This article is a part of the What Does it Mean to Design for Scale? series.

John and Yoko, Ross and Rachel, Abbott and Costello, Bonnie and Clyde… No doubt, the list of iconic pairings throughout history (both real-life and fictional) is a long one. But here’s just one more for the ages: Faculty and Instructional Designer. 

No matter your role, tackling challenges of scale requires a trail-blazing spirit and inquisitive nature, dedication and desire to reinvent teaching and learning, and the sheer guts to take (calculated) risks and step out of one’s own comfort zone. It requires an expressed openness to sharing ideas, and a willingness to give, receive, and incorporate constructive feedback throughout. 

Putting it plainly,

  • Faculty-ID relationships are like partnerships, built to last over time. They are dynamic and sustainable, bound by trust, respect, reciprocity, and commitment to each other and to learners.
  • Courses are like opportunities…to reimagine, collaborate, teach, learn, iterate, and create, all while designing for and balancing the affordances and constraints of scale.
  • IDs are like producers, shepherding, shaping, and executing a shared vision by project managing, vetting content, coordinating asset-creation cross-functionally, advising, and coaching.

In case you’re still wondering just how someone without subject matter expertise in your area can help, well, it’s certainly a reasonable question, and a common one at that. Instructional designers do spend a fair amount of time explaining what it is they do, how their experience complements that of faculty, and why their contributions are integral to success. (Though they can assist with technical issues, they’re not trained, IT support staff!) 

The majority of IDs hold graduate degrees in education or related fields, and many have specialized PhDs or EdDs. They’re often subject matter generalists, in a sense, with knowledge spanning myriad disciplines. And they’ve likely worked in both industry and academia, in a wide range of positions, from educator, curriculum developer, and advisor to project / program manager and administrator; from communications specialist, editor, and proofreader to librarian; from media producer to UI /UX designer; and from web developer to accessibility expert, to name just a few. And they bring all of this to bear on every project.

But don’t take an instructional designer’s word for it. The fifteen-week, Universal Learner Course, CSE 110: Programming for Everyone: Introduction to Programming, is hard evidence of the faculty-ID relationship in action. 

In approximately a year’s time, ASU Fulton Schools’ Senior Lecturers Ryan Meuth and Phill Miller authored nearly a thousand pages of original content; spec-ed out 340 interactive tools; scripted and recorded 100+ videos; integrated new, cloud-based programming software into the curriculum; and wrote numerous low- and high-stakes assessments. And a cross-functional design and development team, managed by a lead ID, mobilized to help make ASU’s first fully scalable, wholly browser-based programming course a reality. 

ASU’s Programming for Everyone, first offered in fall 2017 under the Global Freshman Academy umbrella on edX, debuted with enrollment numbers in the thousands, and has run annually since then via the Universal Learner Courses program. (To keep things current and optimize learning, there is a data-driven revisions cycle in place.) 

Here’s what Dr. Meuth had to say just prior to its initial launch:

Before we started this project, I had never worked with a more skilled, dedicated, hard-working and reliable group of people….Not many individuals would be willing to push the boundaries of what’s possible in a course like this, and I consider myself extremely lucky to be working with a whole team of people like that.

And Prof. Miller:

This has been the most fruitful and rewarding collaborative experience of my life….The EdPlus team has been competent, creative, supportive, and instrumental from day one, and their efforts and enthusiasm never seem to flag. Without our team, I would have been in a panic for the last six months. Instead, I am amazed at what we have accomplished together, and excited (and admittedly a little anxious) about the launch of our course. In a word, it’s been ‘great’.

So the long and short of it is that for anyone who engages in any aspect of course design, scalable or otherwise, the end result should always reflect camaraderie, collaboration, passion for the subject matter, sound pedagogy, and firm commitment to innovation and inclusion, all in service of learners.

Jill Roter is a Senior Instructional Designer at Arizona State University.

[1] Leo, L. and Roter, J. (2020). Unique challenges and successes in developing open scale courses [PowerPoint slides].