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Why Work with an Instructional Designer?

Approx 5 minute read

Dr. Nicole Weber, Director of Learning Technology, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

Dr. Nicole Weber, Director of Learning Technology, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

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Why Work with an Instructional Designer?


As higher education continues to evolve, technology integration into courses is becoming not just more common but expected, particularly by new generations of students. This shift is about more than providing the learning experiences students are looking for—it’s also about integrating digital learning tools to increase student success (the work the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is doing around adaptive courseware is just one example).

Given this shift, instructors are seeing, hearing about, and encouraged to embrace technology in their courses.Yet as an instructor myself, I know the prospect of delving into technology-enhanced teaching can be daunting – especially when you feel like you are on an island taking this on alone. You may not know where to turn to learn more about how this can enhance the student (and teaching) experience or what resources are available to support you in these efforts.

There’s an option you may not have considered that can go a long way in making the journey less lonely: instructional designers (IDs). While many campuses staff them, a lack of awareness of their presence and common misconceptions about their role and capabilities often keep instructors from taking advantage of the opportunity to collaborate.

What Do Instructional Designers Do?

Higher education is a wonderful and energizing place, full of exhilarating learning experiences, differing views focused on the common good, and diversity. The units on your campus that support teaching, learning and technology are no different. Depending on your campus structure, you could have one or more departments that serve in this role. Making things even more potentially confusing, those who support the teaching and learning process may go by different titles.

While “instructional designer” is a common title, it may not be the only role that can help support your efforts to integrate technology into your teaching. For example, at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, we have various positions in our Learning Technology Center that have ID responsibilities:  

  • Instructional Technologist, who is responsible for assisting instructors in integrating campus-supported instructional technologies (e.g., student response system, eTexts, etc.) into courses.
  • Learning Management System Administrator, who is responsible for supporting the use of the learning management system through training and consultations around not only working with the system, but how to use it to effectively facilitate learning.
  • Teaching, Learning and Technology Consultant, who is responsible for supporting instructors in redesigning their courses for blended and online modes through one-on-one consultations and formalized professional development opportunities.
  • Learning Technology Specialist, who is responsible for exploring emerging technologies (and conducting research on them) with instructors.

While each staff member may have different responsibilities, we all generally have one thing in common – we love talking about teaching, learning, and technology with instructors!

How Can Instructional Designers Help Me?

Those with ID skills are valuable assets for any instructor, as they can help with projects from facilitating teaching and learning workshops to supporting technology implementation into classes. For example, you might reach out to an ID on your campus if you want to:

  • Integrate online homework or digital learning into a face-to-face course.
  • Figure out how to incorporate more active learning into your class.
  • Try a flipped classroom approach.
  • Redesign your course to leverage more high-impact teaching practices.
  • Learn more about learning technologies that help you address your teaching goals or challenges.

In each of these cases, the goal of the ID is to support instructors as they explore their course objectives and how best to meet them. Meeting with an ID in person may be difficult for instructors given schedules; you might do a majority of your work remotely, or you may teach most of the day when these opportunities are available. Never be afraid to contact centers that support teaching and learning on your campus to learn about how they can meet with you remotely (e.g., via phone or videoconferencing) or support you asynchronously (e.g., consulting through email or having them share resources with you around your needs).  

What is My Role as a Faculty Member?

The approach for faculty-ID collaborations can vary depending on the institution. For example, at one institution an ID might be tasked with producing content materials for the instructor, while at the next, they focus on enabling instructors to produce their own materials.

While the output may vary based on institution, one aspect is generally true: your role as instructor is to be the subject matter expert. You know your content area the best. Be prepared to take the lead in helping the ID understand your course, its objectives, and how you see them linking to various assignments.

It’s also helpful to take time before your meeting with an ID to reflect on the challenges you and your students may be having with the course as it stands. Having this information will help get the most out of your time with the ID. 

Instructional Design Myths, Busted

Over the years I have heard a few different myths about working with campus teaching, learning, and technology units. These are four of the most common:

"Learning Technology Centers only offer technology support.”

Sure, we can teach you how to upload content to your learning management system course site, but that is only a fraction of what we do and can assist with! We can help you plan and implement how to best leverage technology to enhance how you meet your course objectives, creating an even richer learning experience for your students.

“IDs are the course police.”

While I can’t speak for all campuses, I can say that at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, the folks who work in the Learning Technology Center are helpful (like the police), but we do not monitor courses without instructors asking for our help, nor do we mandate that instructors see us or dictate specifically what they need to do. 

“They’ll make me do things I don’t want to do.”

No matter what, at the end of the day, IDs understand that this is your course and you are the one who will be teaching it. Working with instructors is a partnership that offers complementary skill sets. While instructors stay current on the topic areas they teach, IDs stay current on the new pedagogies and technologies that support rich learning experiences. 

“Learning technology will replace me as an instructor.”

I have not found a tool yet that can do what instructors do inside and outside the classroom. What learning technology tools do is enhance the work you do and, in some cases, shift the workload so you can focus on what matters most—interacting with students! One of my favorite examples of this is related to adaptive learning. Adaptive learning tools don’t replace the instructor, but rather support the instructor’s goals of providing engaging, personalized content to prepare students for deeper learning activities where they interact with the instructor and their peers to apply what they have learned.

Remember, you’re not alone on the path to evolving the teaching and learning experience for you and your students! My best advice? Talk to colleagues and search your campus website for teaching support resources. Also, make appointments with the staff of your technology or teaching and learning center. Share your goals with them and find out what they do and how they can best support your teaching!