Elisabeth Ramos-Torrescano

Instructional Designers as (Secret) Change Agents

Street signs decide on same old way or change choose new path and directionDo instructional designers secretly serve as change agents in higher education institutions? Change is a faint tremor that rarely erupts to alter the academic structure cemented in tradition and intricate policies.  However, instructional designers have a unique role that gives them access to the three primary stakeholders at a university:  faculty, administration, and students. Acting in a supportive, non-threatening role, instructional designers have the opportunity to create change without having to move the weighty levers of the academic machine. Taking a look at the five characteristics of change agents identified by George Couros, author of Innovative Mindset, provides a better understanding of why instructional designers may be the secret change agents in higher education institutions.

Clear Vision  

Couros states “…a ‘change agent’ does not have to be the person in authority, but they do however have to have a clear vision and be able to communicate that clearly with others…It is essential to note that a clear vision does not mean that there is one way to do things; in fact, it is essential to tap into the strengths of the people you work with and help them see that there are many ways to work toward a common purpose.” 

Instructional designers are trained to integrate ideas from multiple sources to create a learning experience that is effective from a teaching and learning perspective.  It is in this liaison role between teaching and learning that instructional designers can contribute to providing a clear vision for an individual course or a program of study.

Patient yet persistent

Couros says that “to have sustainable change that is meaningful to people, it is something that they will have to embrace and see important…the persistence comes in that you will take opportunities to help people get a step closer often when they are ready, not just giving up on them after the first try.” 

Faculty development and training is often a large portion of an instructional designer’s responsibility.  Each faculty is on a different trajectory of integrating technology into their teaching practice.  Instructional designers are adept at nudging faculty to experiment with technology in incremental steps and encouraging faculty to experiment with polling in the classroom or holding virtual office hours.  Infusing this idea of iteration when developing a course or program of study is essential to moving things forward and creating positive change for both the learner and instructor.

Asks tough questions

Couros says that “…asking questions focusing on, ‘What is best for kids?’, and helping people come to their own conclusions based on their experience is when you will see people have ownership in what they are doing.  Keep asking questions to help people think, don’t alleviate that by telling them what to do.”

Instructional designers are experts at asking questions.  Their holistic view based on a user experience lens, gives them the ability to ask questions of the faculty that take into consideration the multiple interactions taking place in the course:  student-to-student, student-to-instructor, instructor-to-student, and student-to-course content. 

Knowledgeable and leads by example

Couros says that “…someone who stays active in not necessarily teaching, but active in learning and working with learners and can show by example what learning can look like now will have much more credibility with others.  If you want to create ‘change’, you have to not only be able to articulate what that looks like, but show it to others.” 

Instructional designers often lead faculty development trainings and engage with faculty as learners.  Portfolios of successful course designs are usually part of course consultation meetings with faculty.  Demonstration and providing examples are key components of the collaborative design relationship between faculty and instructional designers.

Strong relationships built on trust

Couros says that “…people will not want to grow if they do not trust the person that is pushing the change. The change agents I have seen are extremely approachable and reliable.” 

Instructional designers are positioned to provide support to faculty and at the same time collaborate to design course content, assignments, rubrics, and engagement throughout the course whether it is online or face-to-face.  Instructional designers often serve as a “therapist” by allowing the faculty to be vulnerable and admit teaching challenges, negative student reactions to assignments or class activities, or confusion on how to best leverage technology in their classrooms.  Instructional designers coach faculty through these challenges which in turn builds a strong foundation of trust. 

I am currently working on a project that is at a programmatic level and requires a paradigm shift for the faculty and a willingness to be vulnerable, because we are trying something new in terms of course delivery. It has been challenging at times because it is a different way of conducting business and feels a bit “corporate-y.”  These characteristics of a change agent resonated with me because I have been unknowingly pushing myself to embrace each one of them in order to keep moving the project forward in an effective and collaborative way.

Couros, George (2013, January 26). 5 Characteristic of a Change Agent  [web blog post]. Retrieved from http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/3615

Elisabeth Ramos-Torrescano

About Elisabeth Ramos-Torrescano

Lisa wears two hats at DePaul. She is the Assistant Director of Information Technology and Program Development for the School of Nursing, and a Senior Instructional Designer for Department of Health Sciences and the Master’s of Public Health. She has fifteen years of experience working in educational, non-profit, internet start-ups, and publishing organizations in positions that leverage her background in user experience, instructional design, and leadership. Lisa earned her B.A in American Studies from Northwestern University, and a M.B.A with a concentration in Health Sector Management from DePaul University’s Kellstadt Graduate School of Business. Lisa is in the throes of raising 3 teenage boys, but she makes time to ride her bike, try out new recipes weekly, garden, travel, and attend cultural events around the city.

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