Instructional Designers (IDs) –alternatively referred to as Learning Designers, Instructional Developers, among others– occupy a unique position in higher education as a support to faculty in the course development process. As an awareness of open education resources (OER) grows in higher education in Canada and the US, and a body of research pointing to the benefits, barriers and challenges in implementing OER more broadly emerges, it is important to shed the light on the role of instructional designers in relation to open education practices (OEP). In their role as support to faculty in the course development (and often delivery) process, IDs can play an important part in alleviating some of the well-known barriers of OEP: faculty time required to find appropriate OER to adopt or remix, resistance to change, and institutional support (Annand & Jensen, 2017; Barker, Jeffery, Jhangiani, & Veletsianos, 2018; Jhangiani et al., 2016). Yet little is known about how IDs engage with OEP in the course development process and how they see their role in relation to OEP. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to explore how instructional designers negotiate OEP in the course development process or in working with faculty more broadly. This article focusses on some of the key findings from the first phase of a two-part study.
The context for this study is British Columbia (BC), Canada, a province that has a well-established government-supported OER initiative that began in 2003 and subsequently became an open textbook initiative in 2015. The 25 public post-secondary institutions in BC are supported by BCcampus, a provincial government agency which administers OER grants, provide a variety of professional development and event support, as well as as well as supporting open textbook publishing through a Pressbooks publishing platform. However, while there is good momentum in the province with faculty, librarians, and student advocates, less is known about how IDs and teaching and learning centres are engaging with OEP.
OEP have been defined as:
practices which support the (re)use and production of OER through institutional policies, promote innovative pedagogical models, and respect and empower learners as co-producers on their lifelong learning path. OEP address the whole OER governance community: policy makers, managers/ administrators of organisations, educational professionals and learners (Andrade et al., 2011, p. 12).
In a review of the theoretical and empirical research on OEP Cronin and MacLaren (2018) explain that a more expansive view of OEP acknowledges that OEP may in fact “emerge independently of OER and may in fact lead to OER use – rather than the reverse being the case” (p.137). Part of the conceptual confusion around OEP seems to lie in the fact that OEP –whose roots lie in open education more broadly– can also encompass open scholarship, open teaching, open pedagogy, and other OEP related concepts (p. 133). This is an important acknowledgement in considering how faculty and IDs within higher education institutions come to understand what might constitute OEP in the context of their work.
There is general agreement that the role of IDs in higher education in general is complex and not always well understood by peers in the institution (Ren, 2019). This has led to some studies that dive more deeply into the role of IDs in their work in their contexts. For example, Kumar and Ritzhaupt (2017) state that the role of the ID is complex and varied, ranging from course development, faculty development, project management, research and evaluation as well as inherent technical skills and knowledge required to undertake those activities. Schwier and Wilson (2010) point to the unconventional roles and skills of IDs that go beyond an instructional design education. Dicks and Ives (2008) delve into the negotiation process between subject matter experts, designers, students in the ID process, while Campbell, Schwier and Kenny (2009) adopt a sociocultural lens to examine the role of IDs as change agents and conclude that IDs exhibit multiple dimensions of agency –interpersonal, professional, societal and institutional. More recently, Richardson et al. (2018) point to the lack of understanding of the contributions that IDs can make, noting resistance from faculty to work with IDs, and the perception by faculty of an unbundling or devaluation of the faculty role. Therefore, despite the observation that instructional designers are well positioned to be key leaders in the transformation of higher education (McGriff, 2001), and possess a valuable set of skills and expertise, they may face challenges in their higher education contexts to leverage this expertise.
The topic of OEP and IDs specifically is limited in research and can be extended more broadly to include educators and faculty. In one study, Jung and Hong (2016) examined faculty members’ instructional priorities for adopting OER and found that effectiveness, efficiency, appeal and extension were the most important factors. Kaatrakoski, Littlejohn and Hood (2017), in examining the tensions experienced by educators as they adopt OEP, note that “previous studies on the use of OER suggest that while educators are slowly adopting Open Educational Practice, there remains limited understanding of breadth of teaching and learning practice that OER enable.” (p. 600). Paskevicius (2017) provides a model of OEP aligned with constructivist course design and demonstrates how educators can extend their practices with OEP. More recently, Ren (2019) considers that “the success of the OER movement cannot be achieved through relying on individual efforts. There is a need to build partnerships and collaborative communities to promote creating and adopting open educational materials in higher education” (p. 15). For Ren (2019) this includes more awareness by faculty of IDs and more faculty collaboration with IDs. Therefore, in expanding OEP research to include educators more broadly, it is important to recognize the tensions with respect to the various roles.
ID work requires that IDs engage in collaborative relationships across the institution and this boundary work (Akkerman & Bakker, 2011) involving faculty, design teams, and others may surface tensions and contradictions. For example, Richardson et al (2018) examined collaborative relationships between instructional designers and faculty and identified the importance of support from administrators and faculty buy-in as factors contributing to successful collaborative relationships. These themes are echoed in Ren (2019) who underlines the expertise that IDs can bring to these collaborative relationships: “Although IDs have expertise in curriculum development and instructional innovation, they often are ignored or underestimated in producing OER-based courses. It is instrumental to think about what IDs can do to promote OER creation and adoption in higher education” (p. 16). Interestingly, collaborative leadership is also identified as a success factor in institutional transformation research (Kezar & Eckel, 2002) and institutional blended learning initiatives (Garrison & Vaughan, 2013), suggesting that there may be some insights that can be drawn from research that examines OEP as a process of institutional change or transformation. The collective body of research on instructional designer roles and practices suggests that the introduction of OEP to their work likely presents both challenges and opportunities that require negotiation within their contexts (Cronin, 2017).
In line with Cronin (2017) this study adopts a sociocultural orientation that views open education practices as situated and negotiated within specific contexts and conditions, which include actors, rules, facilitators and constraints. With respect to OEP, ID work constitutes boundary crossing, defined by Akkerman and Baker (2011) as “sociocultural differences leading to discontinuities in action and interaction” (p.152), involving faculty, design teams that include instructional designers and others. In considering how instructional designers negotiate OEP in their work in the design or working with faculty process, this study leans on Campbell et al’s (2009) view of instructional designers as agents of social change who may hold certain values and identities and chose to act on and embody them. Importantly, the authors distinguish two kinds of agency –intentional and operational– which may surface different tensions in ID work, leading to discontinuities of action. Campbell et al. (2009) define these two kinds of agency as follows:
By intentional, we refer to those dimensions of instructional design that are related to the intentions, principles or values associated with actions, including personal judgments about what is significant, preferential, moral or ethical. By contrast, operational dimensions include the practical implications or the expression of particular intentions, principles or values. In other words, intentional dimensions deal with what we feel we should do, whereas operational dimensions deal with concrete actions or outcomes (p.16).
Since OEP are a relatively new academic development or initiative, examining how IDs engage with OEP from the perspective of intentional and operational agency may provide some explanatory power to the tensions and negotiations they face in this work.
In order to understand how IDs negotiate OEP in their work, this study is framed around the following research questions:
The study adopted a qualitative research design using interviews and thematic analysis (Maxwell, 2012). It involved convenience sampling of two samples who met the following criteria: First, a sample of public sector higher education IDs/learning designers who support faculty in the course design and development process working at a BC public post-secondary, regardless of whether they work in a centre or are decentralized; second, a sample of Directors of teaching and learning centres that employ instructional designers. Only IDs who were engaged in OEP in some way were interviewed. Similarly, Directors whose teaching and learning centres were involved in OEP at their institution were interviewed in order to gain a better understanding of the role of IDs who work within and are supported by teaching and learning centres. Research participants were assured that they and their institutions would not be identifiable, which is especially difficult in a small province such as BC. Therefore, the description of the sample is limited to the details provided in Table 1.
|Type of Institution||ID Identifier||Director Identifier|
|*Large University||ID 1||D 1|
|Medium University||D 3|
|Small University A||ID 6|
|Small University B||ID 7||D 2|
|Large College||ID 2
|Medium College||ID 3
|Small College||ID 8|
A total of eight IDs and four Directors across seven BC institutions were interviewed individually by the author via recorded web-conferencing sessions. Semi-structured interviews (Appendix A) lasted between 30 and 60 minutes and were recorded and transcribed. Rather than provide a concrete definition of OEP, participants were presented with examples of OEP that might be engaged with, thus providing a framing that considered multiple entry points, recognizing that “adoption of OEP is often uneven and does not always begin with the use of OER” (Cronin & MacLaren, 2018, p. 137). For the purposes of this study, OEP included:
Analysis of interview transcripts was both deductive and inductive (Miles, Huberman, & Saldaña, 2014). The author used MaxQDA for data analysis, which involved first cycle coding and second cycle coding (Sanda-ña, 2009). First cycle coding used a combination of holistic and structural coding methods. IDs were treated as a separate set and were coded separately from Directors. Second cycle coding for Saldaña (2009) is “advanced ways of reorganizing and analyzing data coded through First Cycle methods” (p. 149). This step involved collapsing and rearranging first cycle codes followed by pattern coding. This resulted in a total of 430 interview segments coded across 15 primary codes and 22 subcodes. Subcodes were analyzed for additional themes. The major themes are included in the results and discussion.
Consistent with Cronin (2017), when with working with OEP in the course development or working with faculty process, IDs are engaged in a negotiation that is shaped by the institutional context, the role of the ID, their level of agency and influence, and clarity of expectations and directives.
The IDs in our study described themselves as advocates who leverage the spaces within their role wherever possible. The advocate labels they used to describe themselves included coach, advocate, hands-on guide, practical tour guide, pushy advocate, and suggester of open. The Directors for the most part shared this view of the advocate role of the IDs in relation to OEP. IDs engage with OEP because they are committed to the moral value of open, the potential to improve teaching and learning, and/or the practical affordances that it provides.
ID 5, Large College: … it <open> doesn’t have to be something so moral, right? It could be entirely practical. Even when instructors contribute their whatever to the community, it’s also entirely practical. It’s good for them, right? They gain value. Maybe not necessarily monetary value but they gain identity values from doing that.
ID 6, Small University A: I have all these other institutional needs. I’m the advocate because I feel ethically connected to it. It’s not necessarily that I get any kind of direction or indication from senior leadership that we should be doing it.
As Campbell et al. (2009) stated, IDs are “principled actors whose practices embody core values” (p. 16). However, while IDs are highly committed to engaging with OEP in their work, they often do this with limited positional influence and authority, a point that Campbell et al (2009) also note in their study: “instructional designers feel responsibility for more things than they have authority to influence, and that they regularly find themselves in positions that require them to act beyond their authority, or in a vacuum of authority” (p. 16). Therefore, at times IDs struggle to engage with OEP due to their limited agency:
ID 6, Small University A: There are some, I’d say 10%, that come from institutions that have people with titles with “instructional designer”, and that’s what they’ll call us. Everybody else sees us as technical help. They need to know how to do something in the LMS, something with clickers or all the rest of it. They don’t see us as pedagogues, they see us as technicians.
In addition, in smaller institutions, or in situations where the ID is not part of a central or well supported teaching and learning centre, they may be one of a few, if not the only institutional champion. This is somewhat surprising given the well-publicized success of the BC open textbook initiative that has seen open textbooks adopted in all 25 institutions and suggests that there may be more capacity building required.
The IDs in this study are resourceful in leveraging opportunities to engage with OEP despite constraints. These included hiring subject matter experts who are willing to engage in OEP, attempting to incorporate OEP in the analysis and design phases of course development work, as well as inserting information about OEP in their strategic communications and informal and formal conversations with faculty and via workshops. Directors underlined that OEP work is largely faculty initiated and complexities around intellectual property influence the degree to which OEP work is taken up by centres and by faculty.
Unsurprisingly, given the well documented knowledge and advocacy role that academic librarians bring to the open movement (Okamoto, 2013), both Directors and IDs mentioned the importance of librarians as allies to generate momentum where possible. IDs are also participating in institutional Open Working Groups, and take opportunities provided through participation in committees or in the course development process to educate others in the value of OER and OEP.
None of the IDs in this study feel like they have sufficient time and space in their roles to work with OEP to the extent that they feel is necessary, with IDs in smaller or more decentralized teaching and learning centres having the least amount of time for OEP. Both Directors and IDs recognize that they are juggling competing priorities and limited resources, as well as unclear and unstated guidelines as to the extent that OEP should be part of their official job role.
ID 1, Large University: It’s mainly workload… I think I’ve got 20 courses on my plate right now, just as one individual, and I’m trying to weave in constructive alignment outcomes, all of that sort of stuff. And it’s just I don’t have time for it. I wish I did.
ID 3, Medium College: I wouldn’t say I’m out front championing it because it’s not officially recognized in my job description. I have to be mindful of that, and I think if it was officially recognized, if my job description said … It would need me to put a sticker on it, 25 percent of me … If it said, “Responsible for raising awareness and advocating for open education practices or open education resource creation, or support, whatever.” I think that would be a lot easier, but it’s not.
Director 4, Large College: I think resources … everyone who’s doing it, is doing it on the side of the desk.
ID 8, Small College: It’s not in my job description. It wouldn’t be … It’s not a mandate of the college or anything, but when you start to find the people who are the champions of things, that’s where you get the little conversations to make things happen. Yeah, it’s not really part of my role, at all.
There is also some evidence to suggest that the level of agency an ID has to engage with OEP in their work is a condition of level or stage of maturity of their institution (or even their teaching and learning centre) with open. For example, an ID at an institution with a well-established open learning division described a course development workflow that facilitated –and to some degree normalized– OEP as part of the expectations placed on the faculty members that they work with. This institution also had the largest open education working group with approximately 40 members from across the institution. Unsurprisingly, the proportion of time spent engaging with OEP, and the number of IDs in the centre actively doing OEP was much higher than for IDs working in institutions where open was less established. However, since stage of institutional maturity with OEP was not a focus of this study, this would require further investigation.
In his study, Paskevicius (2017) noted that “both leadership and professional development are needed to support a shift to OEP” (p. 134). But where should this leadership come from? One of the more surprising findings that emerged from both the ID and the Director interviews was the importance of senior leadership in advancing and supporting open efforts. While recognizing the importance of open being a grassroots movement, and the importance of faculty leading faculty, all of the interviewees discussed challenges in their work they felt could be alleviated with a clearer, well communicated commitment and leadership from senior leaders.
ID 2, Large College: I feel that, at the higher level, the leadership level, there’s not a lot of uptake about open, and I don’t sense that there’s a lot of openness for them to learn about open.
ID 6, Small University A: There may be teaching centers, and other institutions have a lot more representation, perhaps, at their administration. If you look at <XYZ University>, I think they actually have an AVP teaching and learning, at a provost level or associate provost level. They’re sitting around those president’s council meetings and stuff, and they’re that voice. We don’t have that voice at our institution.
ID 8, Small College: As we say, higher up, there needs to be some … They need to feel that it’s important
ID 4, Medium College: I think we need champions at the top to make things happen, because I think currently we have this committee, open <ABC institution> committee. And we have a sub-working group. But we’re all doing this off the side of our desk.
Director 3, Medium University: I would say the support hasn’t been there from the VPA’s office. That wasn’t intentional thing. It just worked out that way.
There is some suggestion that an open initiative that is driven by IDs or teaching and learning centres will have a limited impact without the support of senior leaders, a point also taken up by Ren (2019). This is not to say that senior leaders were entirely unsupportive, but this support largely seems to come in the form of small pockets of money for OER grants. Are senior leaders educated and informed about what open is, how it can benefit the institution and how its impact can be measured? Are they informed as to what is required to support an institutional open initiative or OEP beyond grant money? Or are they expecting that the Directors of the teaching and learning centres have sufficient knowledge, resources, and influence to undertake OEP work? These are questions that may be worth further study in light of the fact that in this study the Directors of centres varied in whether they recognized a role for the centre in leading or helping to drive OEP at their institution.
Director 1, Large University: There’s a lot of people who really believe in sharing openly. However, and the only reason why I’m ‘however-ing’, is because there has been a request to start thinking about it more as a … this is the way we do things, and if you don’t want to open things up, there needs to be some reason for that. There needs to be some justification. So we haven’t gotten there yet, but there has been a request from some folks in <the Centre> saying, why don’t we make this more of a proactive … a policy that we generally are open.
Director 4, Large College: …right now we have a good grassroots movement of open with some token dollars thrown through support of, here write a book and we’ll pay you $5000. But we really don’t have a center of open, we don’t have a team that comes together. We have an ad hoc grassroots committee that comes together several times here. But it’s more just to keep the lights on as opposed to something that’s really a driving force.
In the meantime, we can turn to Kezar (2012) who provides some insights on the convergence of grassroots and top down leadership around institutional change initiatives through committees or task forces, or to institutional case studies on blended learning (Taylor & Newton, 2013; Lim & Wang, 2017) where successful blended learning initiatives incorporated both top down and bottom up approaches.
Research on institutional transformation (Kezar, 2012; Kezar & Eckel, 2002), blended learning initiatives (Lim & Wang, 2017), and OEP in curriculum development (Armellini & Nie, 2013) underline the importance of professional development at all levels of the institution as both an awareness and capacity building effort when undertaking change initiatives. In this study both Directors and IDs felt that their efforts could be strengthened with more awareness and professional development.
ID 4, Medium College: … the opportunity to talk about open, sometimes people will be like, “Oh, I don’t want to use an open education. I don’t want to use an open textbook.” And that’s their go-to. And I have to say, “Well, that’s actually not only what open is, and let me help you kind of explore more of that.” So, I think we’re there. I think we need lots of professional development. And professional development for me too, because I’m pretty new to this. And so, I think just building capacity with myself and with our committee, and then with the new curriculum consultants that we have. That would help.
Director 3, Medium University: Awareness is one of the biggest things… this is one of those conversations where I see right in front of me a lot of faculty members just go blank. We’ve lost them in the conversation.
Director 4, Large College: …we definitely could do a better job on the <professional development> side of things, helping, providing opportunities for faculty, not just the writing of the textbooks, but even understanding the pedagogy side of it. Creating a course, teaching with an open pedagogy mindset…right now I think, we’ve got maybe 5 or 10% of our instructors <who> really understand and embrace it.
IDs and Centres are also engaging with OEP through providing awareness and capacity building via workshops and events. There were mixed perceptions as to how effective these were in achieving the goal of seeing more people aware of and engaged with OEP at the institution. It’s also important to note that within centres themselves, including with IDs and Directors in the centres, there were varying levels of understanding and involvement with OEP on an individual basis.
ID 5, Large College: We have <number removed> instructional designers, and out of all of us, I’d say that maybe <half> keep it front of mind in the work that they’re doing with faculty, but I’m not too sure about the other ones.
In other words, the advocacy role of IDs is a choice, not a directive, and centres aren’t at the point where OEP are threaded throughout their strategy and operations. In Campbell et al’s framing (2009), there is a disconnect between the intentional agency of the IDs and their operational agency, constituting a zone of moral dissonance (p. 17). In this regard, it’s worth reflecting on Conole and Ehlers (2010) who state: “the dissemination, implementation and evolution of open educational practices is influenced by actions, rules and regulations on all levels of stakeholder involvement” (p. 8). While centres may have varying abilities to help influence the culture of the institution, there is a risk to relying on the efforts of a few advocates, and professional development and support “is central to the development of a culture where open practices are prominent” (Armellini & Nie, 2013, p. 18). Armellini and Nie (2013) provide some key topics to be covered that may be worth considering in developing awareness and professional development for OEP.
Despite challenges in engaging with and expanding OEP at their institutions, the participants in this study are able to speak to the impacts their efforts have had, however small. Institutional open working groups are seen as a productive way to bring people together to support each other around open, and while they vary in size they serve an important role in the OER grants process, in fostering supportive relationships, and in targeting their open efforts. Institutional OER grants are creating momentum and attracting more applicants every year, and in some cases open is entering the conversation in places where it may not have been previously discussed.
Director 4, Large College: I really believe, and I don’t think I’m being naive here, but I think we’re getting some momentum now…there’s people that are talking about open or saying ‘hey, you know, how do I get a grant? I want to write something’.
Assigning a role of an open coordinator is identified as a need at two of the seven institutions in this study. And since the impact of open textbooks on student savings is being closely monitored by BCcampus and is well communicated to the senior leaders, some of the participants pointed to the positive impact this had in creating space for OEP work. It’s worth noting that measuring and monitoring impact is not an established practice at the institutions interviewed, and it was suggested that a sector wide working group that looks at how to measure the impacts of OEP would be helpful.
This is a small study across a limited number of institutions in a particular geographic area of British Columbia. It does not shed light on institutions who are not doing open or who don’t have neither teaching and learning centres nor instructional designers, or where librarians are the key people working with faculty in the course design process. Importantly, it does not capture IDs who aren’t doing OEP, or who might be resisting OEP and reasons for it. This is undoubtedly an important area for further research.
Despite these limitations, this study captures some important findings on the efforts, challenges, and impact of IDs in the BC post-secondary sector who are engaging with OEP with whatever capacity they have and the ways in which they could be better supported to do this work.
In light of the findings, there are several recommendations for institutions who would like to advance their efforts in OEP.
Cronin (2017) notes that “the use of OEP by educators is complex, personal, and contextual; it is also continually negotiated” (p. 15). This study demonstrates that IDs are negotiating institutional constraints while attempting to be important OEP advocates in their work. To use Campbell et al’s framing (2009), there is evidence to suggest a lag between the intentional agency of IDs working with OEP and their operational agency. The IDs in this study have a high level of intentional agency, as evidenced in how they described their role in relation to OEP and through their efforts to leverage whatever small spaces they had in their design work and work with faculty. However, they also described the limits of their operational agency, which included lack of clarity of expectations around their official job title in relation to OEP, workload capacity and resources to engage with OEP, lack of clarity of directives and support from senior leadership, as well as a broader lack of awareness of the moral and practical affordances of OEP within their institutions. If OEP are a desired mechanism for academic innovation and transformation of teaching and learning, it may be timely for institutions to consider the role that IDs can take in diffusing OEP through their work with faculty while attending to some of the more operational barriers that impede this work.
I am grateful for the funding and support of BCcampus during all stages of this study.
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