Practical application essay
I currently work at a consulting firm that specializes in instructional design for higher education with a head count of 50 employees: instructional designers, e-learning specialists, program evaluators, web/graphic designers and videographers, trainers, and educational technology specialists. The variety of specialists reflect the major aspects of instructional design–analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation. The focus of the company is educational solutions for online environments and blended learning. Our purpose is to create inspirational and hands-on instruction that promotes better student learning. Usually, institutions of higher learning invite our specialists to help their faculty across an array of majors and tracks balance out time between teaching content to students and students’ actual work. I hold a position of an instructional designer and focused on performance problems and blended learning. My responsibilities include conducting needs assessment, designing instructional solutions, and developing instructional materials. I study extant data, analyze the environment, conduct survey and make interviews, identify gaps in students’ knowledge/ skills/ attitudes, work with subject matter experts, develop student learning outcomes, choose instructional strategies, create learning assessment materials, and align them with the learning objectives.
Our leading consultant is currently working with the dean of the Translation Studies department at a big non-profit university in an Eastern European country where second-, third-, and fourth-year students have struggle with writing annual research papers in the fall semester in Linguistics or Translation Studies and eventually either get low grades or fail and have to resubmit corrected papers in the spring semester. The university has no Writing Center or Teaching Excellence enter that can address the issue. Last year the dean introduced a mandatory one semester academic writing course for all students for all years of study. The course is taught by one of the Translation Studies instructors. This fall there were fewer students who failed their research papers (downfall by 50%) and the overall grades improved (by 10%). The dean and faculty are not satisfied with that level: They don’t want students their to fail on the project and/or have their works downgraded because of the structure, logical flow, and academic integrity issues. The dean is asking our leading consultant to design a one-semester academic writing course that would teach students to write research papers according to academic standards. Our leading consultant assigns me for this project and says I have 6 months to create a sustainable and reusable 4-month university course on Academic Writing before the next Fall semester begins.
Application of IDD&E principles
As a general problem-solving process and the most widespread model in instructional design, ADDIE is a worthy framework to walk through this situation. I will also be a project management for this project. Below I am describing how I am planning to use it for this case.
1. Analysis. During this phase, which is also called front-end analysis, or needs assessment, I am planning to use A. Rosset’s (1987) model: Techniques + Tools = Purposes:
Which means that I plan to do a slew of activities in order to uncover the purposes for instructional intervention. Given the time constraints, it does not seem possible to incorporate all techniques (subject matter analysis) or tools (observation, focus groups, interviews with everybody), but here is what’s possible. First, I have to examine the existing documents (students’ grades, actual papers, instructors’ feedback, current academic writing syllabus). Then make surveys and/or questionnaires with students (asking about how they think the existing academic writing program prepared them for writing research papers, what they think about its instruction, instructor, purpose and value of the course, its level of difficulty, their self-evaluations for their research papers). I will have to know what the other side thinks–through interviewing the academic writing instructor and all 3 linguistics teachers who assign students to write papers (how they convey their expectations about writing to students, what assessment criteria they use, what value they see themselves bringing to students with this course, why they think students do not perform at an expected level after the instruction, what considerations they give to audiences when delivering the course). In addition to that, environmental scanning is important to discover whether classrooms, lighting, furniture, heating, technological supplies affect learning experiences there. All this information will serve as a basis for the needs assessment, which is seeking the optimal performance and identifying the actual performance in order to establish the deficit in the knowledge, skills, or attitudes of the student as well as issues unrelated to those factors.
As of now, the performance problem is that students do not perform at an expected level in their linguistics research papers: some fail their projects and a lot of them receive poor grades. This falls into the category of knowledge/skill/attitude problems which can be addressed by instructional solutions. There may be other performance problems in this situation: the audience or instructors may lack motivation to invest in students, environment may be not conducive to learning (poor lighting, dysfunctional radiators in cold seasons), pedagogy may be inefficient, the appointed academic writing instructor may lack the necessary skills to teach the subject, there may be disincentives to students or teachers (e.g., why would translation studies instructor start teaching academic writing and drop her translation studies courses? what feedback do students get and how is it communicated?). For some of these problems there will be a need for non-instructional interventions: introductions of new policies, hiring new contractors, classroom redesign, benefits of the academic writing for students should be communicated better. This should and will be communicated to the dean during the report sessions.
What instructional solutions can be implemented here? On the one hand, a more tailored academic writing course can be designed for the students of linguistics. On the other hand, there may be a training for instructors on how to make their academic writing instruction and/or feedback to student papers more purposeful, specific, positive, and timely.
2. Design. In order to design the solution (a new academic writing course), we will have to touch upon the subject matter analysis and task analysis with instructors. It is pivotal in order to create course goals and outline measurable as well as tangible student learning outcomes (performance objectives). There are many ways to do it: Mager’s three-component model, ABCD model, S.M.A.R.T. objectives, etc. The main thing that unites them is that they are all focused on what students will be able to do upon completion of the course. Helpful here is Bloom’s taxonomy of learning objectives. Some examples may be as follows: (1) Given the time and library resources, students will be able to read five journal articles and create five annotated bibliographies to them, (2) Given a linguistics topic to write a research on, students will be able to design one research question and at least two subquestions to it, (3) Given the outline instructions, students will be able to create a detailed outline for their research paper that will clearly show the introduction, body of the research, and conclusion.
This is an important step, because objectives help create assessment activities for students. The ultimate assessment assignment will be, of course, a robust research paper. One way to define “robust” is to create a detailed analytic/holistic rubric (checklist, grading scale, or level of performance). Still, the assessment activities during the course must be aligned with the objectives. Some assessment activities may include: (1) create 5 annotated bibliographies, (2) create a detailed outline that reflects the structure of the paper, (3) draft a research question with two subquestions, (4) write a thesis statement, (5) document the citations using APA style, (6) paraphrase passages in a way that is not considered plagiarism, etc.
During the design phase, the syllabus for the course will be created, instructional strategies defined (generative and/or supplantive, discovery and/or expository, etc.). At the end of the phase, I will have to go back to Phase 1 (Analysis) and see whether the proposed solution is supposed to close the identified gap in knowledge, skills, and attitudes.
3. Development. In this phase, actual development will take place: printing, collating, sorting by packages of topics, creating presentations, grouping online resources. This will also be a phase where I will storyboard pieces of instruction in order to demonstrate how the actual implementation of the course may look like. This will also allow to go back again to phases 1 and 2 and check whether the performance problem will be addressed adequately with the designed solution, and the gap (= deficit) will be closed.
In this phase, I will have focus groups from among students who have had academic writing classes participate in the test-out of how the instruction will go, analyze the results, and survey them to know what they think about the course. We will have to bring a group of students and a training specialist and have them test some pieces of instruction to see how well students respond to it. This will be the last chance to improve (formative evaluation) the instruction, should it have serious or obvious flaws.
4. Implementation. Before implementation begins, there will be a training session for the academic writer instructor(s) on how to use instructional science in teaching (e.g., nine events of instruction). This may highlight certain aspects that have to be taken into account when coming into the classroom, as this approach (nine events) has been tested throughout decades and yielded many positive results. Topics such as feedback and transfer will be thoroughly discussed, because these events of instruction help students improve their performance and use the information in new contexts and settings. Actual implementation in the classroom will be done by the instructors of the department. I will stay in touch with the faculty for consulting purposes in case advice and further clarifications will be needed.
5. Evaluation. Our company will be involved in conducting the evaluation of the instructional intervention (the course and a teacher training). However, to reduce bias, this will be done by my colleagues specializing in evaluation practices. This will be done by looking at students’ results in the course (grade, actual assignments), course evaluations, instructor evaluation questionnaires, and an interview with the instructor upon completion of the course. All the data will be scrutinized, analyzed, and systematized, which will result in reporting a cost-benefit analysis of this program (what went well, what didn’t, should this program continue as is, slightly enhanced, or radically transformed). This will be followed by a report to the dean and the faculty about whether we closed the gap with the recommendations for future use.
6. Project management. Although not an obvious part in the ADDIE model, project management (PM) is part and parcel of instructional designer’s work. Because I’m the main person working on the project with this university department on their academic writing course, I’m the one responsible for the project to be done on time, within budget, and according to specifications. Not that this department pays us a lot of money to begin with, but a huge part of the job is knowing what you can and cannot do in the allocated amount of time with the given resources. Because the resources are scanty, we are not involved in developing solutions that required the help of educational technologists or graphic/web/video designers. The major interactions are among the faculty and our company and between the students and our company. In that sense, this project requires three of our employees: an instructional designer and project manager (me), another instructional designer to help conduct the analysis, and an evaluator to conduct a program evaluation. As a project manager, I’m also respoinsible for proper and timely communication with the dean about how the project is going. This is done through regular monthly meetings and bi-weekly email communication. Critical path, variance report, Gannt chart, work packages are defined and monitored, any deviations in time are addressed. The project is very well feasible in the span of the allocated 6 months. It will be a success for students as well as the faculty of the department.
I chose this project and proposed the above stated IDD&E application because of my passion about higher education, the doors that it opens for people in terms of jobs and in terms of mind. A lot of times institutions of higher learning do not have financial resources to create opportunities for new learning experiences for students and go with the tradition. Instructional design looks at it differently and can, in fact, offer solutions that do not require huge expenditures.
For this case scenario, there are five major instructional designer competencies I practice and refine (2, 6, 8, 16, 22). Here I refer to the competencies as they are defined by ibstpi. First is “2. Apply research and theory to the discipline of instructional design.” I am able to use terminology of the field (highlighted throughout this application essay), use researched principles and theories (such as nine events or Rossett’s needs assessment framework) and apply them to the specific cases. More importantly, I exercise here a systematic approach to designing instruction: I see where the proposed instructional solution (academic writing course) will fit in the general picture of the students in the Translation Studies department. I feel that I have developed this skill to a good level that is above the beginner’s level yet, of course, has room for future improvement.
Then, “6. Conduct a needs assessment in order to recommend appropriate design solutions and strategies.” I think it is the fundamental skill that tests whether a person is or is not an instructional designer. Not all solutions to performance problems are instructional by nature. When it comes to environment, motivation, and incentives, training or job aid cannot help. In this scenario, I pondered over some problems that cannot be addressed by instruction and has nothing to do with a gap in knowledge, skills, or attitudes: non-motivated students, inadequate instructor, poor learning conditions in winter. I think I am good at asking questions that help take into account many variables for needs assessment.
Also important is “8. Select and use analysis techniques for determining instructional content.” Although I have not developed this skill in my actual job, I have given much thought into this aspect of instructional designer work in all of my IDD&E projects at Syracuse University. I feel confident in bringing it up as needed, almost by reflex. For this case scenario, I mentioned subject matter analysis and task analysis as techniques. I also think that ethics plays a key role for this competency: how much of content is enough? how much is too much? how appropriate is it for the audience that the instruction targets for? I use those questions as mu guidance for this competency.
Another is “16. Design learning assessment.” This is also a core competency in our job: aligning performance objectives, instructional strategies, and learning assessment. For better learning, we have to be able to communicate our expectations with students beforehand and lead them (or have them lead themselves) to these expectations. Therefore, assessment should be something students know they have been prepared for, that it’s not something out of think air that they have never seen or done in the course. In the case scenario, this competency is fully exercised in the Analysis section. I think I am very good at this alignment.
Finally, “22. Plan and manage instructional design projects.” This case scenario was monitored and done by the project manager who was also an instructional designer in one person (me). I have to define scope, determine goals, use planning management tools, allocate resources, address project issues when they arise, communicate with stakeholders. I don’t feel I am confident with this competency yet, as I haven’t worked in a team on an instructiona design project, but I know how much better and on time projects can be done when properly managed. One person cannot do all the work if time is limited, the coordination skills are crucial.
Throughout the process of closing the gap presented in this scenario and my role in it as an instructional designer and project manager, our consulting firm can resolve a problem with the academic writing skills in students for a Translation Studies department in a university. I believe the proposed instructional intervention (and non-instructional recommendations to the dean) will result in students’ more cohesive writing skills and more comfortable learning environment. Sometimes traditions and traditional teaching gets in the way of improving student learning and sometimes it is limited resources. Instructional designers come in the environments, scan them, and point out where performance problems lie and what kind of instructional interventions (if any) can improve the status quo.
As a future researcher and professor in the IDD&E field, I want to also contribute to improving student learning in the university I’ll be working. I’m indebted to education in my life and know what transformative power it has. If I have the capacities to help my teacher colleagues become better designers of learning experiences for students and, thus, help make learning more engaging for students, I’ll be happy to feel that changes for the better are happening. Changes for better student performance, bigger engagement, and stronger transformative education.
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