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Academic Technologist to Instructional Designer

I posted this originally over on my blog:  But, thought that this community would have some good thoughts... I'd love any comments that you have. Thanks. - Brad


Time spent at the Lausanne Laptop Institute (#LI11) this week got me thinking about a change happening to the role of Academic Technologists in our schools.  I am sure to revisit this more in subsequent postings.

It seems to me that the role of the Academic Technologists (a staple position at independent schools over the past ten years) is morphing into the role of Instructional Designer of (increasingly online) course material.

When the role of Academic Technologists first emerged, the job could be summed up easily: help faculty catch up.  Schools realized that the students’ facility with technology and digital communications (the natives to the world of technology) often far surpassed that of the faculty (the immigrants).  And so, the Academic Technologists were there to help bridge the divide.  They ran workshops for faculty on every thing imaginable: powerpoint, email, browsers, databases, etc.  They worked one-on-one with faculty.  And, they worked hand-in-hand with faculty in classrooms as they used “new” technology for the first time.

Five years ago, more progressive schools began to shift their models so that the Academic Technologist worked within a triumvirate with classroom teachers and librarians.  The idea for this construct being that the subject-matter expert (the teacher), the guide for knowledge seeking (the librarian), and the guide through technology (the technologist) could team up to create new and exciting ways for teachers to deliver content to their students.

But, this model has been changing too.  As of late, it has become much easier both to useeducational technology and to learn it.  Five years ago, YouTube did not have videos that taught you everything you needed to know about Powerpoint and Microsoft did not have self-guided courses on Excel (much less did something like Prezi even exist). Today, those resources are readily available, and many faculty are beginning to take advantage of them.

The other shift that is taking place in schools is a greater reliance on and creation of online learning environments both for organization of course materials and for delivery of the course.  Schools are using Learning Management Systems (LMS) to a much larger degree to help students and faculty manage the content of courses and to engage students in online work.  And, schools are also increasingly using online computer-based instruction and analytics tools (particularly in lower school reading and math) to gauge student successes.

Not surprisingly, it is the Academic Technologists within schools who have been in the position to learn about new online learning environments first, and begin to put them to use (younger teachers have often played this role, too).  They built robust course pages first; used blogs, wikis, and podcasts first; and engaged in online learning communities first.  And, as the technology has started to bring these previously disparate tools together, they have been the first to design an experience that effectively blends the best of online education with the best of the face-to-face education: they became the first practitioners of blended learning, and the first to design courses given all that is now available.  They (the Academic Technologists) have become the Instructional Designers in our schools.

Even as this shift has happened, there is still an eagerness (even insistence) by entrenched faculty members and administrators that see the role of the Academic Technologist as it was ten years ago (much less five years ago): they ask Academic Technologists to come in and “teach” Powerpoint or even Google Docs or something of this vein, rather than using the real talents that they have in designing more robust learning environments for students, in a much more mission-focused way (this not to say that there is not occasionally the need for hands-on instruction of tools, but that this is often not the technologists talents or time when there are so many tutorials readily available).

It seems to me that the schools that make a shift sooner will be able to create better learning environments faster for their students.

As always, I’m interested in any thoughts you all have on this posting… these thoughts are very much a work in progress (again, that I am sure to come back to in subsequent postings).

Views: 57

Comment by Richard Kassissieh on July 18, 2011 at 11:37pm
The idea is thought-provoking. You are in touch with more schools than I am, but I see more academic technologists becoming innovation specialists and design specialists than instructional designers. They are exploring new content and skill domains, but still in an advisory role to subject-area teachers. Urban School, Schools of the Sacred Heart (San Francisco), and Marin Country Day School have former IT specialists in these positions. The online teachers I know are all tech-savvy subject area teachers, not academic technology specialists. Maybe it's different with the schools you are following.
Comment by Brad on July 20, 2011 at 9:12am
I agree that Academic Technologists are "innovation specialists" and "design specialists" too.  But, that's why I like the title "Instructional Designers," as it seems to me encompassing of both innovation and design.  One thing I'd question, though, Richard is whether the Academic Technologists are really "advisory" anymore.  I'm seeing a much closer partnership of equals-- the designer and the subject-expert-- than simply an advisor fo using technology.
Comment by Richard Kassissieh on July 20, 2011 at 12:17pm

I'm just saying that many instructional tech specialists are moving beyond their advisory roles but in different directions. I do not know many that are authoring online content, but perhaps you do.


In my experience, teachers treat colleagues as equals but do not necessarily consider them fully knowledgeable about teaching and learning. Some models are designed for academic "status" right from the start, for example the Head-Royce model, in which full-time teachers are given 0.1-0.25 FTE for academic technology. At other schools, the role of the academic tech specialist is still narrowly defined, and those staff members sometimes express frustration with their narrow role and move on to another school or change role within the school. Even within the same institution, teachers vary widely in whether they view the academic tech specialist as a technical expert or a teaching and learning expert.


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