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Confessions of a Deconstructionist

By Rob Haley

Our instructional designers work with diverse faculty worldwide to launch and accelerate online degree programs. We are mediators. We collaborate with subject matter experts to faithfully present their course content in the most engaging ways possible, and we advocate on behalf of students to create comprehensive experiences online.

In performing this balancing act between faculty and students, we must remind ourselves of some basic truths. These are the confessions of a deconstructionist:

What we expect from students isn’t always self-evident

Faculty and subject matter experts are the authority. The challenge is conveying that knowledge to students with varying degrees of familiarity utilizing the same material. While some may be able to derive concrete concepts from long passages of text, many will disengage from the material.

It is then necessary to design the online experience, not only presenting the information in a purposeful order, but also looking for ways to package that information, draw connections, introduce a narrative, encourage reflection and promote student-to-student interaction, all with the involvement of faculty.

Text and lecture capture may not be the best presentation methods

The physical classroom provides the advantage of immediate feedback to both instructors and students. Instructors can “read the room” to know if an activity or analogy isn’t working. If the expectations are such, students can ask questions in the moment.

The immediacy of the physical classroom can make up for less engaging course materials. This advantage is lost online, and intentionality in the presentation of the content is required.

We work diligently with academics to identify key concepts, and then work with our team of editors, graphic designers, and other media specialists to realize these concepts in new and exciting ways (interactive objects, videos, exercises and more). The end goal is to enhance the existing message for student application, and to further engage the viewer with the topic.

We have to edit ourselves

Having too much content is a good problem to have, and there’s always too much content.

There are no shortcuts to creating great online experiences. We must work backwards from the intended outcomes, break those into objectives, and then prioritize, edit, and revise the right course content.

It’s important to remember this is a process involving passionate professionals, and nothing is ever “cut.” We distinguish between core content and supporting content. Supporting content is always included for students wanting to know the larger context or varied uses of the core content.

It’s hard to overcome the curse of knowledge

This bias explains why it’s so hard to communicate what we know to those without our knowledge. We overestimate our teaching ability and underestimate the time and effort required for someone else to reach the same level of understanding.

Instructional designers serve as a buffer for this bias because they are not subject matter experts. They bring pedagogically sound best practices and recommendations for online delivery to the table. In collaborating with faculty, they serve as beta tester students.

Our work is never done

Lastly, instructional designers know outcomes never fully mirror intent. We gather and analyze data as a course progresses and after it concludes. We deliver findings to stakeholders and work with them to implement revisions.

This open feedback loop ensures course content and delivery are always relevant. 

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