Information, Technology & Consulting

Instructional Design at Dartmouth, Part 2: A History of Instructional Design

Instructional design is the systematic development of educational materials, workshops, tutorials, training, and curriculum to ensure quality instruction and increase student success. In the second of a three-part series on the subject, Interface looks back on the history of ID at Dartmouth.

Elizabeth Kelsey

Dartmouth’s instructional designers team up with faculty on a variety of teaching, learning, and technology projects. Instructional designers help professors develop and expand their use of Canvas, Dartmouth’s learning management system. They also collaborate with faculty on creating web-enabled learning environments by “flipping” static content, like lectures, to be accessible outside of class via online recording, so students can spend more time applying the content in class. Additionally, instructional designers recommend and implement new technology, such as lecture capture and data visualization software. They work with faculty on an individual basis, as well as in workshops and online training formats.

According to Barbara Knauff, Assistant Director of Educational Technologies, instructional design has been happening at Dartmouth—and elsewhere—for centuries.  “At its most basic, as soon as you are stepping back and thinking about what you are trying to accomplish with your teaching, and how best to do it, you are designing instruction,” she says. But Knauff adds that Instructional Design as a discipline didn’t really take off until the 90s, and has exploded in the last decade, with online learning as a major catalyst.

Dartmouth’s Master of Healthcare Delivery Science program combines residential sessions with distance learning, and the DartmouthX initiative will launch its first online course in early 2015. But the College gravitated towards instructional technology long before these programs were established. In the 80s and 90s, Dartmouth was a leader in computing across the curriculum and in personal computing. “Many Dartmouth faculty started using technology in their own instruction, be it with projects like hyper-card-based learning modules and tools, or with web-based teaching resources, back in the early days of the Internet,” Knauff says. She cites Dartmouth’s Milton Reading Room, which with help from Academic Computing has enabled Professor of English Thomas Luxon and his students to annotate the English poet’s work online since 1997.

Due to growing faculty interest in technology teaching resources, Academic Computing added a branch called “Curricular Computing,” and hired and re-allocated staff to help professors. The group adopted the Blackboard learning management system (LMS) early in its production. As a result, faculty wanted to learn more about teaching with technology.

“Our roles shifted towards consulting with faculty on their teaching, and away from working on niche technology projects,” Knauff explains. Job descriptions evolved from “Curricular Computing Specialist” to “Educational Technologist” to “Instructional Designer,” with growing emphasis on pedagogical expertise.

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