|[ ASCILITE ]
[ 2004 Proceedings Contents ] |
Designers and developers working in Australian universities are an ill defined professional group whose role in the design and development of flexible learning programs and materials is of increasing strategic importance to their institutions. Their roles have undergone significant change over the last 10 years with the rapid and simultaneous impact of flexible learning, new technologies, internationalisation, massification and economic rationalism. This empirical study aims to describe the profession by job title and award, qualification and core activities. Results demonstrate an increasing diversity of job titles, particularly new positions related to web/online and multimedia development, a mix of academic and administrative classifications, changed core duties particularly in the areas of online learning and staff development, and some differences between various groups in the core activities in which they engage. The paper calls for the profession to step outside its comfort zone and reopen the debate about the advantages and disadvantages of professionalisation.
The convergence of traditional distance education and face to face teaching as a consequence of the simultaneous impacts of new technologies, changing student demographics, economic rationalism and globalisation is well documented in the related literature (see for example Inglis, 1999; King, 2003). Inglis (1999:25) makes the observation that 'the boundaries between distance education and other modes of delivery are rapidly breaking down. Replacement of the concept of "off campus" delivery with the concept of "flexible" delivery has diminished the value of distance as a differentiating criterion.' Distance education, once 'seen as a distinct field of practice.' has moved from the margins of higher education and has become mainstream (Inglis, 1999; King, 2003). Traditional distance education centres are reconfiguring into flexible learning centres, merging with academic development units, and adding e-learning specialists, multimedia and web designers to their staff. Converging from the other direction, academic development, once located firmly within the culture and traditions of on campus teaching, is 'increasingly finding itself in centres dominated by materials production and instructional design.' (Webb, 2000:17)
Inglis (1996) uses the term 'teaching learning specialist' to describe this group of people. Inglis used a phenomenographic approach to investigate how instructional designers conceived of their role given 'the absence of any prescribed definition of professional role, such as might be defined by a professional accrediting authority' (270). When asked how they perceived their role as instructional designers, respondents to Allen's (1996) survey most commonly mentioned the following: designing learning materials, acting as a surrogate student or student advocate, being a quality assurance auditor or manager and project management. They also commonly mentioned the fact that the role required a wide range of skills and abilities. Schwier, Campbell and Kenny (2004) researched instructional designers in Canada about their professional identity, communities of practice and their role as social change agents within their institutions. They found that, similar to the experience of designers in Australia, their professional identity was ill defined and highly dependent on institutional culture, that people came to the professional via multiple career paths and were unconstrained by any requirements for credentials, and that informal collaboration with other instructional designers was crucial to the development of communities of practice:
identity is an important part of any community of practice. It embraces a sense of shared purpose. A successful community needs to have boundaries that define its recognised focus. Sometimes the moniker "instructional designer" is adopted by an organisation before that identity is defined, as organisations create the positions and anoint employees with the label. We speculated that people create identities from their experience and background, and in professional communities they draw on institutional culture, professional literature, professional organisations and reflection to understand the boundaries of their practice. (Schwier et al, 2004:6)Similar reflections on the professional identity, roles, responsibilities and likely futures of academic and educational developers can be found threaded through the related literature. Andresen's (1995, 1996) flurry of research and writing during the mid 90s indicates that educational and academic developers were similarly busy engaging in 'professional navel gazing'. Andresen (1991:5) captures the issue by describing his difficulty in giving 'an intelligible one line answer when someone at a party asks me "And what exactly do you do.....?"' In attempting to answer his own question, Andresen (1991), identified the following areas of expertise amongst educational developers: knowledge of and ability to engage in educational research, knowledge of educational theory and the ability to analyse and solve educational problems, experience in teaching, skills in facilitating adult and professional learning, active members of the university community. More recently Fraser (2003) researched academic developers in relation to their career paths, qualifications and personal professional development, finding that a typical academic developer in Australasia was 'female, 41-55 years in age, having a teaching qualification and a masters degree..... having come into the field "quite by accident" and with long interests in teaching.'(8)
The professional development sources used by those interviewed varied, with different people belonging to different associations, attending different conferences and reading different journals and books. It is apparent that people in the academic development profession work in a wide range of areas and engage in professional development through a variety of means on a variety of topics. (Fraser, 2003:8)Flexible learning and its associated convergences of on campus, distance and online teaching and learning cultures has also impacted on the roles and relationships of relevant professional associations. Inglis (1999:25) alludes to this convergence in his comments about the changing relationships of the professional associations which support and represent staff engaged with supporting flexible teaching and learning in their institutions. He argues that the traditional boundaries by which ODLAA (the Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia) once distinguished itself from other associations are being challenged:
Other professional associations are staking a claim to part of the "territory" that ODLAA previously saw as its own. The Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia (HERDSA) is staking a claim to staff development; the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (ASCILITE) and to a lesser extent the Australian Society for Educational Technology (ASET) are staking claims to the domain of digital materials development; and the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI) is staking a claim to the domains of instructional design and evaluation. These claims are not without merit. They are based on long histories of involvement of the respective associations to those domains as they relate to more traditional delivery modes.
In 1995 Andresen called for discussion about the professional identity, organisation and a code of practice for academic and educational developers. In his survey of academic developers he found that respondents did not want a universal job description, nor did they want a standardised job title (Andresen, 1995:9). He argued for the development and adoption of a professional code of practice, 'a statement about the values on which the profession resides and the major ethical obligations of practice.'
Fraser (2003:1) poses the following questions about the professionalisation of academic developers: 'Do we need to have studied specific disciplines? Do we need to be accredited by a national or an international body? And what ongoing professional development do we need to engage in in order to keep up to date?' Fraser (2003:8) concluded however that:
If in the future the profession chooses to explore formalising the 'accreditation' of members, serious consideration would need to be given to developing a scheme which recognised the diverse career paths which people took to enter the field, the wide range of areas in which members worked, and the subsequent diversity of professional development needs that members have.
The purpose of this research is:
to establish national descriptive data about designers/developers of flexible learning materials in Australian Universities - job title, classification, qualification, place in organisation, perceptions of changes in roles and responsibilities and frequencies of core duties.
The survey questionnaire was drafted and piloted in two iterations, firstly to a small sample of colleagues and then to a sample of five educational designers from three Australian universities who were asked to complete the survey questionnaire and offer feedback. Three experienced educational researchers were also asked to comment on the design of the survey questionnaire.
Allen's (1996) study of instructional designers found that 66 of 99 respondents worked under the title of 'Instructional Designer'. However in the development of a database for this study it was found that of 35 Australian universities, 14 universities employed educational designers, whilst only 6 employed instructional designers, suggesting a shift towards use of the title 'Educational Designer'. A further 10 universities employed the title 'Educational Developer'. Other universities used titles such as 'Lecturer', 'Educational Resource Developer', 'Curriculum Designer', and titles which indicate that positions are dedicated to online teaching and learning, for example 'Web Educational Developer', 'E-learning Designer', 'Educational and Online Developer'.
For the purposes of this study the following decisions were made about the sample:
|Job title||No in|
|Educational Designer + Ed Designer -Flexible delivery||97||ANU, CSU, Deakin, Flinders, Griffith, Monash, NTU, QUT, RMIT, SCU, Melbourne, UTS, UQ|
|Instructional Designer||18||Deakin, Edith Cowan, SCU, Canberra, USQ|
|Educational Developer +|
Flexible Ed Developer
|27||Deakin, JCU, Macquarie, Murdoch, Swinburne, UNE, UNSW, Sydney, Tasmania|
|Lecturer + associate/senior +Ed. Resource Developer, Ed Designer, Ed Development||19||Curtin, Latrobe, Murdoch, Ballarat, UNSW, Sydney, UTS, Victoria, Wollongong|
|Ed./ Consultant||7||UNSW, UWS|
|Web/e-learning specified eg Web Ed Developer, Ed & Online Developer, E-learning Designer||8||CQU, Deakin, UNSW|
|Managers/heads/coordinators||8||Deakin, LaTrobe, Monash, Melbourne, UNE, UNSW|
|* Note that of the 97 Educational Designers entered on the database 54 were concentrated in two universities which have 24 and 30 Educational Designers respectively employed in Schools or Faculties.|
57 responses to the survey questionnaire were received. This represents a 28.5 % return rate.
There are a number of possible reasons for respondents not participating in the survey:
|Management: 'Head', "Manager', 'Director', 'Coordinator||4|
|Lecturer (plus specialist title)||6|
(level A- C)
|Other: consultant, advisor, team member||1|
The majority (71.4%) of respondents to this survey worked in Centres within their universities dedicated to teaching and learning, flexible learning, distance education and so on. A smaller proportion (19.6%) worked within faculties or schools, and 7.1% worked in other sections of the university such as PVC, DVC offices and the library.
The data shows that the most frequent activities engaged in by respondents to the survey are designing teaching and learning activities (mean score 3.56, SD .73 ), staff development: online teaching and learning (mean score 3.49, SD .76), designing for online (mean score 3.46, SD .76), staff development: developing flexible learning materials (mean score 3.36, SD .86) and project management: materials development (3.32, SD .91). This data concurs with the qualitative responses to the question earlier in the survey about the impact of organisational change on respondents' role/responsibilities. The most frequently mentioned theme was the impact of new technologies on their role, with more staff development as the third most frequently mentioned theme.
|Core activity||N||Mean||St deviation|
|Designing teaching and learning activities||57||3.56||0.73|
|Staff development online teaching and learning||57||3.49||0.76|
|Designing for online||57||3.46||0.76|
|Staff development: developing flexible learning materials||56||3.36||0.86|
|Project management: materials development||57||3.32||0.91|
|Designing individual units||56||3.25||0.86|
|Designing objectives/learning outcomes||56||3.21||0.82|
|Staff development: assessment||56||3.18||0.83|
|Designing assessment tasks||56||3.13||0.79|
|Project management: other||53||3.13||0.9|
|Designing programs and courses||56||3.04||0.93|
|Staff development: curriculum design||57||2.88||1.00|
|Academic: program/teaching evaluation||57||2.84||0.92|
|Production: checking copyright||57||2.82||1.04|
|Production: proof reading||57||2.72||1.1|
|Designing for print eg layout||57||2.7||1.12|
|Production: online materials||57||2.63||1.22|
|Academic: writing flexible materials||57||2.63||1.03|
|Designing for audio/video||56||2.62||0.84|
|Design for CD-ROM||57||2.54||1.00|
|Designing for face to face||57||2.46||0.85|
|Production: checking referencing||57||2.42||1.16|
|Project Management: finances||57||2.35||1.16|
|Academic: teaching online||56||2.13||1.11|
|Production: desktop publishing||55||2.04||0.94|
|Academic: lecturing face to face||57||1.95||0.97|
Although the reliability of the comparison is somewhat restricted by the different samples used, it is interesting to make reference to results on a similar question in Allen's (1996) study of instructional designers. Table 5 compares results from the two surveys.
|Allen's (1996) study of instructional designers||Bird's (2004) study of flexible learning professionals|
|Determining instructional strategies||Designing teaching and learning activities|
|Designing instructional goals and objectives||Staff development online teaching and learning|
|Designing layout and appearance of materials||Designing for online|
|Editing||Staff development: developing flexible learning materials|
|Project managing the development of materials||Project management: materials development|
Print and online materials
Production: online materials
Project Management: materials
|Design t & l activities
Design assessment tasks
Design individual units
Design programs & courses
|Academic: lecturing f2f
Design: face to face
Academic: teaching online
Academic: writing materials
Staff Dev: curriculum design
Design for A/V
Design for CD-ROM
|Staff Dev: online t & l
Staff Dev: flexible materials
Staff Dev: assessment
Design for online
|Project Management: other|
Project Management: finances
These results indicate clear and reliable clusters of core activities. Slight variations from the original intuitive groupings were found in the results, which appear in some instances to cluster more around the medium of delivery rather than the activity itself. For example the first factor includes all activities related to the design, production and management of learning materials for print and online delivery. The second factor includes that subset of design activities which are generic curriculum design or pedagogical activities and excludes those design activities which stipulated a particular mode of delivery. The third factor includes all the academic activities with the addition of designing for face to face delivery and staff development: curriculum design. The fourth factor includes all activities related to the design and production of multimedia learning materials. The fifth factor includes activities related to the online teaching and learning environment, with the addition of 'staff development: assessment', suggesting that staff development about assessment focuses more on assessing online than in other modes of delivery. The final factor includes those project management activities other than the project management of materials.
|Factors||Job Classification||N||Mean||Std. Deviation||Std. Error Mean|
|1.||Print and online materials||Academic||30||2.62||.780||.142|
|5.||Online design and staff|
An one way ANOVA analysis was also conducted to establish whether any significant differences occurred between the frequencies with which different job titles (ie. 'manager', 'instructional designer', educational developer', 'educational designer', 'lecturer', 'web/online/multimedia' and 'other') engaged in the clusters of activities confirmed by the factor analysis. Results confirmed that the frequencies with which staff employed under different job titles engage in the factors was significant for two of the factors only: Factor 2. Design/pedagogy activities and Factor 3. Academic/teaching activities. No significant differences were found between the frequencies with which the various groups of staff engaged in the other factors: print and online materials, multimedia, online design and staff development and project management.
Looking more closely at the two clusters of activity which did show a significant difference, multiple comparisons (p<.05) demonstrated that:
As it struggles to do more with less in national and international markets, Australian universities will continue to mainstream flexible learning and flexible delivery, converged teaching and learning environments and resource based learning. Crucial to the success of this project is the group of staff under study here, yet its professional identity remains clouded, its professional boundaries indeterminate, and its industrial and political position in higher education unclear.
Is it time once again to issue the clarion call for professionalisation? Locke (2001:33-34) suggests:
that there are a number of salients or markers a professional group desiring to defend its knowledge base, autonomy and client relationship might well be interested in occupying. These include:Perhaps it is timely to reopen the professionalisation debate and consider Locke's 'markers' in relation to designers and developers working in the field of flexible learning.
- Determining what constitutes relevant professional knowledge;
- Determining what constitutes appropriate and desirable professional practice;
- Establishing goals, processes, content and conditions of training [professional development];
- Defining desirable conditions of work and service (including remuneration);
- Establishing the processes of registration, standard setting, monitoring, appraisal and discipline;
- Determining the appropriate processes and avenues of association and relationship.
Andresen, L. (1991). Educational developers: What do they know? HERDSA News, 13(1), 5-7.
Andresen, L. (1995). Towards a professional identity, organization, and code of practice for academic development. HERDSA News, 17(3), 7-11.
Andresen, L. (1996). The role of academic development - occupational identity, standards of practice and the virtues of association. International Journal of Educational Development, 1(1), 38-49.
Fraser, K. (2003) Academic developers: Career paths, qualifications and personal professional development [viewed10 Feb 2003, verified 7 Oct 2004] http://www2.auckland.ac.nz/cpd/HERDSA/HTML/StaffDev/fraser.HTM
Inglis, A. (1996). Teaching-learning specialists' conceptions of their role in the design of distance learning packages. Distance Education, 17(2),
Inglis, A. (1999). Looking back, looking forward: Celebrating a quarter century of serving distance education "down under". Distance Education, 20(1).
King, B. (2003). The future of distance education and the role of ODLAA. http://www.odlaa.org/summit.html
Lincoln, Y. and Guba, E. (1985). Naturalistic Inquiry. Sage Publications: California.
Locke, T. (2001). Questions of professionalism. Change: Transformations in Education, 4(2), 30-50.
Murphy, D. (1994). Pathways to a profession What profession? In M. Parer (Ed), Unlocking open learning (pp.145-159). Melbourne: Monash University.
Parer, M. (Ed) (1989). Development, Design and Distance Education. Victoria: Centre for Distance Learning, Monash University.
Parer, M. (1993). The educational developer's role - present and future. In T. Nunan, (Ed), Distance Education Futures, 413-426. Australian and South Pacific External Studies Association, University of Adelaide: Adelaide.
Schwier, R., Campbell, K. and Kenny, R. (2004). Instructional designers' observations about identity, communities of practice and change agency. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 20(1), 69-100. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet20/schwier.html [viewed 30 Aug 2004]
Webb, G. (2000). Academic development: Back to the future. HERDSA News, August, 17-18.
|Please cite as: Bird, J. (2004). Professional navel gazing: Flexible learning professionals into the future. In R. Atkinson, C. McBeath, D. Jonas-Dwyer & R. Phillips (Eds), Beyond the comfort zone: Proceedings of the 21st ASCILITE Conference (pp. 123-133). Perth, 5-8 December. http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/perth04/procs/bird.html|
© 2004 Jenny Bird
The author assigns to ASCILITE and educational non-profit institutions a non-exclusive licence to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The author also grants a non-exclusive licence to ASCILITE to publish this document on the ASCILITE web site (including any mirror or archival sites that may be developed) and in printed form within the ASCILITE 2004 Conference Proceedings. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of the author.