It takes two to make a thing go right : a qualitative single-case study exploring faculty perceptions of the role of instructional designers and interpersonal dynamics of their working relationships and collaborative experiences.


Throughout the development of online courses within higher education, subject matter expert (SME) faculty often rely on an instructional designer’s (IDs) expertise and leadership to produce high-quality learning experiences for their students. Although IDs guide the creation of online courses and programs, instructional design is a profession that has yet to be fully recognized by educators in higher education (Drysdale, 2018; Hudson, 2014). Consequently, IDs often endure lack of understanding and misperceptions of their role by SME faculty which impacts the working relationship (Chen & Carliner, 2020; Drysdale, 2018; Hudson, 2014; Sharif & Gisbert, 2015). Thus, the purpose of the study was to gain a better understanding of how SME faculty perceive the role of IDs and the interpersonal dynamics of their working relationships in the online course development process at Unity University to determine how these relationships can be improved upon for more effective collaboration.

To highlight the problem and conceptualize the purpose, the study employed a qualitative single-case study design in which 60-minute semi-structured interviews were conducted to explore the lived experiences and perceptions of nine SME faculty who had collaborated with IDs in Unity University’s previous online course development process. Overall, the findings revealed positive overall SME faculty perceptions of IDs in the previous online course development process at Unity University. Four digital artifacts in the form of asynchronous collaborative Google Docs between SME faculty and IDs were also examined and analyzed to ascertain the utilization of this tool in the new agile online course development process at Unity University and its effectiveness for collaborative working relationships. The findings from the digital artifacts revealed a constant level of collaboration and communication on the asynchronous collaborative Google Docs through the usage of the comments function in Google Docs with some areas of intermittent non-responsiveness. To conclude, the implications for the current study highlighted areas of improvement for more effective working relationships and collaboration in the course development process between SME faculty and IDs as well as a framework proposal based on findings for future research of essential elements for effective collaboration: expertise, relationship, communication, and best practices.