Last fall, my colleague featured the Ecampus Research Fellows (ECRF) program in her blog post. The ECRF program, which began in 2016, funds OSU faculty-led research on online and hybrid education. Each year, approximately five projects are selected to receive funding. One unique aspect of the program is that, in the past few years, 1-2 members of the Ecampus Course Development and Training (CDT) team are paired with the faculty on funded research projects. The CDT team includes instructional designers and media developers. These professionals have expressed interest in conducting research, but in most cases, have had few opportunities to engage in formal research projects. Similar to faculty, CDT fellows have to apply to the ECRF program.
For this blog post, I’d like to share some takeaways from my experience as a CDT research fellow, as well as some takeaways my CDT colleagues have shared with me. I will also share some feedback from faculty fellows who have had CDT colleagues join their research teams. But before I dig into these valuable takeaways from past participants, let me first address the importance of this program for instructional designers and related disciplines.
In 2017, the Ecampus Research Unit published a report titled “Research Preparation and Engagement of Instructional Designers in U.S. Higher Education.” This report was the result of a national study of instructional designers working in higher education environments. Among the many findings of this study, one compelling finding was that more than half (55%) of respondents indicated that instructional designers need more training in research methods to fulfill their role. Instructional designers also indicated why they think it is important to gain more experience in research. Among the reasons, respondents indicated that research skill development would allow them to grow professionally, further their discipline, better understand the needs of students and faculty, and collaborate with faculty.
The Ecampus Research Unit (ECRU) answers this call through their CDT research fellows program.
In the summer of 2020 at the NWeLearn conference, three CDT fellows reflected upon their participation in the program, sharing valuable insights and experience. I, Heather Garcia, was one of them. The other participants were Susan Fein and Tianhong Shi. The full recording can be viewed on YouTube at this link, but I’ll summarize some highlights from the session in the following paragraphs.
The projects undertaken by CDT research fellows in partnership with faculty spanned disciplines from computer science to field-based courses.
When asked why they were interested in being research fellows, all three participants indicated that they were pursuing additional graduate education at the time they applied. One participant also indicated that acquiring more knowledge and experience with research would allow faculty to see course design suggestions as “more convincing and easily accepted,” giving her additional credibility when recommending new design approaches to faculty.
The fellows also shared details about their contributions to the research projects they were working on. All of the instructional designers spoke to ways their existing expertise was valued by the researchers. They gave examples of the expertise they offered, which ranged from reviewing course design and educational technologies to designing surveys to offering a fresh perspective and a critical eye. In addition to contributing their design expertise to the research projects, CDT research fellows contributed to the research processes as well, through data analysis and research paper writing and reviewing.
All of the CDT research fellows indicated that they learned a lot from their experiences partnering with faculty on research. One particular highlight in this area is that fellows learned that they contribute diverse perspectives to the research process; they have different backgrounds, experiences, and areas of expertise, and everyone on the team contributes something valuable. CDT fellows also indicated that they learned about the IRB process and the importance of asking questions. Perhaps most importantly, they learned that their expertise is valuable to research teams.
Faculty fellows were also given the opportunity to share how having a CDT fellow on their research team enhanced the research experience, and their feedback was shared in the conference session. They expressed many positive sentiments about the experience including the following:
- “Our research team started as a group of inspired but like-minded computer scientists wanting to make better online classrooms for diverse students. After she joined the team as an instructional design fellow, the work became credentialed, interdisciplinary, and stronger. She brings expertise and sees what we miss—she not only makes us better able to serve the students we hope to, she makes our team better by adding diversity of thought.”
- “The combined knowledge and experience of teaching faculty and an instructional designer is incredibly powerful.”
- “She viewed the scope of the research and content of the courses involved through a different lens than I did.”
- “The instructional designer provided valuable input on areas of my project merging the instructional design with the research.”
- “My work with the instructional designer let me explore very practical logistic issues that are often not included in the literature.”
Altogether, it becomes clear that many instructional designers are eager to participate on research projects and they are valuable contributors to the research process. The questions I have now are: How can we continue these partnerships into the future? And, how can we create more research partnership opportunities for other instructional designers and teaching and learning professionals, who aren’t traditionally involved in research?
Dello Stritto, M.E., Fein, S., Garcia, H., Shi, T. (2020). Instructional Designers and Faculty Partnerships in Online Teaching Research. NWeLearn 2020 Conference.
Linder, K. & Dello Stritto, M.E. (2017). Research Preparation and Engagement of Instructional Designers in U.S. Higher Education. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit.
Loftin, D. (2020). Ecampus Research Fellows Program. Ecampus CDT Blog.