Learning Designers: Continuing the Conversation

Responding to "Faculty Member."

November 11, 2013

Last week I wrote you asking about your experience working with learning designers, and I included some questions about the availability of this resource on campus.

Are You Working With a Learning Designer?

The discussion that this post generated was terrific (thank you) - with one response in particular catching my eye:

Faculty Member:

"Enough of this professionalization nonsense. Education != instruction--education, to quote the good Cardinal Newman, "is a higher word." We, faculty, establish the environment for education. Professional staff such as "learning designers" or "instructional designers" are extraneous and a drain on our precious few resources. Replacing tenure lines with an army of professionalized staff loaded with credentials alongside low-paid and necessarily subservient and contingent adjunct faculty is not the appropriate way forward. You are complicit with the destruction of higher education and the transformation of our institutions into the corporate university. Reject these efforts to redefine education into the instrumentalized system that you are already fully involved in. Enough.”

First, I’d like to thank Faculty Member for taking the time to engage in this discussion.   

I’d also like to point all of us to Matt Meyer’s response to Faculty Member’s comments, as Matt’s writing I think does a good job of pushing forward the discussion.

I had a few responses to Faculty Member’s comments.  And I’ll be interested to hear what you make of his concerns.

My first response was to somewhat taken aback at being accused of being "complicit with the destruction of higher education and the transformation of our institutions into the corporate university." Wow. Maybe I don’t realize my own power. Good to know.  I’ll have to figure out what my next target will be.   

If we could get beyond the heated rhetoric, my bet is that if Faculty Member and I sat down for a coffee (or a beer) that we’d probably agree on more things than we disagree.

I’m often accused of being a higher ed traditionalist. A charge that is mostly true. I love the life that we have built for ourselves on our campuses. If anything, the rest of the world should pack up and come join us.

The potential that I see for the campus learning designer is that of a partner to the faculty member. An educational professional that can collaborate with the instructor to help her reach her teaching goals.  

In this sense, a learning designer is as threatening to a faculty-centric model of teaching as an academic librarian.   

Both professionals are resources that can allow the faculty member to focus most on her core competencies and key skills (such as knowledge creation, enthusiasm for the discipline, passion for teaching, and willingness to build relationships with students), leveraging the expertise of the learning designer to assist the faculty members in reaching the goals that they define.

Faculty Member makes another argument. One that claims that the presence of learning designers contributes to the shifting of resources away from instructors and towards professional staff.

This is an argument worthy of our examination, as if it were true then I think that Faculty Member’s concerns about learning designers would be well justified.

In my postsecondary experience, however, an investment in learning designers on campus signals a very different set of strategic campus priorities than what Faculty Member would expect. These priorities are to recognize the central importance of investing in faculty to achieve the highest possible levels of instruction. A recognition that good teaching is an incredibly difficult endeavor, one that requires resources and recognition to do well.

What we need to do on our campuses is to figure out how to invest as much resources as possible directly into instruction. This strategy should be built around the recruitment (and compensation) of faculty members, and should include investments in educational professionals who are able to effectively collaborate with faculty.  

Where possible, we should bring resources as close to our students as possible, sourcing functions (such as commodity technology infrastructure) in order to re-purpose and re-position assets closer to the teaching process.

How would you respond to Faculty Member’s concerns about learning designers?



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