Elizabeth Boling

by Elizabeth Boling

Years ago when I read Design for the Real World (Papanek, 1973), I was not anticipating ending up in a design field where the issues he championed would actually apply to my work. Over time, however, I find my thoughts returning insistently to the core of his message – most trained designers end up plying their trade to produce more stuff (or more experiences) for people who already have enough (or people who have too much! See The Plenitude, Gold, 2007). Furthermore, a world of design problems exists all around us, solutions to which are desperately needed but for which comparatively little funding is available and to which little glamour is attached. It’s easy to see that this is still true decades later when we contemplate the esoteric wine bottle openers and floor lamps, or the expensive office chairs and modular work systems that take up most of the space in product design publications. Even on the experience side, it is easy to see when we think about whether or not people too busy to sleep or to be civil to each other on the street really need another mobile communication device – especially one that will cost hundreds of dollars, require toxic materials to produce and rely on an unsustainable infrastructure to maintain.

But instructional designers … we’re the good guys of design, right? We improve people’s learning and their experiences of learning. We consider performance holistically and don’t just try to cram knowledge into people’s heads without regard for their circumstances or needs. We worry about school districts without computers, and we help teachers integrate technology into their classrooms. Some of us even engage the objects of our design fully in the process and consider them collaborators in the design of instruction/systems that they will use. What could be wrong with that? Honestly, I am not sure there is anything very much wrong with it. I am just uncertain that we are offering our students the broadest view possible of instructional design’s potential in the world. If we had a publication that featured the most interesting and cool instructional design going on right now, how many of the projects featured in it would be focused in areas where people cannot find, or afford, instructional designers?

Guest blogger: Currently on sabbatical, Elizabeth Boling is an Associate Professor of Education and Chairperson of the Department of Instructional Systems Technology at Indiana University. She teaches and conducts research on the use of images in instructional materials, ISD as a design endeavor and on teaching design. She is also a designer of interactive multimedia and other forms of teaching and learning materials.

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About Michael M Grant

Dr. Michael M. Grant is a passionate professor, researcher, and consultant. He works with faculty members, schools and universities, and districts to integrate technology meaningfully and improve teaching and learning. When 140 characters just won't work, then he blogs here at Viral-Notebook.com. He has a beautiful wife and three equally beautiful daughters, who will change the world.

10 Thoughts on “Who (really) needs instructional designers?

  1. Chuck Hodges on February 17, 2009 at 9:24 am said:

    Elizabeth writes, “…in areas where people cannot find, or afford, instructional designers?”. This made me think of the identity issues in the field of instructional design and technology. My experience (17 years in higher education) tells me that most people in higher education do not know to look for instructional designers and they have no idea of the value of an instructional designer’s contribution, if they stumble upon one.

    How can we fix this? How do we convince the masses of education practitioners that their students could benefit from some assistance with their instruction through collaborating or consulting with an instructional designer?

  2. Michael M. Grant on February 17, 2009 at 2:41 pm said:

    Chuck, in higher education specifically, I believe you have two competing issues. First is the belief that when an individual is awarded a terminal degree, he or she must be able to teach (and design) the subject as well. I believe this demeans teaching is so many ways. Second, I believe that at research institutions you have a perception of teaching as a “lesser” activity. So, the practice of improving instruction is disregarded in many ways. There are certainly a large number of faculty development centers on campuses across the US that would argue against the second point.

  3. Chuck Hodges on February 18, 2009 at 12:22 pm said:

    I agree Michael. I’d love to see a large-scale change toward encouraging PhDs to learn something about teaching and learning as part of their plans of study. I think programs like this, http://wvutoday.wvu.edu/news/page/6947/, are promising. From the web site:

    “WVU is currently in the beginning stages of introducing optional education training in graduate programs that would earn students a certification in college teaching, along with their doctoral degree.
    Withers said she not only hopes that the training will soon become a requirement supported by faculty, but one that will encourage more graduate students to study education research.”

    Of course, the next question is what are they doing in these programs? I think as a first step, simply acknowledging that this type of training is valuable is great.

  4. Elizabeth Boling on February 19, 2009 at 5:30 am said:

    Interestingly enough, one of the growth areas in our field (at least as measured by anecdotal evidence collected via our distance program) is that colleges and universities are hiring instructional designers in greater numbers than ever. And, interestingly enough, while I see that as a good thing I am also skeptical that it is enough to effect a wholesale change in quality of instruction. I agree with both Michael and Chuck that a little design education (which is what training for faculty ought to be) could only benefit everyone!

    That addressed, I wonder if there is anyone out there practicing instructional design regularly on behalf of people who cannot aspire to university faculty positions (or educations)? I would love to hear about your projects!

  5. Michael M. Grant on February 19, 2009 at 8:04 am said:

    Elizabeth, wouldn’t that be an awesome co-op or consortium to create/join? A center that provide instructional design for non-profit groups targeted to social and community services. I’d really like to know if anyone is doing that already and what it’s like if they are.

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