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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Yuan Chen, Education

Exploring Instructors' Experiences with Instructional Design Supported Course Design in Higher Education: A Case Study

Date & time
Monday, November 27, 2023
10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Nadeem Butt


Faubourg Ste-Catherine Building
1610 St. Catherine W.
Room 5.315

Wheel chair accessible


When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


In recent years, the demand for online teaching and learning in higher education has increased significantly. This surge highlighted the importance of ensuring the quality of online courses. Designing high-quality online courses requires specialized skills and knowledge that instructors may not possess alone. To address this challenge, universities employ instructional design professionals to support course design and development. Instructional designers are equipped with expertise in instructional design (ID) theories and principles, which are crucial for preparing high-quality courses. However, it is important to recognize that instructors are significant in higher education course design. The quality of the course depends on how well instructors embrace ID support and incorporate ID principles and practices into their course design practices.

This study explores the experiences of instructors during the process of designing online courses with the support of instructional designers. The study focuses on instructors' accounts of the key steps of the design process, their challenges, their perceived working relations with instructional designers, and the factors that affected their integration of ID suggestions. The research questions guiding the study are: 1. How do instructors work with instructional designers in designing online courses? 2. Using the framework of Activity Theory, how do instructors engage in course design activities? 3. How do instructors perceive the impact of ID support on their course design and teaching practices?

This study used a case study approach and relied on instructors' accounts from two medium-sized Canadian universities. Fifteen instructors who had experience using ID support to design online courses were interviewed. To allow for comparisons among cases, we selected three based on the different modes of ID support the instructors received: standard (full) service, express service, and ID workshops. Research data was collected through semi-structured interviews, documentation, and visual materials shared by participants. Thematic analysis was used to identify key themes that describe the phenomenon of instructors' course design. The second generation of the activity theory model (Engeström, 2015) was used to identify key elements of instructors' course design activities and to investigate how ID supports functioned as tools to mediate instructors' course design practices. Narratives of each participating instructor's course design activities were presented to describe their experiences.

The key findings of the study revealed that revealed that instructors designing online courses did not explicitly follow standard ID models. Instead, they prioritized adapting existing course content to suit their needs. When working with IDs to design online courses, instructors focused on course content layouts and engaging students effectively online. They valued instructional designers' expertise in course formatting and structures, and customized support offering instructional strategies and digital tools for optimized online courses. Yet how often instructors implemented ID suggestions and practices was influenced by several other factors, including course goals, time constraints, previous teaching experiences, design task complexity, and ID support availability. The study also identified challenges in the current course design process, including balancing instructors' workloads and desired effective course design, building pedagogical content knowledge in online course design and teaching, and bridging the gap between design needs and available ID supports.

This study provided an opportunity to understand ID supported course design and how ID suggestions were implemented from instructors’ viewpoints. The results provided insights on how to improve ID support in higher education and help in better understanding the professional identity of instructional designers.

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