familiar issues can emerge when academics and instructional designers work together. None of them appeared when we co-created this specific course, but that doesn’t mean I did not anticipate them or come prepared to take action if required.

The analysis phase of a course redesign usually puts us designers in the position of a critical friend. This means providing feedback on the course’s weaknesses. Even when being constructive and professional, calling a spade a spade is never a comfortable task – for the speaker or the listener. Instead of openly critiquing your colleague’s work, try asking guiding questions that will eventually lead to a point where they understand the problematic aspects of the course. Then immediately offer professional advice on how to solve them.  

Another issue can be faculty frustration with the exhaustive process required to produce a quality product. I chose to address the concept – and likelihood – of iteration explicitly with my colleagues and to call for patience from day one. Teachers must be conscious that being an author means revisiting and crafting their work repeatedly.

Closely related to the above is the problem of managing deadlines for such a large and complicated endeavour. We approached this with lots of synchronous communication such as regular, structured meetings. Their structure allowed us to map progress (for motivation purposes) at the beginning of each meeting, identify the expected outcomes for that day, take a few steps in the direction we wanted and be left with some “homework” as input products for the next meeting.

Allocate a timeframe that allows healthy collaboration

Putting together a well-designed online course takes a huge amount of time and dedication. We worked for about nine months to redesign our online course before reviewers were invited to audit it. This time frame worked well for us.

It takes a lot of effort to create the products required for a high-quality course, such as setting learning performance standards, establishing how these will be measured and scaffolded appropriately, making sure activities will lead to actual changes in memory and performance, adapting resources for disciplinary, aesthetic and accessibility purposes, etc. But as well as this daunting workload, be sure to factor in time for engaging in professional dialogue, balancing different criteria, negotiating ideas and making informed decisions.

If deadlines are not consistent with the project’s goals and scope, we can only expect working relationships to gradually deteriorate. Managers should be sensible on this matter and allocate the right amount of time for teams to thrive.

Viviana Cáceres is an instructional designer in the department of architecture and pedagogical design at Tecnológico de Monterrey, Mexico.


You may also like

sticky sign up

Register for free

and unlock a host of features on the THE site