Demystifying Instructional Design

S2E4: Mary Helen Culbertson - hires instructional designers

February 18, 2022 Rebecca J. Hogue Season 2 Episode 4
Demystifying Instructional Design
S2E4: Mary Helen Culbertson - hires instructional designers
Show Notes Transcript

Mary Helen Culbertson is the Vice President of People and Culture at iDesign. After working in elementary and higher education, she moved into instructional design before transitioning into Human Resources in 2019. In her position at iDesign, Mary Helen uses her knowledge of instructional design to recruit talented individuals to work with iDesign partners to develop high-quality online course offerings.

Support the show
REBECCA::

Welcome to Demystifying Instructional Design, a podcast where I interview various instructional designers to figure out what it is instructional designers do. I'm Rebecca Hogue, your podcast host. Hi, Mary Helen. Welcome to demystifying instructional design. To start off, would you mind introducing yourself?

MARY HELEN::

Certainly. I'm Mary Helen Culbertson. I'm vice president of people and culture, at iDesign and I'm delighted to be here today.

REBECCA::

Thank you. I'm really looking forward to our conversation. Can you start by telling us a bit about how you got into instructional design in the first place?

MARY HELEN::

Certainly, I reinvented myself. Several times over my long career started out as a corporate sales rep, moved in to K-12 education and started working on a Ph.D., did some adjunct work and when I left teaching K-12, I had a lot of incredible skills that just fit perfectly into instructional design. I had an opportunity to start working with Whitney Kilgore and doing a lot of projects with her, and that's where it just led me into instructional design. With my K-12 background, I had that background on writing, learning objectives and developing lesson plans and creating learning activities that were engaging, focusing in on student engagement. And so those skill sets meshed very well with instructional design.

REBECCA::

Can you tell us a little bit about what iDesign does.

MARY HELEN::

IDesign is an online program management firm. We work with our partner universities to help develop their programs. The majority of them are in the area of nursing. But we also do graduate business, cybersecurity, several different other areas with. IDesign does everything from the course development to program development to helping with enrollment to student success coaches. Just the full suite of options for our partners.

REBECCA::

You're directly involved in hiring, particularly hiring instructional designers. And I'm just wondering what types of people do you hire?

MARY HELEN::

I do all of the recruiting for our design team and in particular for our learning architects, and we're looking for people who have that deep understanding of quality online learning, of course development. But we also want people who have the ability to develop a strong rapport with the faculty member and act as a coach. They need to be the expert in instructional design, and they need to realize that the faculty member is the expert in their content area for wanting people who have strong project management skills and also work as team players because we have a very team based approach to instructional design.

REBECCA::

Maybe we start at the beginning somebody is applying. What do you look for in a portfolio with a

MARY HELEN::

portfolio? I'm looking to see if they have items in there that are not just from their graduate or their undergraduate coursework unless they've taken it beyond the course requirements. We don't do a whole lot with storyline. And so seeing a storyline project is not a wow. There's a storyline project I'm looking to see. Is this a quality course? Does it have measurable learning objectives? Can I follow through and look at the alignment in that particular item in their portfolio? I'm looking for creative ideas, but I want to make certain that those. The underpinnings are solid. There's some of it we can teach there, others does it. We just we expect that at the level that they're coming in, that they already have that information in that background. Mm-Hmm. Mm-Hmm.

REBECCA::

It's a good point about storyline. Do you guys typically develop in anything specific?

MARY HELEN::

We're LMS agnostic, so we will develop in any of our partners, learning management systems. Now we do occasionally do storyline projects. The reason why we tend to not do those is over time at a university, they've got limited funds. And if you develop a lot of modules or a lot of courses in storyline, you've got to have the licenses for each person who's going to be making the edits. And when that person leaves, you have to make certain that you keep the source files because otherwise you're not going to be able to edit it. And that's why we guide a lot of our partners who have used storyline for their courses away from it so that they actually can go in and edit their courses and make the changes and do continuous improvement.

REBECCA::

Mm-Hmm. It's actually a really good point because, yeah, it isn't just the license, it's the skill set because it is a unique tool that does take specific skills to learn.

MARY HELEN::

It definitely does.

REBECCA::

Once you've gotten past the first screening process, what types of things do you do for interviews?

MARY HELEN::

We actually have a couple of unique things that we do. One is as part of the application process, there's going to be certain questions that the candidate has to answer some of these questions we're going to ask in a video format because we want to be able to see their presence online on camera because their meetings with the faculty member are going to be virtual, but they're going to be face to face virtually. And so we'll ask questions about how they would handle a project that was at risk. Find out what their experience is working remotely. We ask them to describe those quality frameworks that they use when they're developing an online course, and we look at central elements that go into an online course and then we give them some scenarios where they're having to determine if the learning objective is measurable and then describe how they would talk to the faculty member and share with the faculty member. These are the things that need to be changed, and this is why and how we're hoping to determine how they would be able to act as that coach for the faculty member. That's just in our video interview process. After that, I do the prescreen phone calls with everybody. I want to talk to each and every one of the people who's going to be a potential candidate for our design team. Share with them about the history of iDesign the culture that we have and how we structure our design team because our design team is structured very differently than a lot of organizations where they have a jack of all trades and a master of only one or two. We take and break apart our team into individual skill sets because we want people to be successful in their area of strength.

REBECCA::

That's interesting. What types of skill sets would a project require for

MARY HELEN::

our learning architect? They're the one that is working directly with the faculty as they design developing, curate the content for the courses. They're the ones who need to be able to be the coach. The skill sets that they need to be able to be very articulate with the faculty member. They need to be able to be a coach and a mentor for that faculty member. You know, online learning a lot of the times the faculty member is transitioning their face to face course into an online learning situation. And so the learning architect has to understand the differences between a face to face course, what can work in a face to face course and what's best practice in an online course and how to change the course to make it engaging and effective quality course?

REBECCA::

Who do the learning architects then work with within your organization?

MARY HELEN::

They work with the instructional techonoglists. These are the individuals who are coding gurus. They develop all of the courses, build all of the courses in the learning management system. They're the ones who go through and they do all of the background coding within the elements. We don't tend to use the rich text editor. We want to make certain that everything that we build is ADA compliant. So they have to have that understanding of HTML, CSS and sometimes JavaScript.

REBECCA::

Oh, that's interesting. And then from there, do you guys work with, Do you have graphic artists and such on on site

MARY HELEN::

as well? We do. We have our graphic designers. They do all of the graphics for the courses, whether it be the iconography for the course or individual graphics. For course, we always have a consistent core shell. So they develop all of the graphics for those core shells. We also have our quality reviewers, and so they have to have a deep understanding of quality matters and the OLC scorecard to be able to review all of our courses. And we do that at different phases throughout the course development cycle. Now those are those four basic roles the learning architect, the instructional technologist, the graphic designer and the quality reviewer. We have a whole slew of other individuals who work with course development, from copy editors to video production. If we have that in the contract, project managers just a wide variety of individuals and they work very closely together as a team on each of the projects.

REBECCA::

I was going to ask about the writing because that was the question is, are your learning architects doing the writing or do you have someone else that writes the content?

MARY HELEN::

It's one where a lot of the time the faculty member want to have some input into it, but they usually need to have somebody spur on their thoughts. For many of our faculty members, they have not developed an online course or the courses that they've developed in the past. They didn't have that understanding of what makes it quality online course in our learning architects will do a lot of the writing and send it over to the faculty member to review and edit and with several of our faculty members, once they've seen one or two modules that have been developed. They're like, OK, I have this and they'll go through and and they'll do the rest of the writing. Any of the assessments, things like that, assignments. The faculty member will have that framework and develop those and then we'll tweak the wording or change the way the assignment reads to make certain that it is incredibly clear in an online format.

REBECCA::

That's one of the biggest challenges, of course, giving directions, doing a good job of writing directions. Once you've hired somebody, what's your onboarding process like with onboarding?

MARY HELEN::

We have a set onboarding process for each of the various roles. We have our pre-boarding, which is just taken over the paperwork side of things and then we move into the coaching phase. And in that coaching phase, we team up a. Seasoned instructional designer and a seasoned learning architect. We pair them up with our new learning architect and help coach them through the process of how we do course development. We identify any areas where they may need additional support. And then coached them through that process as well. There's always a lot of support in our development cycles.

REBECCA::

Mm hmm. And it sounds like a great place for someone who's new to instructional design to get started.

MARY HELEN::

Yes. Yes, it is. We, in fact, were we're working with the university to set up an internship program to help bring in more people who are brand new in the field and help provide them with. Some hands on experience, not just working on class assignments, but truly working on what they would be doing as a professional instructional designer. Mhm. That's pretty cool.

REBECCA::

What advice would you give to new instructional designers?

MARY HELEN::

Oh my goodness, it is an incredibly fun field to be in. Be tenacious and make certain that as you are going through the interview process, no matter how that process goes, that you show the skills that you have. If all you've done is coursework, help them understand how that coursework has provided you with a strong foundation for furthering your career.

REBECCA::

What do you wish you knew sooner about instructional design?

MARY HELEN::

I think that probably the thing that I would have liked to have known sooner was how important it is to develop yourself or to present yourself as that coach, that mentor with the faculty. It's easy, especially if you've been in a hybrid situation where you're just coming out of your program to look at faculty members as they are almost godlike. And it's tough to make that transition from being a student in instructional design into I'm a professional too. Now I don't have that deep understanding of your content area, but I have a deep understanding of online learning and I'm the expert in this. And being able to present yourself as that expert without arrogance, but also in a way that helps develop their confidence in you. I think that's critical.

REBECCA::

What skills are you having difficulty finding the skills that

MARY HELEN::

with our learning architects that we're having difficulty finding are individuals who. Are able to work in different settings. We work with Tier one universities. We work with community colleges and we need individuals who are able to work across these projects. We do have some individuals who come to us and say after our interviews, I said, this person is strictly a tier one. There's no way I could put them with the community college because the community college faculty would be intimidated. And then there's those that I see have that ability to develop a really collegial rapport with the faculty member who might not work very well in a Tier one university. A lot of that goes to being comfortable with yourself and your knowledge, but also comfortable in your ability to converse about things that aren't necessarily directly related to your job. There's a part of it as you're having the conversations with the faculty, develop those relationships. When I was working as an instructional designer, I got to know my faculty members. I got to know the areas that they were afraid of in relationship to our project. And I got to know about their families. The reason why I did is because that helped me understand when things got off the rails. I knew there's something in here. That's the problem. And they felt comfortable enough to share with me about an issue with their child. And I realized today is not a good day to try and have this meeting. It also helped me understand the areas that I needed to focus in on to help support them in moving beyond their fears or moving beyond their resistance.

REBECCA::

Mm-Hmm. Mm-Hmm. And so there's a final question I'd like to ask everybody in the podcast, and that is what's your prediction for the future of instructional design?

MARY HELEN::

It has been an amazing two years now. I remember very clearly the day we started seeing our university shut down because of the pandemic. And I remember the conversations we had internally as a leadership team of this is going to change online learning, and it has the potential of being done extremely well. And to change how faculty and administrators view online learning because a lot of them were still resistant to it. And so seeing that happen over the past two years. In the future, I see that it's going to become much more acceptable in some more traditional universities to have those online components, whether it be in a hybrid situation or if it is in a true fully online course. I see that right now there's a dearth of instructional designers applying for positions, and a lot of that has to do with universities have finally realized we need these people. And I see that changing over time just from the standpoint of realizing that there's other options besides just going and working at a university or working in corporate America. And from our perspective, I see instructional designers realizing that their skill sets are incredibly valuable and that they have the ability to not only have a full time job, but also be able to be their own boss and do freelance work and realize it's a valuable skill.

REBECCA::

Thank you very much for joining us on demystifying instructional design. I think all of the listeners will greatly appreciate your

MARY HELEN::

insights. Thank you very much, Rebecca. I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you today.

REBECCA::

You've been listening to Demystifying Instructional Design, a podcast where I interview instructional designers about what they do. I'm Rebecca Hogue, your podcast host. If you or someone you know might like to be a guest on demystifying instructional design, please complete the Be My Guest form. Available on demystifying instructional design dot com. Show notes are posted as a blog post on demystifying instructional design dot com. If you enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe or leave a comment in the show notes blog post.