Even Instructional Designers sometimes have difficulties answering that question! In simplest terms, Instructional Designers of the Center for Education Technology Services (CETS) work with Penn State faculty and administration to effectively implement technology so that the Penn State educational experience is enhanced. Instructional Designers are not only technical "wizards" knowing the basics of Web page design, software applications and Penn State networking, Student Computing Lab issues, but are also experts in learning theory, technology usability and course module design.
What does that mean on a day to day basis? Depending on the project, an Instructional Designer can be a faculty consultant, Web specialist, seminar instructor, project manager, technical writer, pedagogical researcher or a combination of any of the above. I have answered faculty questions about forwarding Penn State e-mail, posting software in the Student Computing Labs and installing foreign language keyboards. Here are just some of the projects I was involved in 2001.
When the Spanish Department was interested in adding on-line exercises to their introductory Spanish classes, CETS provided advice on the best solutions. In addition, on-line help Web pages were developed so students could learn how to type accents and listen to audio in the Penn State Student Computing Labs.
A Penn State resource on plagiarism on the Internet was developed for both faculty and students.
A Tour of Web Sites in the Arts and Humanities ( http://cac.psu.edu/ets/presentations/ArtsHumanities )
A seminar showing different types of Web resources and examples in humanities and arts.
Other Instructional Designers at the CETS (and elsewhere in the Penn State system) have worked on projects ranging from guiding the development of Java applets for an Engineering course and developing the Penn State survey creation tool ASK, to creating a seminar on Web Accessibility and a Teaching with Technology certificate for graduate students. Some things are the same on every project. Everyone wants technology that is easy to use, adds value to a course, is easily accessible to students regardless of platform or location, yet is flexible enough to meet the changing needs of faculty and students.
One lengthy project I was involved with was the Statistics 200 (Elementary Statistics, http://stat200.psu.edu) project done for this statistics introductory course which enrolls about 1,000 students each semester in sixteen or more sections. For that project, CETS consulted with the faculty to develop a Web-based tool which allows faculty to post course materials on-line including data sets, syllabi, announcements and study guides. In addition, faculty can easily manage student enrollment across multiple sections and post course materials in a searchable archive, allowing faculty to share and re-use course material.
In my role as Instructional Designer, I had to:
The core of the technology team however was a faculty member from the Statistics Department, the lead programmer and myself. Together, we worked to ensure that each part of the tool was easy for faculty to use and did what the faculty needed it to do. In some cases, some research was required to find out how other Penn State tools, such as eLion and TestPilot, work in order to make sure the tool interfaced with these other programs correctly. This part of the process is very time-consuming because everyone has his or her idea of what is best, but in the end, everyone contributed some excellent ideas, and the tool was well received by the Statistics Department. In fact, they are so satisfied, they are hoping to be able to expand it to other courses.
In addition, other CETS staff members greatly contributed their talents to the project. A graphics artist created a basic look and feel for the Web site and a Unix specialist was responsible for configuring the server, then making sure it was securely transferred to the Statistics Department, including changes in Web address. In addition CETS coordinated efforts with the Schreyer Institute for Innovation in Learning to provide an updated course structure incorporating more hands-on activities.
So what does an Instructional Designer do? A little bit of everythingsome of it fun, some of it exacting, but all of it educational. Faculty who are interested in CETS and other technology services can go to the WISH page at http://cac.psu.edu/wish. Faculty who are interested in applying for CETS project assistance for a Faculty Technology Initiative project can learn more at http://cets.psu.edu/ftiinfo.html .