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Academic Essay

Instructional Designer and Software Architect: The Emerging of Two-Sided-Coin-Role of Instructional Designer in Today?s Learning Environment to More Firmly Establish Professional Identity and Competence.



What do instructional designers have something in common with software architect/software designers? Is it significant for instructional designers to be software architect at the same time? Is being a software architect considered as an emerging role of today?s instructional designers? What are the implications of having this emerging role towards the professional identity and competence of being an instructional designer? These four questions are the focus of discussion in this essay. Therefore, the thesis of this essay is that an instructional designer also has an emerging role as a software architect in today?s learning environment to more firmly establish professional identity and competence.

When technology has reshaped the meaning of learning and its environment, it is undoubtedly that new approaches and methods need to be met for this changing leaning environment. This is to say that instructional designers have to keep up with the advancement of learning as well as to adapt to this change expanding flexible collaboration with other ?science? fields such as computer science, graphic and software design, or web and game design to create the best architecture of learning. The expanded meaning of learning will always be technology-related, starting from simple technology until the most complicated design of technology. However, the trends, implications, and effects of technology towards learning will always changing overtime as new technology will be replaced by the newest one. This seemingly unstoppable is a wakeup call for the establishment of professional identity and competence of instructional designers.


A Search for Common Ground

The area of software architecture is relatively different with instructional design. In the similar fashion, software architects and instructional designers belong to distinctly different, but related, professions, with their own unique literature describing roles, responsibilities and practice. In fact, the instructional designer's roles on teams developing hypermedia and other computer based instructional solutions (as opposed to non-computerized instruction) is marked as an emerging role as a result of technology development in the learning environment, specifically web and internet.

Apart from the differences between these two areas, there is a silver line that connects these two professions ? both are responsible for the conception and realization of a program (Kapoor, 1996).? To add, the dimension between architect and designer is also described as in the following:

Architect is (1) a person who designs buildings and advises in their construction; (2) a person who designs and guides a plan or undertaking. Designer is (1) one who creates and often executes plans for a project or structure; (2) one that creates and manufactures a new product style or design (Merriam Webster, 2004).

The Software architect responsible for: (a) identifying requirements/needs; (b) drafting deliverable specifications; (c) designing the system's layout/blueprint and development approach; (d) verifying the specification; (e) reporting the verification results; (f) reporting the results of feasibility studies (Bredemeyer, & Malan, 2000; Dikel, Kane, & Wilson, 2001; Muller, 2004; WWISA, "Role"). For this, an architect "must understand whose interest and participation is essential, what they must do, and what it will take to get their sustained participation and commitment" (Dikel et al., 2001, p. 131). The architects are the ones that help the developers understand architecture and the rationale behind various architectural decisions, in short, acting as consultants to the developers and lead the development community and stakeholders to rallying around the architectural vision (Bass, Clements, & Kazman, 1998; Bredemeyer & Malan, 2000; Dikel et al.)

Whilst, the instructional designer is responsible for (a) working with a client; (b) working with a subject matter expert (SME); (c) analysis of client needs, tools available, and end users; (d) envisioning, developing, and creating the solution's design; (e) evaluation and verification of the design; and (f) working with other members in a team to bring about the design (Cheng-Chang, Deets, Phillips, & Cornell 2003; Liu et al., 2002; Pettenati et al., 2001; Visscher-Voerman & Gustafson, 2004). As Liu et al. sums up, "The instructional designer must understand the needs and wants of the client, the objective and the audience of the finished project, the capabilities of the programmer, graphic artist, and available tools; and must have design and project management skills" (p. 196).

The instructional designer aims to help the client make the right design decisions based on a project's goals. As with the software architect, an instructional designer must have versatility and flexibility in adapting to technological changes and should be able to discuss the possibilities of various technologies knowledgeably with the client and facilitate choosing the appropriate development path (Liu et al., 2002).

Based on the roles and responsibilities of both software architect and instructional designer, it is clear that what they have something in common is their main role in creating a clear vision or blueprint for how the system will be developed in which it extends to their spanning role as consultant and leader.

Emerging Challenge for an Emerging Role

As what is noted in Reiser (2007) that more complex learning environment creates more professional demands. This calls for a more exploration of skills and competencies to meet this more-complex environment. If this call is ignored, it is possible that instructional designers will face heavier threat for its survival:

Learning environments are more complex and more demanding of skilled individuals than ever before. Times are good in this field because the field in which we labor is increasingly difficult to plow. More complex instructional technologies, such as direct instruction via internet, are relatively new and mystifying. The newness will pass, however. If instructional designers are not seen as highly useful to the course development process, we will see decreases in demand and remuneration just as sharp as the increases in the first few years of this decade (p. 298).

Aforementioned description above highlights on today?s learning environment where the ever changing-fast advancement of technology meets the ubiquitous information that adds to the new literacy learners have to master: digital literacy. Lamentably, the interfaces created by this learning environment are no longer limited to paper but more to a paperless-multidimensional-hyper channel medium that is called web. To that end, web-based learning yields sharper skill of identification. This is to say that in order to be able to learn comfortably and appropriately, learners have to find ?a right direction? to get in. This way of finding a right direction is mystified by the torrential flow of distractions created by the web. If learners are not careful, they can get ?lost? and rarely find a way to go back (initial objective of learning).

As much as building needs architecture to make it stands strong and appropriately used, a web-based learning environment needs architecture to appropriately function and brings out the best outcome from learners. This is not an easy task. Yet it can?t be considered as difficult as well. It all depends on how instructional designers incorporate the effective and efficient regime of sensitivity ? functionality ? artistry ? accountability on a design. Therefore, it is crucial for instructional designers to revisit the complex nature of/in design (in fact, it is ultimately what instructional designers do!).

Design is a complex activity. Instructional design has some parallels with software design, not the least of which is that both offer many different models for creating detailed specifications for the development, implementation, evaluation, and maintenance of their respective ?products? (that being software and instructional interventions). Furthermore, design is a creative process that requires considerably healthy element of innovation. According to Michael Scharge, ?The most important raw material of innovation has always been the interplay between individuals and the expression of their ideas? (2000, p. 13). The interplay between individuals and expression of their ideas may cause increasing demand where some feel the need to perfect the models, and become more skilled at applying those models (Kenny et al., 2005).

Bichelmayer explicitly expresses that there is growing concern over the lack of focus on the enterprise of instructional design (2006) at the same time as others advocate that instructional design should be emulating software engineering processes even more (Douglas, 2006). As software engineering is in the field of software architect where it poses a question of whether the instruction and learning is preferred to be viewed as ?products?. Nevertheless, what is considered as the most sophisticated product alone will not help learners much if it does not incorporate well-structured principles of instruction and vice versa. Regarding this, it is important to look at the possibility to merge software development practices, instruction, team structure and dynamics that lead to successful end products as well as the process itself - ?presenting a major shift of perspective from the design of instruction to the design of environments and situations that foster learning (Jonassen, Cernusca, & Ionas, 2006). Thus, this occurrence has called for an emerging role of instructional designers to also be software architect in order to answer challenges and demands caused by the advancement of technology in the learning environment.

Likewise, There is reason to believe that many instructional designers spend approximately half their time involved in either original design activities or project management (Cox & Osguthorpe, 2003) so an approach that addresses both activities simultaneously seems promising to also push the boundaries of learning theories and instructional design concept. Miller (as cited in Waters & Gibbons, 2004) strongly urged the instructional designers "to look to other fields, such as chip design or computer programming, to see how notation systems have moved to a higher level of sophistication and, in the process, contributed to the maturation of the technological field as a whole" (p. 67). This urging should apply to software design principles, development practices and methodologies as well.



Two-Sided Role: Instructional Designer and Software Architect

There is clearly room for further development and insight as a response towards these two-sided roles of instructional designer. Through defining and outlining the roles of the software architect and the instructional designer, it should be clear that these roles share strikingly similar characteristics and mutual responsibilities. An instructional designer must perform ongoing formative evaluation with final summative evaluation to produce the right instructional end product where the understanding towards the client's and learner's needs will count for what makes learning tool effective. Similarly, within its other side of software architect role, instructional designer must be able to test the validity of the end-product through ongoing unit testing and final system integration testing prior to shipping in which a solid understanding of the client's and end-user's needs take into an account of what makes for usable software.

In a more specific scope, instructional designer must be able to contrive a general roadmap/blueprint using architecting principles to design, envision and specify the overarching design elements of the software just as well as coming up with an approach to learning that is consistently incorporated and follows sound principles of learning theory and instructional design concepts and develop the blueprint to get there. The skill of being a software architect is undoubtedly needed to more firmly establish professional identity and competence, especially in a learning environment where technology as web and internet has enabled learner to take control of their learning process. Therefore, it is important for instructional designers to take a shifting role ? moving from just designing instruction to create a unified medium where designing instruction and designing interface and system are merged, especially when computer software and hypermedia systems are involved

Nonetheless, there are views contend that instructional designers have not been very open to new alternatives; they have not reassessed the basic foundations or assumptions of the model (Kinen, 2002). One might contend that instructional designers have unique knowledge of instructional methodologies that separate them from the software architect, but how is that different than the generally recognized requirement (Dikel et al., 2002, p. 13; Hohmann, 2003, p. 54; Bredemeyer & Mahan 2000) that software architects must be experts in their domains before they can be considered an architect?

If instructional designers, especially those that deal primarily with producing hypermedia and other computer based instructional materials, really are also software architect, then the instructional technology field as a whole is under the same roof with the software development field, not to mention more or less ignoring what's going on in computer science as a whole. This lack of coexisting awareness has made some parties among instructional designers choose to discard to be called as having the role of software architect only because they think it is limited to the specificity compared to what instructional designer actually does. What is more, Waters and Gibbons (2004) suggest that this is the case as evidenced by our lack of an advanced and elegant notation system and our inattention to notation systems that exist in other fields outside the instructional technology field.






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