Instructional Designer narrative research PhD readability thesis

Thoughts on: Leading the way: A critical narrative about the creation of an online professional development program (Wilder, 2020)(thesis)

I really struggled with this thesis at first because it is written in a very conversational, narrative style. I realised that this was a significant part of the point of the research – the first research question is actually:

How does the format of this dissertation address the accessibility of knowledge created for instructional design and curriculum development practitioners?

Wilder, 2020

So it is clearly a very deliberate and mindful approach that is being taken, with the aim of questioning the dissertation/thesis model and its accessibility to “average” readers. There is some worthwhile discussion of this throughout the thesis and also in a related conference paper in the appendix. Wilder uses a Narrative based approach drawing on Invitational Rhetoric (Fass & Griffin, 1995) and Invitational Learning Theory (Purkey & Novak, 2015). Questions about scholarly writing conventions are valid and I think there is much to think about overall, so I may well come back to this at a later time. My first impression, perhaps as someone that has learnt to parse academic writing, is that it was hard to take the work as seriously as it deserves.

So I’ll focus on the things that I was able to take away of particular relevance to my own work. The perspective of an Instructional Designer is always welcome to me and particularly descriptions of how they are working in their contexts.

“The designer and their expertise is always secondary to faculty design choices, even when those choices are at odds with best practices”

Wilder, 2020 P.39

“In fact, faculty must become certified to teach online at my university by Spring 2021”

Wilder, 2020 P.39

“On a less cynical note, my department has made significant inroads by establishing
relationships with our faculty. We have made conscious efforts to professionalize our online learning department by providing professional development, presenting at regional and national conferences with faculty, and doing research in online learning directly with faculty. I believe our approach has yielded positive results. As the number of online courses has increased over time, faculty have become more informed and experienced in online learning, fundamental design principles, and best practices. The requests for consultation have more frequently become focused on refinements and more advanced topics in learning design, learning activities and
assignments, as well as assessment.”

Wilder, 2020 P.39-40

Again, I see that edvisor involvement in research in the U.S. is not seen as the big deal it seems to be in Australia. Raising the profile and prestige of the ID unit also appears to have enhanced the sophistication of the collaborative work they do with academics. (Mandatory certification to be allowed to teach online probably doesn’t hurt though)

The nature of edvisor units has been a common theme in this space but for some reason I’ve never explicitly identified that the size of the unit greatly affects the nature of the work being done. Similarly, changes in organisational structures might mean that professional development work suddenly becomes the responsibility of another team.

“Since we are a smaller group compared to most major research universities, we wear more hats than most”

Wilder, 2020 P.41

One final section really stood out for me, not the least because it let me catch up with the work of someone in this space that I lost contact with a few years back.

A few years back, Carnegie Mellon University invited a researcher to investigate why the professoriate at the university failed to implement its own leading research on how students learn best (Herckis, 2018). Despite having access to the best research in the world, fellow academics at Carnegie Mellon consistently resisted employing that knowledge. The author found faculty were generally enthusiastic when implementing their own ideas but balked at adopting what others tried and tested. Faculty also had personal views of what constituted good teaching that were often the product of their own experience as a student. This example speaks directly how important it is for practitioners to produce knowledge that is contextual and is designed for the audience it is intended to reach. In this case, even academics well versed in the idea of searching literature for new knowledge are resistant to applying theoretical knowledge in their practice.

Wilder, 2020 P. 126-127

There’s much to consider about this on the epistemological side of things – most clearly why some forms of knowledge are valued and others aren’t. I have a whole theory about the hierarchy of knowledge in Higher Ed institutions – discipline > pedagogy > technology in a nutshell. We (edvisors) are often advised to present academics with evidence based research in support of the learning and teaching approaches that we advocate. Personally, I’ve found this to be wildly variable in effectiveness. In some cases it is embraced and in others I have seen people whip up and disseminate terrible and self-serving research of their own to avoid having to make small changes to their preferred practices. Definitely an area for more exploration at least.

Herckis, L. (2018). Passing the Baton: Digital Literacy and Sustained Implementation of eLearning Technologies. Current Issues in Emerging ELearning, 5(1 Special Issue on Leveraging Adaptive Courseware), 17.
Wilder, O. (2020). Creating Knowledge Equity Through Accessible Dissertations for the Education Doctorates. 10th Annual Conference on Electronic Theses and Dissertations. USETDA 2020 Conference, Online.
Wilder, O. (2020). Leading the Way: A Critical Narrative About the Creation of an Online Professional Development Program [Ed.D., University of South Florida].