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What I do


I love to ask people what they do for a living. They inevitably give me their job title, but that doesn’t really tell me what they do. I’ve been teaching for the last seven years, so I didn’t really need to explain a whole lot. (Although there is a lot more to it than “teaching”.)

Now I find myself working as an instructional designer on a video game for learning. But what is it that I do?

Imagine a house is being built – a very large, fancy mansion. There are three key people involved in this process – the owner, the architect, and the builder. The owner knows exactly what the house has to have to satisfy his or her needs, the architect develops specifications based on those needs and the builder, well, builds it.

The owner in this scenario is what we call a “Subject Matter Expert”. That is, they know everything there is to know about the subject. That subject could be anything from the arid lands of central Africa to the zeitgeist of post-war Zurich. You can become a SME in just about anything. And you should, you never know when it will be useful.

I’m the architect in this scenario - I know how to teach stuff. It’s more than just “telling” someone something, although we’ve all been the victim of poor instruction. The architect of this “house” has to check all the angles, so to speak, from the first shovel full of dirt to handing over the keys. A well-designed house is as desirable as an effective learning experience.

The builder is, of course, the 3D team. They are the magicians who bring the entire thing to life. Every time I enter the virtual spaces that they’ve created I’m amazed at their omniscience and art. The mirrors reflect, the shadows fall, the kitchen towel has an old coffee stain upon it. I have no idea how they do what they do, but if I could make a career change this would have to be it.

What makes my current position challenging is that for the last year there has only been a builder, with no specific owner in mind. No one ever really looked at this “house” to see if it would pass inspection. The house has been partially built without blueprints, and now I, working backwards, must draw up those plans. I have to accommodate for the difficult work that’s already been done while both enhancing it and planning for the future.

It is no surprise to me that anything challenging has the ability to be equally rewarding. I could offer you a list of students who have proven that to me year after year. And so it is with building this “house”, which is really a 3D simulation video game that trains people to lead healthier and safer lives.


Hi, Katie!

Coming into a project midstream is a challenge in the best of situations. I was the ID on a game a number of years ago, but I got lucky and was brought in from the start.

The architect analogy is spot-on (I've used it for years.) I might suggest, though, that the owner isn't the SME. The owner is the learner. The SME is only a stand-in for the learner.

SME often forget what it's like not to know the content forward and backward. They often overlook critical little details (case in point, the Washington office building built in the early 70's ... without bathrooms). The ID in most cases has to fill in the gaps, to stand in for the learner on the other end - the clueless end. I often describe my role as, "I ask dumb questions."

When you build without a plan, it's kind of like giving kids a pile of scrap lumber, a coffee can full of rusty nails, and a hammer. They can have a heck of a good time building a very fine clubhouse.

It's a great place to hang out...until it starts sleeting.

Thanks so much for the feedback, and the very insightful corrections. I think you are right, the SME isn't best classified as the owner.

I'm looking forward to this new venture in instructional design and need all the help I can get!

What an exciting project! Thank you for sharing the building analogy.

I was struck by the discussion of the 3-D builders as "magicians." I think, for me, this is part of the appeal of bringing students into virtual worlds that allow for creative 3-D building. It lets them in on a little of that magic, which may be an integral part of their futures.

It is fascinating to see student-created products go from text-only essays and reports, to things like podcasts, videos, and websites, and now to 3-D immersive environments. I hope that schools will start taking more advantage of this technology so that students can not only play immersive games, but create their own.

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Recent Comments

  • Laura: What an exciting project! Thank you for sharing the building read more
  • Katie Hanifin: Corrie, Thanks so much for the feedback, and the very read more
  • Corrie Bergeron: Hi, Katie! Coming into a project midstream is a challenge read more



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