On institutional professional development using ID

Posted on Apr 15, 2010

This week’s readings for IDE 632 focus on Organization and Management of Instructional Design Centers, Research and Development on ID.

The articles describe the evolution of the role, purpose and responsibilities of an instructional development center in higher education. Their primary purpose is to provide resources and activities for professors to improve their skills in delivering instruction.

By coincidence, I also received my monthly copy of Creative Cow Magazine in the mail today. “The Cow” online forum is considered to be the definitive support community for motion picture production and post-production professionals, and the magazine is its handy hardcopy companion. I have participated in The Cow for many years and have recommended it to every aspiring professional.

The reason for introducing The Cow here is because of the opening editorial in this month’s issue by Tim Wilson, editor-in-chief. He states:

Somebody once asked how we can claim that the community forums at Creative COW are a high-level professional resource, when there are obviously newbie questions there. Simple: because high-level professionals who are paying attention never stop learning. Even if they are able to answer other people’s difficult questions about some things, they have basic questions of their own about other (things).

I think this is an excellent demonstration of how the production & post industries see themselves. Most production pros understand that by failing to keep up with the research, innovations and techniques used to make what we are paid to make, we will be excluded from better opportunities, good clients, improved industry status, and emerging revenue streams. Producers and editors experience this phenomenon quite overtly and directly. By having nothing to say to a client about new trends, you will not be given a chance to bid on the good jobs.

In higher education, I sense that this is not necessarily so. The service provider (professor) and the customer (student) do not interact prior to the buyer’s decision to commit to an education contract. The institution itself acts as an intermediary, and meaningful dialog about subject matter is managed by admissions professionals. The client/customer dialog occurs after the student has enrolled (well, what do you expect?).

This offset relationship between professor and student, I believe, enables professors to forestall professional development. This isn’t to suggest that professors, when not teaching, are lounging around watching “LOST”. Only that among a myriad of other responsibilities, professional development is not a high priority unless there is a possibility of being bypassed by the paying customer. There may be other risks for putting off professional development, but they do not appear to be occurring on a student-by-student or semester-by-semester basis, nor is it overt and directly expressed.

For example, try to imagine what a dialog might be like between a 17-year-old prospective student and a typical 50-something year-old tenured professor if it was incumbent on faculty to persuade the student (client) to “buy in” to committing some $150,000 in tuition fees. How likely would the professor say, “We hope to develop your existing skills and methods of communication, and then utilize them to build foundations of knowledge and experience. For example, if you go to my blog, you will see an example of my Personal Learning Environment – it has [such and such]. But if you go to Professor Jones’ blog, she configured her’s completely differently, yet it works for her to be able to be continuously informed about her department’s issues. And because we connect via [so and so], we can still share items of interest as we encounter them, and our students are able to contribute to them as well. See, take a look here on my iPhone – you can see my Page Flakes aggregator is set to collect [such and such] issues for this week’s module on copyright fair use. Ooh! One of students just commented! We will introduce you to these kinds of techniques to accelerate your learning, but of course the college experience is much more than that….”

I’m sure there is a percentage of professors who could pull this off. I suspect, however, that there are more who are behind Roger’s Dissemination of Innovation curve in this aspect than ahead of it. (This is just a personal opinion.). I don’t even know if SU even allows faculty to publish a “wildcat” blog without oversight [correction – they do, as of December 2010].

At Creative Cow, Mr. Wilson believes that industry professionals have recognized that there is no such thing as a terminal professional plateau anymore. I agree. We are all – no matter where we are in the hierarchy – “newbs” in one sense or another. When I began my career as an assistant producer in 1990 and then became an assistant editor in 1994, the computer-based non-linear editing systems were just coming into standard usage (at $150,000 each!). The “old school” film editing pros, who had been using flatbeds and Moviolas since the 1960s and ’70s, had only recently migrated away from film editing to linear videotape editing a few years earlier. But even then, their tasks were specialized and limited to a narrow phase of creative output, and other specialists took over after the rough creative product was approved. The old pros did not commit to the computer based systems  – again, only proceeding as far as they needed to go to fulfill their role in the process.

By 1999, the AVID editing platform, Adobe AfterEffects and Photoshop systems were able to be coordinated by a single user to enhance the creative product in ways that called clients’ attention away from the old pro specialists. There were two significant reasons for this: 1) Clients could get more bang for the buck with someone who could do two or three skills rather than only one; 2) Creative directors loved the idea that an editor could add graphical and digital effects elements to an “ordinary” video piece without having to pay $1,000/hour (yes, per HOUR!) graphic animators. Thus a schism emerged between editing talent that embraced the new methods, and those who did not, and continued to rely on other people.

I believe it is important to prevent such a schism from emerging within the higher education environment. It is unfair to the students, and diminishes the status of the school in general. In Campbell, Schwier & Kenny’ s article, “The critical, relational practice of instructional design in higher education: an emerging model of change agency” (2007), the authors cite among the attributes of effective professional ID services the matter of Professional Agency and Identity. They describe how professors are upheld as “the central players with the highest status” in the higher education culture, with ID professionals seen as generally support staff. This relationship introduces issues of perceived credibility where the ID professional must clear prejudicial hurdles before attempting to effect positive change.

Much has been discussed in the literature here about instructional content, methods and budgets for professional development, but not much about the higher education culture that insulates those professors who “castle” once they have plateaued. It seems to me institutional development has few options to leverage other than coercion, which may be antagonistic, and possibly leading to talent flight.

If there were to be a initiative of planned change to remediate this phenomenon, I suggest it should begin where professors are “born” – in the graduate school environment. Those who seek to graduate from MS or PhD programs for professorial positions should seek communities (online or “real”) like The Creative Cow, where being a “newb” is actually a good thing!

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