Doctoral Research Ideas

My research will focus on instructional design in higher education. I have been working as an instructional designer (ID) for the past five years and issues that I have experienced in this role are the inspiration for my research agenda. Specifically, I want to investigate considerations for the maintenance and sustainability of instructional design projects in the field of higher education. While the instructional design process is inherently iterative, the collaboration period between an ID and a faculty member is often a temporary one. This temporary arrangement leaves instructors with the responsibility of revising future iterations on their own, completing the loop of the instructional design process autonomously. While IT/LMS support is usually available, these services typically help with solving singular, specific tech support issues as they occur, rather than providing ideas and solutions for instructional issues.

Research covering the competencies and tasks of IDs in higher education highlight the need for IDs to be able to apply learning theories and instructional design models to a project, build strong working relationships, work collaboratively communicate effectively with others, and stay up to date with ever-evolving technology (Chen & Carliner, 2020; Kumar & Ritzhaupt, 2017; Ritzhaupt & Kumar, 2015). Chen and Carliner (2020) noted the importance of dedicating adequate time for collaboration, although that can be challenging as faculty time is split between teaching, research, and design, and IDs are balancing multiple projects at one time. However, there is a paucity of research in the literature addressing considerations for what happens when the ID collaboration period eventually ends, and how to prepare for the maintenance and revision phase of instructional design projects.

Campbell, et al, (2009) classify IDs as "agents of change" and suggest “that clients working with instructional designers in instructional development projects are actually engaging, as learners, in a process of professional and personal transformation that has the potential to transform the participants and the institution” (p. 646). Lave and Wenger's (1991) situated learning theory outlines a framework to support long-lasting change as it addresses the temporary relationship between a master and apprentice, where the apprentice eventually becomes a master who teaches others. Applying tenants of situated learning theory in the instructional design process emphasizes the importance of including faculty in the design and development tasks (legitimate peripheral participation), modeling and scaffolding during the process of design and production activities, and encouraging the formation of communities of practice. Communities of practice (Wegner, 1999) formed by faculty working together or in similar environments provide support for each other after the ID collaboration period ends and the ID has moved on to a new assignment.

I recently co-authored a paper with Dr. Jill Stefaniak building upon the frame of IDs as change agents, exploring the practice of instructional design in higher education through Passmore's (2007) Integrative Coaching Model. In the third stream of the model, Passmore (2007) outlines that in order to promote a permanent change towards acheiving an established goal, the partners must have a clear understanding of their environment, determine what can feasibly be accomplished, then chart an appropriate path forward to meet their goal. I'd like to continue applying concepts of coaching to outline ways that IDs can prioritize explaining their thoughts, processes, and recommendations to faculty members to support their successful independence after the collaboration period ends.

The following three questions will guide my research:

  1. What are the factors that influence instructional design maintenance in higher education?
  2. What are the challenges and opportunities for instructional design maintenance in higher education?
  3. What are the recommendations for improving the maintenance of instructional design projects in higher education?

Ways in which I could explore this would be to use a qualitative case study design including two phases. First, I plan to facilitate semi-structured interviews with instructional designers, faculty members, and administrators in higher education institutions to identify the factors that influence the maintenance of instructional design projects. In the second phase, I plan to hold focus group discussions with instructional designers, faculty members, and administrators to identify the challenges that contributed to maintenance issues and the opportunities that could be leveraged for support. These methods could be useful for providing a rich description of topics that are scarcely addressed in the current literature.

The data collected from the interviews and focus group discussions will be analyzed using thematic analysis. Themes will be identified, coded, and organized into categories. The themes and categories will be compared across the different participants, and the similarities and differences will be established. These activities would be used to provide insight into the issues of maintenance of instructional design projects in higher education and determine what can be done to improve them. I believe the outcomes of this study will be valuable for IDs, faculty, and administrators in higher education institutions to enhance the quality of instructional design, improving student and faculty satisfaction. Recommendations for further research will be provided.


Campbell, K., Schwier, R. A., & Kenny, R. F. (2009). The critical, relational practice of instructional design in higher education: An emerging model of change agency. Educational Technology Research and Development, 57(5), 645-663.

Chen, Y., & Carliner, S. (2021). A special SME: An integrative literature review of the relationship between instructional designers and faculty in the design of online courses for higher education. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 33(4), 471-495.

Lave,J., & Wenger,E. (1991). Situated learning:Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kumar, S., & Ritzhaupt, A. (2017). What do instructional designers in higher education really do? International Journal on E-Learning, 16(4), 371-393.

Passmore, J. (2007). An integrative model for executive coaching. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 59(1), 68-78.

Ritzhaupt, A. D., & Kumar, S. (2015). Knowledge and skills needed by instructional designers in higher education. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 28(3), 51-69.

Wenger, Etienne (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.