Meet Our Product Advisory Board: How Justin Allison Uses Education and Technology in Instructional Design

Written by: Gabe Fink

Since the beginning of his higher education career, Justin Allison, who has positions as adjunct instructor and instructional designer, has used technology inside and outside the classroom. He believes effectively using courseware depends on understanding the needs of faculty and students from an instructional design standpoint, so his approach is to help other faculty navigate their options to create meaningful student experiences. 

In addition to exploring ways to implement innovative new learning technologies, Allison says one of his favorite parts of instructional design is the variety. “I find it valuable to have that teaching experience to advise faculty in addition to the technical side,” he says. “There’s never a dull moment. Instructional design roles at different institutions can vary, but you really are catering to the needs of your institution. There’s always an opportunity to learn something new.”

Allison’s PhD work was in instructional systems and workforce development, and his current roles include online instructor in computer science at Jackson State University and Landmark College and instructional designer for the sourcing firm Dynamic Campus, assigned to Assumption University in Massachusetts. He also serves on the advisory committee for the cross-institutional peer mentoring program ID2ID for EDUCAUSE

Now Allison is adding a new role contributing to the field as a member of the CourseGateway Product Advisory Board, where he will bring his combined faculty and instructional design perspective to evaluating courseware.

Integrating interests

Allison says his enthusiasm for technology started early. “If you think about the nineties, when households were just getting computers, I was the person on the computer trying to troubleshoot and figure things out.”

Meanwhile Allison’s family upbringing fostered a passion for learning. The marriage of interests in technology and education has informed his approach to instructional design. At Assumption he sees his role as blending technical proficiency and pedagogical theory to create unique student experiences. 

“Instructional design brings two of my passions together in a way I love,” he says. “I’m able to work with faculty, work with students, and work with staff to serve and support them.”

Allison works frequently with the products that appear on the CourseGateway discovery tool—both as an instructor and in helping faculty implement them in their courses—and says the advisory role “is a good match. I’ve used the technology, and I’ve provided advice on the pros and cons. I thought that this would be a great opportunity for me to learn more about what's out there and to provide my services.”

Integrating instructional design

As more institutions employ and use instructional designers, Allison has seen a variety of approaches to building relationships between those professionals and faculty. 

“I’ve seen some institutions that are more streamlined, where the instructor comes in and they’re more like a facilitator,” he says. “The instructor is told what to do. Everything is set up for you, and you may not even have real interactions with the instructional designer. The faculty doesn’t even necessarily know an instructional designer is there. This is especially true for adjunct faculty.”

Other institutions nurture a more collaborative approach to co-developing and improving courses. Allison’s experience has led him to believe that collaboration can only happen if the instructor has confidence in the communication about the complicated or unfamiliar technology. He thinks a lot about making the technology accessible by making conversations about it accessible.

“It’s a balance,” he says. “I’m trying not to be just this technical person using all this jargon about the code, but also breaking it down in a way they can understand.”

One communication strategy Allison uses is to mirror and conform to the language faculty are using, even if it’s not technically accurate. For example, he may get a request from a faculty member about what instructional designers would call the “course instance” in the LMS—the version created for a particular section during a particular semester.

“But faculty may call it a site or a page or whatever,” he says. “I’ll reuse their language to let them know, ‘I’m there with you.’ It may seem small, but it does make a difference. It speaks to my goal of trying to relate to the faculty and the students and meet them where they are.”

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