We need more instructional design cases written by those who did not actually do the design, but where to start?
I suggest interviewing the designer. Elizabeth Boling did the same in her case about the Alcatraz cell-house audio walking tour. I have done interviews twice now to begin design cases about designs I did not create, and I share the protocol I developed here. This protocol was originally developed from reviewer questions in an article where I belabor all the difficulties I went through doing my own first design case. Of course, the instructional design case doesn’t begin and end with the interview. A good case will also have a few images of the design, the authors experience of it, maybe a few quotes from others’ user experiences, and the author’s reflection about why they were originally drawn to write the case. But of course, start with interviewing he designer.
Interview Protocol for Instructional Design Cases
- Telling them you are recording AFTER the recorder starts, so you get their agreement on tape
- Explaining that a member check will go out to them prior to the article’s submission for publication.
- Mentioning the time it takes– 90 minutes seems about right in most cases.
- Explaining that the markers and paper are there for exploring, please use them when needed. The notes are drawing from teh designer used to explain their product or process are important parts of the interview!
- This meeting is about the instructional design, not necessarily about the success of the design.
- Most importantly, Thank the designers for participation in this process.
Situating the design context and process:
- What were changes in context which motivated the design? Something must have happened that brought this design about.
- Who was the design team and what were their influences? Can we assume that the different members of the design team had different goals? Was that discussed? How were those decisions made?
- Did you initially intend to have students create a game? What were those key decisions? When did they happen?
- Can you describe the process by which you came to the initial formulation of the design?
- As you reflect on how you created these learning opportunities, what were the pivotal moments during the formulating of the instruction, the ah-ha moments or innovations, that you would want to tell someone else, who might be considering doing something similar for their learners?
Describing the design:
- Can you map out all the parts, especially the invisible ones, which someone viewing this teaching intervention might not see from the game itself? [Point to markers / pencils / paper]
- What is particularly interesting about this instruction?
- If you were to name the instructional design, NOT THE GAME, what would that name be?
Depicting the experience of the design:
- Can you describe the user experience? / How was learning measured, or not?
- Can you tell me about any unforeseen obstacles or aspects of the design that needed revisions that you only found out about after decisions were made?
- Did you try anything out, or consider anything, that was deemed in the end to be a bad idea in retrospect?
- How has this instructional design created complexities or challenges in your teaching? Has the instructional design failed anyone? TA’s, students, not met your goals?
- Have you skipped anything for simplicity’s sake? This can often trip up a design case because often what was skipped may be rationale for design decisions.
Special thanks to Duren Thompson, Synthia Clark and Lisa Shipley who were the student and staff contributors to this Policy for the LDT and IT Online programs. This policy developed the programs to better serve the field and to better enable our learners to navigate the expectations of practicing professionals in Instructional Design and Technology, both as a field of scholarship and one of practicing design.
Program Participant Professional Dispositions
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Last Updated April 20, 2018
Instructional design and technology is a professional field with common values and professional ethics that influence the way professionals interact with clients, peers, and mentors. During a learner’s time in the Instructional Technology, (IT Online) Learning, Design and Technology (LDT) or the Online Teaching and Learning Graduate Certificate (OTL) Programs, it is imperative for learners’ future success that academic ability grows in unison with the professional dispositions outlined by the Association for Educational Communications and Technology Standards (https://www.aect.org/docs/AECTstandards2012.pdf). Listed below are the core values by which we expect students in these programs to abide. Multiple or egregious violations of these core values will lead to the evaluation of a students’ status in the program, as well as the development of an improvement and retention plan, and thereafter, possible dismissal from the program. The plan procedures and expected consequences when students violate these core values are provided below. In addition to following the shared core values in IT Online, LDT, and OTL learners are expected to follow the Student Code of Conduct in Hilltopics (https://hilltopics.utk.edu/) as well as the Academic Policies and Requirements for Graduate Students in the Graduate Catalog (http://tiny.utk.edu/grad-catalog).
1. Show commitment to the profession
• Learners must develop the skills and knowledge to become a productive member of the instructional design and technology professional community. This may include a new identity of professional conduct, which, while it can be intimidating and overwhelming, is a standard expectation. A learner’s professional transformation must evidence a voice that shows commitment to the profession. Remarks to peers, clients, or mentors suggesting a position against the profession as a legitimate entity would violate this core value.
2. Show academic integrity and honesty in your work
• Leaners will abide by the University Tennessee Honor Statement, which is listed in the Hilltopics as “An essential feature of the University of Tennessee is a commitment to maintaining an atmosphere of intellectual integrity and academic honesty. As a student of the University, I pledge that I will neither knowingly give nor receive any inappropriate assistance in academic work, thus affirming my own personal commitment to honor and integrity.” In particular, the ethical use of copyrighted materials is an important issue within the field of instructional design and technology. This includes the use of text, images, audio, video, and other media retrieved online. The use of published work created by others must be properly credited, and, in some cases, used only with express written permission. Learners should not only practice academic integrity, but also encourage and support peers to do so as well. When there are suspected cases of academic dishonesty, faculty and the student will follow the guidelines set for by the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards (http://web.utk.edu/~osja/index.php) to identify the best course of action.
3. Maintain a healthy rapport with your adviser
• Learners must seek help with course selection and remain in contact with their academic advisor regarding progress of their program completion. The IT Online, LDT, and OTL program assumes that learners will take ownership of their learning. This includes following instructions as to how to schedule meetings, the integrity of reporting the outcomes of advisory meetings, pursing shared academic opportunities, and the documenting of advisement. Positive, regular communication with your advisor can improve the overall learning experience and provide important opportunities and connections for after graduation. Ignoring advice or communications from your advisor is not only a violation of this value, but may delay program completion.
4. Be a reflective practitioner
• Learners must evidence that they enter all learning experiences, both independent and collaborative, in good faith as a reflective practitioner. The process of instructional design and technology learning requires reflection. Learners will learn from providing feedback to others, as well as receiving feedback. Program instructors support learners in this process while creating opportunities for them to learn how to work with feedback. While receiving feedback on work, whether positive or negative, can be difficult. Additionally, statements evidencing a desire not to learn the content put forward by faculty and peers is unacceptable. As a professional, feedback on your work should be celebrated as part of the iterative design process. It is the learner’s responsibility to learn how to evaluate feedback and address it in future iterations of design. The outright refusal of feedback as well as Ad hominin attacks or unexplained criticism would constitute a violation of this core value.
5. Be open to diverse ideas, approaches, abilities, and learning needs
• Learners must nurture an ability to work with divergent perspectives and ideation as a means to learning in instructional design and technology. Sharing of diverse ideas, approaches, and reflections lead to innovative practices. Learners may experience discomfort while being challenged by ideas, abilities, and learning needs not encountered prior to entering this program; however, all learners must learn to be open and respectful in sharing ideas and approaches with clients, peers, and mentors. Instructors can support learners to increase knowledge and skills for working with diverse ideas, however, learners may not refuse to listen to collaborators, or accuse others of willful obstruction to the learning. Ignoring or refusing requests for reasonable learning or communication accommodations (from peers, clients or within assignment parameters) also constitutes a violation of this value.
6. Accept the challenge to learn
• Learners must put forward an attitude which views failures as learning opportunities and accept the challenge to learn. Many students who enter the IT Online, LDT, and OTLprograms have exhibited qualities of a successful learner in traditional learning environments. The experience of becoming a professional learner can be quite different from prior experiences. When confronting difficulties while adjusting to new ways of learning, refusals to participate in class, participate in required components of course activities, or to collaborate with others, constitute a violation of this value.
7. Treat oneself and others with respect
• Program participants (both instructional designers and technologists-in-training) engage in numerous project-based course activities in teams and with real-world clients. This experience may be difficult at times. The difficulties themselves are not a problem; in fact, course activities often include authentic challenges that prepare learners as highly-qualified professionals. Behaviors which embody respect for the knowledge and skills of the field lead to becoming a successful team member. It is paramount that all learners show respect to themselves and others throughout this learning process. Disrespect to either oneself, one’s team, other learners, or clients would violate this core value.
8. Be a productive member of our community
• Learners must contribute to the community of practice in which they are engaged, in synchronous and asynchronous whole class discussions (online or face-to-face) as well as in smaller group work scenarios. In whole class activities, learners are expected to both contribute materially and support others in making their own contributions. In teams and group work, the negotiation of roles must accommodate a fair distribution of work. Fair distribution means that learners must contribute equally and equitably as determined by the team and cannot do less than what is agreed upon, nor do more by taking over the group work. In addition, it is a violation of this core value for a learner to refuse to participate in group activities or attempt to claim exception from peer evaluations due to conflicts in teams. Engaging in group processes productively as a member of a community involves skills and knowledge that may be new to them If learners find difficulties in such processes, they should view the situation as an opportunity to learn and reach out to the instructor of the course for assistance. The instructor can function as a mediator to assist team members with how to work together effectively. Refusing to contribute or monopolizing whole class activities would violate this core value.
9. Show integrity, honesty, and inclusivity in collaborative work
• As previously noted, many projects in which instructional design and technology professionals engage are shared by a team, with team members sharing credit for publication. Learners in these programs will give credit to the contributions of others for all completed work and document their own participation with integrity and honesty. In addition, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville values inclusive teaching and learning practice, and this extends to collaboration. Learners must practice inclusivity as a regular part of their collaboration. While learning to become a professional, learners must gain skills and knowledge for assigning work equitably among team members, develop a mechanism for monitoring contributions made by all members, and allow allmembers access to the learning taking place. Failing to properly and fairly credit collaborative work, or purposefully excluding group members from learning, are both violations of this core value.
Professional Disposition Evaluation and Participant Retention
Program faculty review student progress on a regular basis to assist students as necessary. While our main goal is to celebrate learner successes in becoming a highly-qualified Instructional Design and Technology professional, there will be times that faculty need to communicate to learners about issues relating to retention and improvement to ensure that learners are meeting both academic and dispositional expectations.
Program faculty are aware that becoming a professional is a learning experience of its own, and when participants show initial signs of dispositional issues, learners will be provided warning(s) to address them. These warning(s) will be communicated to learners during academic advising sessions. When dispositional issues are not remediated through early warning(s), faculty will follow the steps described below to address them.
Step 1: Students will be notified through a letter sent to their UT email account regarding an academic or dispositional issue that came to light and will be held to a probationary status as a student in the program.
Step 2: Students will schedule a meeting with their academic advisor no later than 2 weeks from the date of the notification letter.
Step 3: During the student/advisor meeting, the student and faculty will jointly construct an improvement plan that clearly lists the identified issue(s), strategies addressing the issue(s), expected outcomes of how student academic performance/dispositional issue will improved, and a date for the improvement plan outcome review. This plan will be kept in the student’s permanent record.
Step 4: The Academic and Dispositions Improvement and Retention Committee will review the improvement plan. This committee will consist of the advisor and two other faculty. Upon review the improvement plan, the committee will notify the student through a letter sent to his/her UT email account whether the plan was accepted or not. If not, students must meet with faculty advisor and address revision to ensure the plan is accepted by the committee.
Step 5: Students will take action according to the approved improvement plan.
Step 6: After the date that is listed as the improvement plan outcome review, the faculty committee will evaluate the student’s improvement according to the criteria of the plan. The committee will deliberate on whether the student did or did not meet the improvement plan expectations. If the students did not meet expectations, it will result in dismissal from the program.
Designing identity is what we do when we talk about education. (not talking about instruction– that’s something different) Once we dig underneath a collection of performance objectives, and the billions of exceptions and complexity that accompany them, what we are really doing when it comes down to it, is designing an identity that we hope learners will assume. PhD programs help people become scholars, ID programs help people become instructional designers. EFL programs teach people to identify as English language learners. In truth, underneath much of educational research, is the true objective of just trying to figure out how to help people to become someone they were not when we first encountered them. Of course saying that would be controversial, so we say other things.
This process is everywhere, down to the simplest experiences that turn children into functioning adults. My daughter is afraid of slugs, and is afraid of riding a bike. It seems there is not much I can do about it at the moment, nor does it bother me in any way that she is afraid of slugs and can’t ride a bike at age 6. It’s cute. At age 24, I don’t think it will really be so cute anymore. I like her for who she is now, and I want her to be who she is now. For as long as she is 6, i’d like he to be happy with being 6. But no matter how much I love the girl she is now, she’s going to be someone else tomorrow– and I want that person to be someone who is not afraid of slugs and can ride a bike. That’s an important change; and most of it is identity. As soon as she decides she isn’t afraid of slugs and can ride a bike (I know she can ride a bike because she didn’t fall over until she realized I had let go) she will be those things. As long as she thinks she is x, she will be x. We’ve got lots of words like “self-efficacy” to mask the truth of what we’re doing when we’re teaching.
I see this process of change in our graduate learners. I recently wrapped up the final course for a new batch of graduating instructional designers. One candidate I saw present on an LMS implementation (Fred Kelly) just today and another has already moved on to the ID job she came to the program to get, Janelle Galbraith. At one point in this paste semester I could see the change happening before my eyes. In a talk about revising websites, Janelle recounted her design process. There was a point in which a certain instructional image had to be redesigned. I could see it had gone through extensive development. I took a guess at how many iterations, I guessed four. She replied, “HA! Try 18.” The next part of the interchange is what has been eating at me for weeks. I asked, “Wow, what kept you going beyond four?” and she answered, “because it didn’t work yet and that’s just what you do.” It’s just what you do when you are a designer, but it sure isn’t what they did when they started the program. I would argue that keeping going when it’s not working is surely not what you do when you are an eye surgeon. It’s a good thing I don’t teach eye surgery.
I went through the same identity change myself. In 1990 I inherited a tutoring gig from Steven Pfaff as he left Karl-Franzens Universität Graz, Austria, to go to NC Chapel Hill to start on his doctoral study. He had been teaching using magazines, but that wasn’t my style really. I started using comics. If you have ever tried turning comics into cloze activities, you would quickly realize this is likely the worst textual choice for foreign language learning strategies one could imagine. Comics hinge on providing unexpected turns of phrase, not the ones the reader is prepped for. As discouraging for the serious learner as it might sound, I had a good time teaching, I think my learners had fun talking about the jokes, and I had a fair bit of fun choosing which words I would block with white out before I made the copies. What I didn’t do is see myself as a teacher, and surely not as an instructional designer. It was too much fun to really view it as work, per se. It took six years, a few student teaching placements, a comps exam, a number of academic papers, a whopping student loan, and then a full time teaching job to finally see myself as a teacher. Then, years later, it took a PhD and a stint with Microsoft to see myself as an instructional designer. All that to get back to where I was at 19, albeit with some identity. Would I still make a cloze activity out of a life is hell comic by Matt Groening? Hell yes. But I would do it over 18 times until it worked right. All this schooling and learning didn’t in effect change what I was doing; it changed how I was doing it and how I thought about what I was doing. The end goal of school is to make you someone new, and that’s painful because, now I would totally suck as an eye surgeon. So yeah Mr Groening, school is hell.
Citations are rhetoric, plain and simple. Each time you cite something, you are employing a rhetorical device. When you employ the device erroneously, you make the case to your reader that you don’t understand what you are trying to say. The most common rhetorical citation device I see is the consensus citation. A consensus citation is when you make the case that a whole bunch of scholars agree about something. For example, multiple citations on a given point express how pervasive the consensus is among scholars. Here is an example: Scholars agree that asynchronous communication is democratized (Chun & Plass, 2000; Gunawardena, 2004; Howard 2012; Johnson, 2006; Stockwell, 2007; Warschauer, 1997).
The same sentence with only one citation is not just a case of fewer citations, it’s actually a different rhetoric altogether. It suggests the author is the one make the point, the first one to coin the term, or the only you happened to encounter that mentions such a thing. For example, consider if you had the same sentence from above with just one citation, “Scholars agree that asynchronous communication is democratized (Howard, 2012)”. This sentence means that Howard (2012) claims that scholars agree about this, but you as the author of the piece, may or may not agree. Contrast this to the meaning of three or more citations in the same space. These are two different rhetorical moves, both made via the use of a citation.
Sometimes we find a writer will inadvertently credit a concept when they mean to credit an explanation. A direct citation or a paraphrased citation credits an author with a concept, but some scholars inadvertently credit an author with a concept when the author has simply used the concept or explained it more elegantly than others. For this second case, we have the rhetorical device “see” within the citation space. If the author simply explains the idea and doesn’t originate the concept, add “see” to make that clear. Thus the sentence, “This will be a Criterion-Referenced Assessment (Mager, 1997) to measure my students’ knowledge of each subject area based on the Common Core Standards.” Gives credit to Mager (1997) and the sentence, “This will be a Criterion-Referenced Assessment (see Mager, 1997) to measure my students’ knowledge of each subject area based on the Common Core Standards.” Lets the reader know that Mager (1997) is a good place to find a discussion of this concept, though Mager is likely not original contributor of this insight. In other words, this first citation says the author (Mager) coined the term, or that the author is using an interpretation of the term that is drawn from Mager because there are other ways to interpret the term. And in the second example, Mager simply explained the term, as suggested by the rhetorical “see” prior to the citation.
The rhetoric of citations can also backfire on you if the relationships between the written work and the argument are unclear. If you have used a section in a way that exposes faulty logic, you can evidence that you don’t understand what you are talking about. For example, I sometimes find advanced learners use citations in such a way as to imply an implausible logical relationship, such as a causal relationship that actually does not exist. For example, look at this construction, “Participation has been argued to be an intrinsic part of learning,” (Wenger, 1998; Hrastinski, 2008) therefore the videos provide clients and their staff opportunities to learn about the features of the software during the course of integrated authentic performance assessment.” This means that because Wenger said it, the learners will learn. But f course the learner neither care nor heed what some obscure educational researchers say, so the reader dismisses the writer as misinformed, or worse. What a tragedy when the student is actually an insightful designer explaining complex designs! Had the writer phrased structure the rhetoric of the citation more accurately, their design insight would have shown through. For example, read the revised statement: “There is moderate consensus that participation is intrinsic to learning (Wenger, 1998; Hrastinski, 2008). Therefore, with this in mind, we designed the videos to provide clients and their staff opportunities to learn about the features of the software during the course of integrated authentic performance assessment.” With the questionable logic removed, the writer’s insight becomes far clearer. For this reason, I ask that none of my learners attempt to finish direct quotes in their writing. The rhetoric can too easily run amuck. The same goes with direct quotes with two authors, which is impossible, and unfortunately, more common than I would hope.
Sometimes, the citation is the right rhetorical move. The rhetorical value of a citation does not trump a first-hand account; rather the citation is another perspective altogether. For example, “I noticed learners tended to complete online discussions only in the final hours prior to the deadline (Howard 2012).” By adding the citation, you have effectively told the reader that you are crediting someone else with what you saw. This makes no sense and is at the same time, a common error. If you witnessed it, that is evidence enough that it happened. If the phenomenon is also witnessed by another researcher, you’re free to say so. However, one separate the two perspectives or your point will be lost and the reader confused.
The date is part of the rhetoric of a citation. Furthermore, citations must always have a date; otherwise, they are not citations. The rhetorical value of the date has meaning on many different levels. For example, by citing a much older publication, a researcher can show that a concept has been churning through the mind of other scholars for quite some time. For example, “Design precedent (Lawson 1990) is a concept integral to our understanding of design Learners might grow in their understanding of how to design (Boling 2010).” Scholars often change their position on something over the course of their career, so the date is as important as the name. Also, if there really is no date, it is wisest not to include the reference unless you’re employing a rather complex rhetorical strategy, such as mocking public opinion. For a detailed discussion of this, see my blog post on citing Wikipedia. But in general, I advise my learners that if there is no date, it is not worth citing at this point in their learning.
I often find myself suggesting to authors not to put citations in the first sentence of a paragraph. The reason I advise this is because, in such a position, the rhetorical value being employed by the citation is unclear. The topic sentence needs to lead the reader to the evidence behind the argument. When we have a citation in the topic sentence location, the typical role of citation as evidence can’t be used, so the reader goes searching for what the paragraph is actually about. But the topic sentence is supposed to say what the paragraph is about. This confuses the reader. I am sure there may be cases where putting a citation in the first line of a paragraph could be employed advantageously, but in 20 years of teaching writing, I am yet to see someone pull it off. A citation in the first line is simply not a wise move.
Lastly, citing websites’ about pages, or product pages a firm produced about its own products, is very poor rhetoric. It makes the claim that you, as the researcher, trust an advertisement as much a scholarly paper. I can’t think of any scholarly context in which this strategy could be viewed as rhetorically sound. For example, the reaction one might fetch from this citation is easy to predict, “YouTube is arguably the best website ever known to mankind (YouTube, 2015).” Other citations from product literature, be they from web sources or elsewhere, are effectively the same though they may be less obvious to the learner. I strongly encourage my learners to question the source and not take a company’s literature at face value. I would not trust any corporation to give me an unbiased evaluation of its products in an advertisement, which is basically what an about page is.
If you have other citation rhetoric insights, I would love to hear them. Please send me a comment.
There is a game called the Five Finger Filet. One holds a knife and stabs between thine outstretched fingers, risking a dangerous errant stab. Personally, I never had any attraction to games like this. I would surely chop off a finger and regret my own stupidity in a matter of moments. This however doesn’t dissuade my 5 year old daughter from trying to get me to play such a game. Of course, I show that I will get it wrong and continually mess up, stabbing ridiculously far-off and in the wrong pattern. To instruct her father, Erena designed this quick instructional scaffold. The location of the dots is what is important. Notice the string of five dots under her thumb. That’s the pattern, to each finger and back. I actually had not known what the real pattern was. But what caused me pause is how natural her behavior was. If a five-year old so naturally creates visual instruction, what does it say about the way we teach and learn that teachers and masters students in education rarely chose that avenue? Is any one else getting the idea that the pendulum has swung too far toward understanding learning as simply reading, writing, and nothing else? Maybe I am just chopping off another finger.
Years ago Elizabeth Boling mentioned this classic instructional design, The Nutshell Studies, and I just had not run into a thorough discussion of it for years. It is an instructional design intended to support the learning of forensic science for detectives. The most remarkable part of the design are 19 miniature dioramas which make lifelike crimes scenes available for viewing by multiple detectives in training. A perfect instructional design case for a historical issue of IJDL, but the dioramas, and the life of their creator Frances Glassner Lee, were recently featured on an NPR show called Sidedoor, and in all honesty, Tony Cohn from PRX does an excellent job, hitting all the required components of a design case. As AECT is just around the corner again, I am sure I will be talking about instructional design cases again in the near future, and this Sidedoor episode is a case worth discussing.
Frances Glessner Lee and The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, is actually the name of an art exhibit, but is spawns from an instructional design, from which Cohn crafted his audio instructional design case. Mrs. Lee created complex dioramas with such detail that they could tell the story of an entire murder, well, almost the entire story. A curious aspect to her dioramas was their purposefully unsolved-ness. There is no solution offered to the detectives in training. In other words, despite their intricacy, they will always remain, unsolved. This 1940’s design choice of creating unsolved murder scenes, fodder for discussion but not for resolution, speaks to the persistence of discussion, rather than resolution, as being an ever-present aspect of higher order thinking. The key is not to select the right answer, but to untangle the complexity and multiple possibilities that could play into each scene. Of course, the hope is that with practice, learning the process of disentanglement will result in better investigations, leading to a higher chance of getting things right eventually. Once we let go of the idea of always getting is right this time, and focus on getting it right most of the time, our chances go way up each and every time.
Learners in the Master’s program in IT here at UT chuckle about my choices of terms: grapple, dig in, go deeper, dissect, take apart. But these terms do tell what I am trying to accomplish. I don’t think we’re ever going to learn definitively how to teach (sadly) and I don’t think we’re ever going to definitively determine the right way to design instruction (woefully), and , that’s not the point (joyously). The point is, to see a design like the Nutshell Studies for more than just the dioramas, though, for sure, the dioramas were pretty damn cool.
Since stopping this blog in February, ideas have come and gone, and my apprehensions about leaving Texas A&M worked on me to focus and prepare for a new start. That start has come; it’s September and I am teaching in a new context. While I am very happy to be here in Tennessee, I am also trying to work out exactly where is the best place to invest my time, thus the new banner image and a renewed concern over the clock. One thing that is not in question is the purpose of this blog. It’s a place to work ideas out in a more public venue, allowing for comments from anywhere, and from anyone. This month’s post is such an opportunity. It is inspired by a dialogue that came about organically from a posted comment by a reader.
The issue I am dealing with here is an old one, but as Marshal Poe writes, our perspectives on right and wrong are very much tied to the times- the way we communicate and who gets to communicate to whom about what and how often (2011). Had this issue arose at my workplace, I probably would not find out about it because of the nature of the issue; some topics can be discussed on a blog at another university that would not be welcome at one’s own institution. That’s one area where the blog excels. It creates a fruitful venue to discuss topics outside of one’s own institution.
This discussion started as a comment to Publishing as a graduate student and developed into something worth a little more space than the comment trail, I think. What follows is the email discussion with a few headers added in after the fact. Eric Hufford, the author of these questions and the unfortunate graduate student in the pickle described in this post, is a senior software engineer in Maryland with 10 years of experience in the field of software engineering. He holds a B.S. in Computer Science and is pursuing a Masters in Software Engineering as well as an MBA.
Eric: Thank you for this fantastic information. I do have one question for you though, as I am struggling with this before I submit my paper. I wrote a paper for a graduate course. The paper I plan on submitting is exactly as I turned it in to the course with absolutely zero input from or collaboration with the professor. In fact, his entire involvement with the paper was approving the topic (it was a term paper) and grading it. Yet he is telling me that since I wrote it for his course, he needs to be listed as an author. I strongly disagree with his statement. Is this something I should be concerned about? Do I really need to add him as an author?”
Craig: Wonderful question and thank you for submitting it. I will use headers to organize and emphasize my points, because this response is lengthy.
Know the authoring conventions for your field
There are a few things that need to be clarified prior to saying your professor is outright wrong. First off, this blog post was meant for graduate learners in Instructional Technology, but might also be broadly applicable to social science research in general. I don’t know your field of study. Much depends on the conventions in your field. If your paper was developed from someone’s course which included access to a lab where data was collected, it is very likely that authorship listing the lab leader is the most appropriate convention. Also, if the paper topic was developed iteratively with the professor, that in itself may very well constitute input worthy of authorship. Your professor might also be refereeing to content in the paper that was derived from teachings in the course, in which case the professor would be making a legitimate claim. Both contributions and conventions should be discussed prior to any submission of the article anywhere. Graduate students should inform themselves of some of the more general conventions using authorship guidelines published for their appropriate field. There are guidelines out there for determining authorship. In my field, Instructional Technology, AECT has some, but more generally, there is an APA guide online. Read it closely. Knowing these conventions will help you learn more from your discussion about authorship with your professor. This is a key learning step in graduate school and one often overlooked in the process from admission to graduation, and possibly the root cause behind the uncomfortable feelings expressed in the comment.
Course papers are never journal articles, they are, at best, first drafts of journal articles
Secondly, one phrase in your question strikes in me a note of caution, “The paper I plan on submitting is exactly as I turned it in to the course.” This strategy runs the risk of getting a swift and straightforward rejection, needlessly uses the time of an editor at the journal you submit to, and moreover, runs you the risk of sparking a negative image of your work in the eyes of the editor. No paper should go to submission raw. Now that the course is over, re-read the writer’s guidelines of the proposed venue, and make sure you are familiar with the prospective journal’s most recent publications on the topic you cover. I expect there’s a fair bit of editing to do. I have heard students complain that established professors can submit less polished drafts than students and get away with it. I am not fully convinced this is true. Scholars that have been dealing with a topic for many years may have a battery of key phrases and can use shorthand to express concepts and other ideas. A learner’s text faces the formidable obstacle of being a relatively new topic, and without the crafted language at the tips of your fingers, it must be well crafted though scrutiny and revision. You haven’t been reading/writing for enough years to know them all the phrases you need, and a facility with them only comes with extended exposure.
Collaborations must be mutually beneficial
More strategically, it would be wise to rethink your take on collaboration in the field. From the perspective of the student, credit for a single-authored publication is paramount. However, from the perspective of scholars in the field, it is likely not so. The co-authored paper is worth more, not less. When a potential candidate’s cv evidences multiple collaborations that resulted in publications, it sends a far stronger message of competence than a cv with a few single authored published papers. Scholars publish dozens of articles over their career, and their co-authoring relationships evidence the breadth of their participation with topics of interest to others doing work worthy of publication. There is much to gain from collaboration and showing that you work well with your professors, even if this particular professor does not spur in you the desire for a long term identity of association. You have far more to gain from the professor’s name being on the byline than you have to gain from being sole-author, even if you plan on never co-authoring with this professor again. Your paper is also more likely to be read because inclusion in the professor’s online archive may draw readers surfing your professor’s publications, and it may also heighten your rank in internet searches if your professor is more published than you are—which is more often the case than it is not.
At this point, your task is to get yourself informed about the appropriate conventions for authorship, make strides in the development of the paper for publication, and bring the draft back to your professor to have a more informed conversation about the draft and target venue. It may feel like eating humble pie, but it’s not. Even if you are vastly more experienced and it is a junior faculty member you’re dealing with (which does happen as grad students come from all walks of life and faculty can come straight from successive years of schooling) what you do not want is to publish the paper without the professor’s approval, especially with verbatim sections from the paper you submitted in the course. That runs the risk of you being marked as someone who does not give credit where credit is due, could alienate you from other scholars in the future, and potentially endanger your completion of the program where you are now.
Eric: The paper in question was an end-of-term paper for a Software Engineering course, and I have scoped out a few different journals and honed in on two that I feel may be a good fit. I plan on re-tooling the paper to fit within the journal guidelines, but other than that, I plan on submitting the same basic paper. That is to say, I do not intend on taking any input from the professor’s review before I submit it. It sounds as if he is attempting to take credit for his student’s work even though he had no involvement in the process of creating the paper. [He only taught the course in which the paper was submitted.] Do I really need to add him as an author?
Craig: Yes, but more importantly, why fight it when the outcome (s)he proposed actually favors you? Nevertheless, the issues you raise here are endemic to graduate school, and actually, really important. Every year this issue pops up somewhere- often between a junior faculty and a senior doc student. I really think pushing this to a richer discussion might uncover something valuable for other grad students and those who teach grad students. So, let me ask you this– do you think it was something in the classroom dynamic that lead you to want to publish the paper without his name on it? Is there something the unnamed faculty member didn’t do that s/he should have done? What brought you to so fervently want to publish it without his name on it?
Eric: I’ll answer your last question first before going back to your first two. “What made me feel like I didn’t need to include him as an author?” I suppose it is relevant to provide some background information on myself. I am a professional software engineer with about 10 years’ experience in the industry. I finally decided to pursue a masters’ degree and an MBA. This particular course was entirely online so I never really developed a rapport with the professor. While he is a senior faculty member and appeared to be a fairly competent fellow, the course content was nothing new to me. I never opened the book, nor did I ever have any conversations with the professor beyond those required to complete the course (like approving my term paper topic). In other words, the class was a breeze, I received an A and moved on with my life. With that said, I felt that it would not be necessary to add his name as an author because he and I had a very minimal amount interaction, and it was only ever via email. There was never a relationship or any sense of loyalty. However, I try to remain open minded as best I can, which is why I came across your post and asked my question. I simply didn’t want to do the wrong thing and have it come back to bite me later. I was also under the impression that if I shared authorship, that my involvement in the paper would be diluted, which I assumed would reflect less upon me. In your response, what convinced me to include his name on the paper regardless of how little he did, was your argument that it looks better on me to have a co – authored paper. You mentioned that it would make it look like I perform well with others and, more importantly, if he is well published, my paper will get more visibility than it ever would under my single authorship. This may sound heartless and blunt, but these are the things that matter most to me about publishing my paper. Your answer surprised me, it wasn’t what I was expecting at all, but it made a ton of sense.
Craig: The online dynamic raises lots of curious questions.
Unspoken information lost in the lean media
Low-interaction online courses can be a breeding ground for conflicting perspectives, especially if they appear early on in the program of study. In order to create a smoother pedagogical experience for both learners and the instructor, some programs require foundational courses that may fall below what an advanced learner is expecting. In such cases, the indebtedness of the learner to the knowledge of the professor is a stretch for advanced learners to recognize, and surprisingly often, that lack of indebtedness is completely justified, especially in online classes where the direct instruction is limited. In some online classes, it’s not hard to imagine just anyone teaching the course if it basically runs by itself with little instructor-student interaction. A close working relationship is implied by a shared byline, but in a course where the interaction has been so little, it is bound to feel weird to share credit. At the same time, it is difficult for the instructor to recognize the insights did not come from the course, especially if those insights could have been inferred from the materials assembled by the professor. I wonder if such a misunderstanding is the case in your context.
The lean media of online instruction, often limited to text interactions, often requires a seasoned online instructor to recognize insights that break from course materials into new ground for the learner. Junior faculty with limited online experience, and even seasoned faculty who are new to the online format, may be relying on cues that simply are not there in online interactions to recognize when a learner is breaking from simply what they have been taught, into original research. He may well have thought you were simply building from the given materials. Having not opened the book puts you at a significant disadvantage when arguing that you didn’t learn x or y from a course of study, and at the same time, sometimes it takes a seasoned online teacher to recognize truly original work.
Differing expectations, none of which are written down
On top of this, these instructors may be working with a hidden curriculum that is never made explicit to the learner. Online faculty may have tacit expectations of a set of rules of interaction leading to co-authorship with grad students, and at least in my experience, rarely are these understandings made explicit in a course syllabus or other materials that the online learner is exposed to. With online learning we generally default back to the face to face rules until people figure out a better way to proceed and new conventions are adopted, but we rarely make it as explicit as it should be. Who wants to read, nonetheless write, a set of conduct rules? In graduate programs, for all the documents we produce, there are still topics navigate via intuition instead of explicit guidelines. How often do graduate students read the handbook anyway? I know I did not labor of over such a document until an issue arose. While I would say it is the responsibility of the instructor to make those rules transparent as best they can, the large number of exceptions makes that goal pretty far reaching and arguably infeasible, especially for someone who is not used to teaching online where there is far more emphasis placed on documenting procedures.
Advanced students may also not be aware that in the context of the professor, they may feel they are working at a disadvantage to their peers. If a professor teaches exclusively online, working relationships with students may be very challenging to construct. I know that in my experience at Texas A&M, it was definitely a challenge. In many schools, professors are expected to publish with their students, and for a faculty member teaching a significant portion online, I could foresee a claim that a paper resulting from a course they teach is a byline they “deserve.” But I am not so sure that the claim is warranted, and I am not so sure professors who teach exclusively online do in fact uniformly feel this way. But, this perspective makes sense to me.
Discussion is part of scholarship
The more important thing here is your intuition to go out and run the idea by somebody else who has grappled with the topic before you jumped to a conclusion as to right and wrong ways to proceed. That’s wise, and actually says a lot about your instincts about how scholarship works. Everything is discussed. But the discussion does not stop with the third party.
While you’re not wholly wrong in your assumption that there’s something diluted about the nature of co-authorship, understanding how authorship is credited in your field is what’s paramount here. The authorship discussion is an assumed part of scholarship and one that the publication venue trusts that you have completed. (Institutional Review is another research component that publishers often handle on an honor system.) For a scholar, this authorship discussion appears in other locations as well. In education, each tenure portfolio contains a document where you list a percentile authorship for each work on your cv for which you are claiming is evidence for tenure. Thus for each article, there will be percentage numbers next to each author’s name. I think it is assumed that the tenure candidate checks with the other authors that the numbers jive with how they felt. I have been asked this in the past — did you contribute 25 or 30%? Absurd, yes, better that other alternatives, also yes. In truth, I find that even the most diligent scholars are somewhat lax about this trivial task because it is hard to actually figure out who did what percentage when each person is working as a team, but they don’t skip the discussion altogether.
The important part is that the discussion happened, not whether 29% or 30.5 % was in fact the most accurate representative figure for authorship/research contribution. Reasonable scholars know that authorship is hard to quantify. For example– how would you and I divide credit for this blog post? I wrote more words, but you wrote the important questions. Word count is not a realistic reflection of value here, nor in research, but that’s how it’s done, along with a little negotiation. The percentile contribution is a make-shift fix for a problem we haven’t figured out how to reliably solve, and I don’t see a resolution coming apart from the fact that the discussion is required. I predict that as collaborations become ever more prominent, the percentile distribution document will become more of a guestimate, and at the same time, more important for professors to show they are in fact, working collaboratively with their peers.
Eric: My only response is a more personal one in that I do not intend to enter the academic community professionally any time soon. I quite enjoy working on products more so than research. However, I would like to have an academic body of work to fall back on 30 or so years in the future. Someday I’d like to get out of the development game and “retire” to academia. I am currently unpublished so it seems to me that adding him as a coauthor is my best option. Seeing that I have plenty of time (30 or so years) to build this, getting my foot in the door and putting my name out there is all I am looking to do.
Craig: This is an easy answer, but one you would be wise to note, and note quickly.
The unlikelihood of falling back on an academic career
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this strategy. Contrary to popular opinion outside of the academe (those that know about it), an academic career to fall back on does not exist. Of course adjunct work abounds, but just read the Chronicle of Higher Ed to understand just how below slave labor contingent faculty suffer. The only people who ever “retire” to academic positions are intellectual celebrities. For example, Henry Kissenger, now at John Hopkins University, entered his post after a long career in politics, and there are occasional superstars from each field who find they have something to say that schools are open to hear. In their role, these celebrities in their fields do not necessarily do the work of typical professor either. I don’t know how they are paid, but I imagine it is worked out on an individual celebrity basis, and they are doubtfully paid as typical professor. I am not saying it is impossible to enter the academe after a career in another field, but these individuals are not falling back on an academic career Some may argue that such people are actually not entering the academe. Rather, they have something to say to members of their discipline earlier on in the career and the faculty is giving the celebrity an opportunity. For a detailed discussion of the struggle it takes to move from even the best PhD programs into a professorial position, read The Professor is In blog moderated by Dr Karen Kelsky.
While the hiring value of a publication generally dissipates into oblivion after five years, publication does hold a lot of value for professionals not intending to enter the professoriate. Publishing is concrete evidence that someone is up to date in a field of practice and can collect their ideas in a coherent and persuasive manner. The skills to put forward a polished argument is a very attractive feature for anyone looking to be recognized as a professional. So I would say it is darn good goal to have, just not for the reason you stated.
Acknowledgement: I thank Eric for humoring my excessive questions, writing frankly, and reviewing the final draft of this post prior to its publication on this blog.
Reference: Marshall T. Poe (2011). A History of Communications: Media and Society from the Evolution of Speech to the Internet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. xi + 275 pp. ISBN 9780521179447.