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Conflicts and communication: Instructional designer and subject matter experts developing interdisciplinary online healthcare content

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2009
Dissertation
Author: Anadel Castro-Figueroa
Abstract:
The shift from focusing on a single discipline to focusing on multiple disciplines is a challenge for instructional designers who are likely to encounter increased difficulties relating to subject matter experts who are accustomed to working within their individual content areas. This qualitative case study describes the communication conflicts experienced among an instructional designer and three graduate-level faculty members of a higher education institution that prepares students for healthcare professions. Different methods of data collection were utilized including direct observation, interviews, and document analysis as a means of corroborating the study's findings. The guiding research questions focused on determining the main sources of communication conflict experienced by the instructional designer and three subject matter experts, understanding how the instructional design team members handled conflict, and identifying the particular conflict resolution styles employed by the team members. Study findings were consistent with the literature on interpersonal conflict and the use of five conflict resolution styles--avoidance, competition, accommodation, compromise, and collaboration. Specifically, findings revealed 39 common conflicts experienced by the participants. Of the total 39 conflicts, 34 were related to content and 5 were relational in nature. The approach most commonly used by participants to handle conflict during four instructional design (ID) meetings was fractionation. During the first, third, and fourth ID meetings, participants employed the use of fractionation to deal with conflicts. Differentiation was the most common approach employed by participants to handle conflict during the second ID meeting.

vi Table of Contents Acknowledgments iv List of Tables ix List of Figures x CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION 1 Introduction to the Problem 1 Background of the Study 3 Statement of the Problem 4 Purpose of the Study 5 Rationale 5 Research Questions 6 Nature of the Study 6 Significance of the Study 7 Definition of Terms 8 Assumptions and Limitations 8 Organization of the Study 10 CHAPTER 2. LITERATURE REVIEW 12 Instructional System Design 12 Interdisciplinary Learning 18 Relationship Between the Subject Matter Expert and the Instructional Designer 21 Teamwork 26 Nature of Conflict 31 Conflict Management 34

vii Communication 37 Summary 42 CHAPTER 3. METHODOLOGY 43 Introduction 43 Purpose of the Study 43 Research Questions 44 Methodology 44 Target Population and Study Sample 46 Research Site and Study Participants 47 Data Collection 48 Data Analysis 55 Ethical Considerations 58

Summary 58 CHAPTER 4. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS 59 Participant Composition 60 Research Question 1 61 Research Question 2 68 Research Question 3 73 Open Ended Question 84 Summary 85 CHAPTER 5. RESULTS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATIONS 87 Limitations of the Study 87 Study Findings: Discussion and Conclusions 88

viii Recommendations for Instructional Design Teams 99 Recommendation for Future Studies 103 Summary and Final Thought 105

REFERENCES 106 APPENDIX A. OBSERVATION PROTOCOL 114 APPENDIX B. FIELD NOTES PROTOCOL 115 APPENDIX C. INTERVIEW GUIDE 116 APPENDIX D. IMPORTANT CONCEPTS 119 APPENDIX E. DOCUMENT PROTOCOL 120

ix List of Tables Table 1. Personal Attributes of Study Participants 60 Table 2. Issues of Conflict in Meeting 1 64 Table 3. Issues of Conflict in Meeting 2 66 Table 4. Issues of Conflict in Meeting 3 67 Table 5. Issues of Conflict in Meeting 4 68 Table 6. Conflict Resolution Styles Used in First Meeting 75 Table 7. Conflict Resolution Styles Used in Second Meeting 77 Table 8. Conflict Resolution Styles Used in Third Meeting 80 Table 9. Conflict Resolution Styles Used in Fourth Meeting 82 Table 10. Summary of Findings According to Research Questions 85 Table 11. Summary of Interrelationship Between Conflict Styles and the Dimension of Assertiveness and Cooperativeness Among the Participants 96

x List of Figures

Figure 1. Communication approaches used by participants for handling conflict during the first instructional design meeting 70

Figure 2. Communication approaches used by participants for handling conflict during the second instructional design meeting 71

Figure 3. Communication approaches used by participants for handling conflict during the third instructional design meeting 72

Figure 4. Communication approaches used by participants for handling conflict during the fourth instructional design meeting 73

CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION Introduction to the Problem Distance education can be traced back to the early 1800s, having evolved “from correspondence study, to electronic communications, to distance teaching universities” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2003, p. 32). Instructors have taught from a distance via correspondence courses, using printed material that was mailed between the instructor and student. Electronic communications utilized to facilitate distance education include television, videoconferencing, and Web-based instruction, among others. Although the means of delivery have varied, the shared goal, regardless of the media, has been to facilitate learning and development in individuals. Simonson et al. (2003) noted that adults were the original target for distance education offerings, which is the same for today’s programs. The business and education fields have recognized the benefits of distance education to improve and update professional knowledge as well as expand general intellectual abilities among adult learners (Simonson et al., 2003). Distance learning provides adults the opportunity to work in small groups to solve a particular problem or achieve a common goal. Significant learning gains and increased creativity are outcomes of collaborative learning (Johnson & Johnson, 2003). Applying the concept of collaboration to the field of instructional design, it is important that the design and development of content involve a team with a diverse range of skills and talents to

2 successfully complete a project of instructional design. Such diversity creates the need for instructional designers to constantly develop ways to make adjustments within the team in order to balance and manage the challenges of designing distance learning offerings. One of the challenges that instructional designers face today is the development of interdisciplinary content. Nowadays, interdisciplinary content appears to be a fundamental aspect of instructional design and educational technology. Interdisciplinary learning initiatives are proliferating throughout higher education at an unprecedented rate (Creamer & Lattuca, 2005). The shift from focusing in just one discipline to focusing in multiple disciplines represents a new way of thinking about how to prepare individuals to maximally function in contemporary society. This shift involves fostering in learners the capacity to integrate knowledge and develop modes of thinking in order to solve problems, explain new phenomena, and create products. This shift creates a challenge for instructional designers whenever they encounter problems in their relationships with others, particularly with subject matter experts who are accustomed to working in their individual content areas. Ivancevich, Duening, and Konopaske (2002) argued that it is naive to assume that a team of diverse people will immediately bond and become creative producers. The way in which instructional design teams interact while developing learning environments is critical to the success of the project and the effective delivery of the instruction. Communication and conflict management are fundamentals in the design of content because these can affect the quality of the content being developed. For example, a critical step in the instructional design process is to define the knowledge or content

3 applicable to the instructional problem. Therefore, it is important for educational institutions to invest in the development of communication and conflict management skills among instructional designers and subject matter experts in order to effectively manage diversity in instructional design teams for the purpose of developing interdisciplinary content. These fundamentals—communication and conflict management—are central to instructional designers’ ability to be respondent and adaptive to change. By effectively embracing the challenges that change bring, the role of instructional designers will become a more prominent component in the design of the distance learning processes. Background of the Study The instructional designer has the primary responsibility for the design, development, and production of instruction in a systematic manner in order to produce efficient and effective learning (Morrison, Ross, & Kemp, 2004). The designer is central to the project as the person responsible for the content analysis and development of instructional objectives, strategies, assessment, and, in some cases, the development of material. The subject matter expert is responsible for the accuracy of the content, which, too, is a key factor for a successful project Morrison et al. (2004). Each design project has, at least, an instructional designer, a client and a subject matter expert.

In the higher education environment, oftentimes (a) the professor is simultaneously the client, subject matter expert, and instructional designer; (b) the institution or client, instead of hiring an instructional designer as a proactive designer, hires an instructional designer as consultant with a subject matter expert as the leader; or (c) the institution or client hires an instructional designer as the leader of the project, with

4 a professor serving as the subject matter expert. Additionally, the unprecedented proliferation of interdisciplinary learning initiatives within higher education, introduces the challenge of instructional designers working with multiple subject matter experts to synthesize multiple disciplines (Latucca & Creamer, 2005). Consequently, instructional designers and subject matter experts experience interpersonal conflicts in areas such as (a) roles and responsibilities, (b) goal setting, (c) goal actualization, (d) working with unfamiliar content, (e) issues related to policies and procedures, (f) hegemonic power struggles over the superiority of disciplinary paradigms, and (g) communication bottlenecks (Davis, 1997, ¶ 15). In all these areas, communication plays an important role in the interactions between the instructional designer and subject matter experts.

Statement of the Problem “The instructional designer and the subject matter expert play the two most critical roles in an instructional design” (Morrison et al., 2004, p. 354), yet the relationship between these individuals can vary from complementary and collaborative to adversarial because of conflicts. When conflicts are ignored or managed in an incorrect manner, they can grow from a minor disagreement to a major confrontation. Such confrontations can negatively affect processes and aspects of project management such as time, speed of the development, budget, scope, and quality (Martin & Tate, 2001). Interpersonal conflicts among instructional design team members can pose risks for the instructional system design process and the overall project in general. Therefore, it is important to have an understanding of how communications-related conflicts between instructional designers and subject matter experts develop in the development of interdisciplinary content and how these conflicts are best resolved.

5 Purpose of the Study The purpose of this qualitative study was to describe the communication conflicts experienced among an instructional designer and three graduate-level faculty members of a higher education institution in Puerto Rico that prepares students in healthcare professions. Each faculty member served as a subject matter expert in a specific discipline—speech-language pathology, physical therapy, and occupational therapy—on an interdisciplinary instructional design project. The instructional design team (instructional designer and three faculty members) worked on the development of a computer-mediated communication course titled “Interdisciplinary Service Model for Clients with Cerebrovascular Accidents.”

Rationale The literature on the topic of conflict clearly reflects that conflict within teams is not by nature constructive or destructive (Deutsch, 1973). In fact, in many cases conflict may be beneficial if it is managed in an efficient way. Understanding the source of conflict as well as the dynamics of conflict management within heterogeneous teams has the potential to improve team performance and group processes. This understanding also helps identify those required competencies paramount to successfully facing conflict (Easterbook, Beck, Goodlet, Plowman, Sharples, & Wood, 1993). Communication is intrinsic to instructional designers, but it is rarely studied (Nilakanta, 2006). “Misunderstandings, mistrust, and frustration happen in online course development. Unfortunately, there is very little research on it” (Smith, 2003, ¶ 13). Therefore, a gap in the literature exists that this study aims to address. One reason

6 for this gap is that the communication conflicts among instructional designers, subject matter experts, and other members of an instructional design team are rarely discussed (Smith, 2003).

Research Questions The central question that guided this study was ‘How do the instructional designer and three graduate-level faculty subject matter experts of an instructional design team manage communication conflict in the instructional design process?’ The following three questions further defined the focus of this study:

1. What are the main sources of communication conflict experienced by the instructional designer and three graduate-level faculty subject matter experts?

2. How do the instructional designer and three graduate-level faculty subject matter experts handle conflict?

3. What are the conflict resolution styles employed by the instructional designer and three graduate-level faculty subject matter experts?

Nature of the Study

To address the gap in the literature on communication conflicts among instructional designers and subject matter experts, this study employed a qualitative research design. In an attempt to learn more about the central phenomenon— communication conflicts—and thereby improve the practice of instructional design, a qualitative design is appropriate because it implies “a direct concern with experience as it is ‘lived’, or ‘felt’ or ‘undergone’” (Sherman & Webb, 1988, p. 7).

7 Furthermore, the research methodology employed was a descriptive case study. Yin (2003) defined a case study as “an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context, especially when the boundaries between the phenomenon and the context are not clearly evident” (p. 13). A single-case study approach was used to provide a description of the central phenomenon—communication conflicts—as it is experienced in the relationships between the study participants at a university in Puerto Rico that prepares students for careers in the healthcare professions granting degrees at the associate, bachelors, masters, and doctorate levels. This campus of a higher education system in the metropolitan area of Puerto Rico is composed of three dimensions of complementary activities: education, research, and services. It has approximately 623 faculty members and 3,000 students. Significance of the Study The results of this study that described what happens in the design phase of an instructional system design process, specifically focusing on communication conflicts among the instructional designer and an interdisciplinary team of subject matter experts, can contribute to the expansion of the limited body of literature about this subject. The study results can eventually lead to improvements in the instructional design practice. Specifically, this study can lead to improvements in the field of instructional design in the areas of standards and interdisciplinary issues, given that standards have typically emerged from within a single discipline and interdisciplinary content appears to be a fundamental aspect of instructional design and educational technology that needs further investigation (Spector, et al., 2006).

8 Definition of Terms Conflict. “When two or more social entities (i.e., individuals, groups, organizations, and nations) come in contact with one another in attaining their objectives, their relationships may become incompatible or inconsistent” (Rahim, 2001, p. 1). Instructional designer. An instructional designer is “a person responsible for carrying out and coordinating the planning work; competent in managing all aspects of the instructional design process. The instructional designer has the primary responsibility for designing the instruction” (Morrison et al., 2004, p. 19). Interdisciplinary online healthcare content. Computer-mediated communication content for this study that will specifically deal with the subject “Interdisciplinary Service Model for Clients with Cerebrovascular Accidents,” which will be used to study an interdisciplinary group of graduate-level faculty subject matter experts from the disciplines of physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology. Subject matter expert. “A person qualified to provide information about content and resources relating to all aspects of the topics for which instruction is to be designed; responsible for checking accuracy of content treatment in activities, materials, and examinations” (Morrison et al., 2004, p.19). Team. One instructional designer working with three subject matter experts from different content areas: physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology. Assumptions and Limitations It is important to lay out the assumptions that a researcher is making about the study as well as clearly state the limitations of the study. This information is helpful to

9 others who will evaluate the findings of the study and its application to other situations and studies. Assumptions After a thorough review of the literature which emphasizes that conflict is inevitable among humans, this researcher assumed that conflict will occur between the study participants, specifically conflict related to communication. Additionally, the researcher assumed that the participants will act naturally and honestly throughout the study, even though there will be outside observers present during their work-related meetings. Limitations

Limitations were possible weaknesses that might affect a study’s results (Creswell, 2005). Furthermore, in terms of limitations, case studies are often cited as difficult to generalize the findings to other situations (Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2003). The first limitation evident in this single case study relates to the study participants and the content area. The participants include one instructional designer and three graduate-level faculty subject matter experts who specialize in healthcare professions. The faculty members are subject matter experts in specific disciplines— speech-language pathology, physical therapy, and occupational therapy. In addition to the characteristics of the individual participants, this study is further limited by the interdisciplinary nature of the instructional design team. Caution should be used when applying the results of this study to other instructional design teams that are not interdisciplinary in nature.

10 The second limitation of this study was demographic in nature. The research site selected for this study is a higher education institution located in Puerto Rico. Therefore, caution must be used when generalizing findings from this study to institutions of different geographical locations with cultural differences. Lastly, this study was intentionally limited to focus on communication conflicts during the analysis stage of the instructional design process. Due the nature of single case study research, which focuses on time-place specific persons, processes, and outcomes, caution must be used when interpreting the study results and making general applications to other persons and institutions. Organization of the Study This chapter provided an introduction to the study, including background information and the statement of the problem statement being studied. The purpose statement outlined the objectives of the study, and the rationale provided justification for conducting the study. The research questions were presented, and an overview of the research design employed in the study was provided. The significance of the study to the field of instructional design was described, and specific terms used throughout the study were defined. Lastly, the assumptions and limitations specific to this study were discussed. Chapter 2 comprised a review of the literature relative to the study’s topic. The literature review examined the nature of instructional systems design and its evolution. The review also addressed the concept of interdisciplinary learning and teamwork. Other main topics included in the literature review are conflict, communication, and roles and the relationship between the instructional designer and the subject matter expert.

11 Chapter 3 described the study’s research design—qualitative case study. The methodologies specific to a single-case study was presented in detail, including information about the study participants and research site, data collection, and data analysis. In Chapter 4, the data was presented; and in Chapter 5 key findings were summarized and linked to references in the literature. The chapter presents the limitation of the study, and the discussion and conclusions of the findings of the research questions presented. Emergent themes were summarized and practical implications and recommendations for further study were presented.

CHAPTER 2. LITERATURE REVIEW This review of the literature examines the nature of instructional systems design and its evolution. The review also addresses the concept of interdisciplinary learning as well as the relationship between the subject matter expert and the instructional designer. A discussion of teamwork is provided, and the nature of conflict and conflict management styles is provided. Lastly, communication and instructional designer competencies is discussed. Instructional System Design

The terms “systems approach,” “instructional development,” “learning system design,” “competency-based instruction,” “instructional design,” “instructional system design,” have been used over the past four decades ”to describe a systematic approach to the design of instruction,” explained Tozman (2004); they also refer “to the methodical application of a process each and every time the creation of instruction is required” (p. 3). Architectural design provides a good comparison for the importance and value of instructional design. As the architecture that supports a building, instructional design is invisible, but there are clear signs of its existence if individuals know what to look for (Troupin, 2000).

13 Origins of Instructional System Design Much of the foundation of the field of instructional design has been traced to World War II (Dick, 1987). Psychologists and educators as Robert Gagné, Leslie Briggs, John Flanagan and many others with training and experience in conducting experimental research were called upon to conduct research and develop training materials for the military services. The psychologists used their knowledge in evaluation and testing to examine general intellectual, psychomotor, and perceptual skills of candidates who were able to successfully perform the skills taught in specific programs. Based on the results of their examinations, these researchers developed tests that were effective for measuring specific traits for the purpose of screening candidates for various military programs (Dick, 1987). After World War II, organizations such as the American Institute for Research were established to work on solving instructional problems. Psychologists who viewed training as a system were retained by such organizations to develop a number of innovative analysis, design, and evaluation procedures for instruction (Dick, 1987). Significant Developments in the Field What some refer to as a minor revolution in the field of instructional design began with an article authored by B.F. Skinner in 1954, “The Science of Learning and the Art of Teaching.” Skinner (as cited in Reiser, 2001) stated that materials, which he referred to as “programmed instructional materials,” should (a) present instruction in small steps, (b) require overt responses to frequent questions, (c) provide immediate feedback, and (d) allow for leaner self-pacing. Skinner argued that these desired characteristics of instructional material could increase human learning. Skinner’s description of effective

14 instructional materials included many of the steps found in today’s instructional design models, such as data compilation on the effectiveness of the materials, identification of weaknesses, and material revision. Today, instructional designers refer to this process as “formative evaluation.” Three major contributors to early developments in the field of instructional system design were Ralph Tyler, Benjamin Bloom, and Robert Mager. Ralph Tyler, often considered the father of the behavioral objectives movement, wrote: “Each objective must be defined in terms which clarify the kind of behavior which the course should help to develop” (as cited in Walbesser & Eisenberg, 1972). Moreover, Benjamin Bloom and his colleagues developed a classification of instructional objectives according to the type of learning behavior. In their text Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, the authors detailed a hierarchical relationship among the various types of objectives and learning outcomes (Bloom, Engelhart, Furst, Hill, & Krathwohl, 1956). Robert Mager (1962) has also been recognized for interesting developments in the history of instructional system design as it relates to the use of objectives. Mager’s text Preparing Objectives for Programmed Instruction detailed the process for writing instructional objectives. His descriptive process focused on three components: (a) desired learner behaviors, (b) conditions under which the behaviors are to be performed, and (c) criteria or standards to be judged. Criterion-referenced testing is intended to measure how well an individual can perform a particular behavior, regardless of how well other persons perform the same behavior. This important form of testing, which was an important development in the

15 instructional design process, emerged in the 1960s. However, in 1932 Tyler had already mentioned that tests could be used for this purpose (Dale, 1967). Furthermore, Robert Glaser (1963) was the first to use the term criterion-referenced measures. Gagné’s (1965) publication The Conditions of Learning had a significant impact on the development of instructional system design. Gagné described five domains of learning outcomes: verbal information, intellectual skills, psychomotor skills, attitudes; and, cognitive strategies. He also described nine instructional events essential for promoting the attainment of any type of learning outcome. The nine events are: gain attention; inform learner of objective; recall prior knowledge; present material; provide guided learning; elicit performance; provide feedback; assess performance; and, enhance retention and transfer. These five learning outcomes and nine instructional events remain cornerstones of today’s instructional design practices. Gagné’s other contributions are in the area of learning hierarchies and hierarchical analysis, known today as task analysis. Task analysis stresses the importance that instruction should be designed to ensure that learners acquire subordinate skills before attempting to acquire superordinate skills. Educators such as Arthur Lumsdaine, Mark May, and C. R. Carpenter described procedures for evaluating instructional material during the 1940s and 1950s. However, it was until the mid-1960s, when materials developed with U.S. government funds aimed at improving math and science education were examined, that it was revealed that these evaluation methods were not particularly effective (Cambre, 1981). Scriven (1991) pointed out the need to first pilot drafts of these instructional materials with learners prior to the finalization of their form. Scriven referred to this process as “formative evaluation,” which contrasted with what he labeled “summative evaluation.” Summative

16 evaluation involves the testing of the instructional materials in their final form. These two evaluative techniques are much like the formative and summative evaluations generally prescribed today. Instructional System Models Instructional design concepts were being developed into practical applications— task analysis, objective specification, and criterion-referenced testing—during the mid- 1960s within various sectors. The linking of these applications resulted in the formation of specific “models or processes for systematically designing instructional material” (Reiser, 2001, p.61). These systematic processes were further developed during the 1970s as interest in the instructional design process flourished in various sectors, including the United States military. Moreover, this growing interest in instructional design guided the development of thousands of training materials (Dick, 1987). This development of materials transpired during the first half of the decade in academia with the development of centers to help faculty members use media and instructional design processes to improve the quality of their instruction (Gaff, 1975). Soon thereafter, business and industry sectors recognized the value of using instructional design practices to improve the market (Miles, 1983). Like U.S. businesses, businesses in South Korea, Liberia, and Indonesia began using instructional design methods and models to solve instructional problems (Chadwick, 1986). More than 40 instructional design models were identified by the end of the decades of the 1980s and 1990s (Andrews & Goodson, 1980). Although the specific combination of procedures often varies from one model to the next, instructional system design must include five phases: analysis, design, development, implementation, and

Full document contains 132 pages
Abstract: The shift from focusing on a single discipline to focusing on multiple disciplines is a challenge for instructional designers who are likely to encounter increased difficulties relating to subject matter experts who are accustomed to working within their individual content areas. This qualitative case study describes the communication conflicts experienced among an instructional designer and three graduate-level faculty members of a higher education institution that prepares students for healthcare professions. Different methods of data collection were utilized including direct observation, interviews, and document analysis as a means of corroborating the study's findings. The guiding research questions focused on determining the main sources of communication conflict experienced by the instructional designer and three subject matter experts, understanding how the instructional design team members handled conflict, and identifying the particular conflict resolution styles employed by the team members. Study findings were consistent with the literature on interpersonal conflict and the use of five conflict resolution styles--avoidance, competition, accommodation, compromise, and collaboration. Specifically, findings revealed 39 common conflicts experienced by the participants. Of the total 39 conflicts, 34 were related to content and 5 were relational in nature. The approach most commonly used by participants to handle conflict during four instructional design (ID) meetings was fractionation. During the first, third, and fourth ID meetings, participants employed the use of fractionation to deal with conflicts. Differentiation was the most common approach employed by participants to handle conflict during the second ID meeting.