SPOTLIGHT: Philip Doughty, Pr. Emeritus {VIDEO}

Philip DoughtyIn our first faculty spotlight, IDD&E doctoral student Yuri Pavlov visited Philip Doughty.  Philip Doughty is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Instructional Design, Development, and Evaluation at Syracuse University. After his retirement in 2008, Phil has been a welcome guest for the students of the IDE 712 class every year. In this interview, Phil shares his insights on the intricacies of human performance technology and unlikely solutions that instructional designers have to come up with frequently as part of their profession, some of the highlights of his own career, and a general view on what it means to be an instructional designer.



Born: Fayette (Iowa), 17 February 1941

Education: M.S. Education Administration, B.S. Social Science (Kansas University, 1965)

Ph.D. Instructional and Administrative Systems (Florida State University, 1972)

Favorite book: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (R.M. Pirsig)

Work ethics (in his own words): tolerant, passionate, celebrating diversity and ambiguity

In this video Phil answers questions in an interview conducted with him on April 22, 2017. 

Phil Doughty was at the helm of the IDD&E department at Syracuse University for more than twenty years over the course of his career. He joined Syracuse University in 1972 and by the time of his retirement in 2008, he had a staggering list of successful projects all over the world—fifteen years of projects in Iran and Indonesia, smaller yet no less impactful projects in Central and Latin America as well as Europe, let alone his consultancy work all throughout the U.S. He worked with the military, government, business firms, educational departments, medical schools, UNESCO, World Bank, USAID.

Phil promised his wife to stay in Syracuse for just two years.
That was fifty years ago.

A student of Robert Gagné, Leslie Briggs, and Robert Stakenas at Florida State University, Phil came to Syracuse as an instructional systems professor, promising “my wife to be here for two years.” That was fifty years ago, and he never went any place else. His determination dovetailed with the flexibility and tolerance of Syracuse University. He designed an array of IDE core courses such as IDE 712 Front-End Analysis and IDE 632 Instructional Design (the big picture). The latter, he admits, in many ways came out of Briggs’s classes that emphasized models and systems thinking. “The Florida State model was what I wanted to emulate at Syracuse,” he says. The time and environment was just right for this—the department welcomed an influx of instructional designers and their expertise around the late 1960s–early 1970s: Dennis Gooler, Charles Reigeluth, John Keller, Robert Diamond, and others.

Phil took an active role in the heated discussions regarding the name of the department. In 1978, the name was changed from “Instructional Technology” to “Instructional Design, Development, and Evaluation.” Phil recalls:

It was a long-term conversation. At the time, people thought of technology as overhead and movie projectors. We wanted to change the focus from the concept of instructional technology to describing what graduates actually do. The bottom line was, you have to design, develop, and evaluate—not always in that order, maybe you evaluate first and work on the front end. The name could’ve been Instructional Design and Evaluation or Instructional Development and Evaluation—it was a huge discussion what was “design” and what was “development.” We didn’t want to fight this battle. So, we ended up with this bubbled-up name for the program that nobody else has.

Phil's alpacas
Phil’s alpacas on his farm

I would call Phil a happy man living his life to the full. Today he serves as a Professor Emeritus at Syracuse University, plays tennis several times a week, travels to Maryland to visit his children. “My wife and I have three kids. In my garage, I have a Porsche Carrera and a Rolls-Royce. In the shed, I have a Porsche. I have a Bugeye underway. We have two camps on Oneida Lake with wave runners, jet skis, canoes, kayaks, and sailboats. Think of the fun of winterizing and storing all those machines.” He also knows the joys of farming and pet care with seven alpacas, fifteen chickens, three dogs, and a cat.



Interview Q & A

Philip Doughty is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Instructional Design, Development, and Evaluation at Syracuse University. After his retirement in 2008, Phil has been a welcome guest for the students of the IDE 712 class every year. In this interview, Phil shares his insights on the intricacies of human performance technology and unlikely solutions that instructional designers have to come up with frequently as part of their profession, some of the highlights of his own career, and a general view on what it means to be an instructional designer.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Q: How did you become an instructional designer?

A: After earning my master’s from Kansas University, I married and moved with my wife to Monterey, California, to teach social science at a high school for a couple of years. In 1967, we went to Monmouth, Oregon, where I joined the Teaching Research Division of the Oregon State System of Higher Education as a research assistant. That organization was a member of a multiple-program association called the Instructional Development Institute (IDI).[1] That was my first, high-speed, and great introduction to the field. In Oregon, we were just starting to talk about the systems approach to instruction, models, applied educational psychology. We didn’t call it instructional systems, but I had a pretty good dose of it before I went to Tallahassee, Florida, for my doctoral studies.

Q: What did you learn there in Oregon?

A: We did multiple projects. For instance, I learned all you would ever want to know about dentistry. We developed programmed-instruction materials on the West Coast about dental anatomy—a course and a manual. We pilot-tested it with all the dental schools and then built criterion-referenced tests around it. The lingo of our field wasn’t established yet, but we thought, “Well, if a student’s going to master it, let’s call it mastery.” Interestingly, now the dentistry vocabulary has changed considerably, so I would come to the dentist and say mesiofacial, distofacial, etc., and the dentist would say, “No-no, it’s tooth number one, tooth number two.”  It was just one project out of the many. All my career, I had multiple projects all the time—even when I was a dean at Syracuse University.

One project was very interesting. I worked with a retired superintendent of schools in Ohio. He was then in his eighties and knew everybody in the country in education. He was not only a good politician but also a good academician. I was his assistant, and we went around to all the state departments of education in the country to talk about planned change. The ultimate goal of the IDI was to create teams in school districts where media specialists, librarians, content specialists, and administrators would work together to do a good job instructing. It was all about leadership and management development for educational institutions. What I learned there was that to multiply your chances for success, you must have such contacts and trust as my supervisor had. He was ideally suited to run this program. For me, that was also an introduction to educational and instructional politics, organizational change, and planned change through instructional design.

Q: What’s the project you are most proud of?

A:  I spent a lot of years in Indonesia doing instructional design, working on contracts and proposals. So once the Indonesian government borrowed a bunch of money from the U.S. State Department to invest in technology at the university, school, and organizational levels—facilities, equipment, materials. But their libraries were terrible. We said, “We can help you with libraries.” Part of the reason their libraries were a problem was that they had extremely close security and screening which kept a lot of books out. We went to the U.S. embassy in Jakarta and said that we would like them to help us build libraries in Indonesia. In order to do that, we had to bypass the censors and everybody who wanted extra money for getting books in. Our plan was to take orders for all kinds of books, ship them to the State Department in Washington, D.C., have them put labels on the covers saying “Supplied by U.S. State Department”. The U.S. side put the labels on books and shipped them to the embassy in Jakarta. They sent them in mail pouches—literally, in rooms full of books. We only had to pay shipping to Washington. They provided the rest of the shipping and got all the credit. Every book had a note “USAID sponsored.” Good for them, and we solved the problem. I went back to Syracuse in 2007 and took credit for all of it. But of course, this project involved a hundred other people.

Q: This project clearly shows that the solution had nothing to do with instruction. Is this part of what instructional designers do?

A: [Laughs] That’s the point. If you only think narrowly about instructional design, you’re going to miss the boat and not make the change you are ought to make. You can do a great job within only instructional design and not make any difference at all. Or you can do a great job within only staff development and have no impact. We have to think of all three major sources of interventions: PD, ID, OD—professional development, instructional design and development, organizational development. When you do the front-end analysis, most of the time you figure out that the problem is more than one of those parts.

Q: My impression is that instructional designers can and should highlight these non-instructional solutions to the clients, but they may not have the power to solve them.

A: Error! If you want to make a change, you have to have skills in all those areas. In my tenure, we had courses in organizational change and performance engineering. I designed several courses around this three-part problem-solving scheme: front-end analysis (712), cost-effectiveness in instruction and training (743), training/HRD in business and industry (752), performance improvement (762), program management and HPT (660). You start with human performance technology—with evaluation, needs assessment, documentation review and whatnot. You figure out the problem and causes and—oh by the way—the interventions then are PD, ID, OD. You should have enough power to be able to solve those problems and have good team members to work with.

Q: Is there a place for fear and uncertainty in the instructional designer’s job regarding the proposed solution?

A:  If you do a good job on the front end, get good evidence of the problem and the reason for it, provide good rationale for the solutions, then there shouldn’t be any place for uncertainty. You go to the client and say, “Alright, here’s the deal.” They don’t buy your plan? Either you haven’t presented it very well or the client doesn’t want to hear it. That’s why the front-end analysis is so important.

Q: When the client wants a cheaper solution, where is the line for instructional designers to stop compromising?

A:  I usually try not to back off. Instructional design is creative problem solving, going too cheap may just be a short-term remedy. Part of the solution is to ask who else can pay. Part of it is to reallocate resources. Part of it is to find a counterintuitive answer. Does money come from one source or multiple sources? How can you reallocate money from maybe training development to staff development? Who else will take part in the planned change? For example, I worked on a project for the U.S. Bureau of the Census. They did a lot of training and staff development. Retired military had special privileges to get into the job faster than other folks. So, the Bureau of the Census trained those retired military guys, assigned them to jobs, but some of them soon quit. They didn’t like it or thought they liked it but in fact didn’t. We suggested that the military privileges be revoked, but it was impossible. So, their problem was “we don’t have money and we can’t change the national policy for ex-military.” But they wanted a solution. We suggested changing the process: before training, put everyone interested in the job as interns with senior service people. Have them go and see the job, practice sitting in the car waiting for people to come home, knocking on their doors, getting the required information. If after they see how some assigned households want or refuse to cooperate and react to questions such as “how many undocumented aliens live in this house?” or “who’s working and who’s not?”, the military folks who want the job, then invest in their training. Needless to say, that saved a whole lot of money for the Bureau of the Census.

Q: Was there a project which taught you important lessons about the instructional designer’s job ethics?

A:  In one of my first projects here in Syracuse, I learned to be cognizant of the politics of the organization in which you work. I worked with the Syracuse Center for Handicapped and Retarded People, where my lead, who was one of the board members, had a clear idea of how their problem of quality control and quality assurance could be solved with instructional systems. I interviewed employees there, figured out what had to be done, and then had to present my evidence as to why this organization had problems. I gave the final report to my lead who sent it out to the board without reading it. On the next day, the board had to discuss the proposal. In it, I had noted that the head quality control and quality assurance person (a woman) was cohabitating with the director of operations for the institution. I proposed to either change the body or change organizational structure, because no amount of training and staff development could fix their problem. The board didn’t know about the affair before my report. The meeting was awful. The woman went ballistic. I wasn’t invited back anymore to close the case. Was this piece of information a huge source of the problem? Yes. But I didn’t have to put it in the report, there could’ve been a dozen other ways to do it. I was very naïve about institutional politics and naïve to put that source of the problem in that form in the report. Their problem eventually got fixed, but without me.

Q: Did other schools try to recruit you and convince to leave Syracuse?

A:  Yes. More important than the salary was the flexibility and support that I got from Syracuse University to do what we in the IDD&E department wanted to do, which was to run the Contract Research and Development (R&D) organization along with the academic program. Think of an outside consulting firm doing research and development, only we were a contract R&D firm inside the university. This arrangement provided many opportunities for student project work. Other institutions allowed you to do some kind of extra work, but not like at Syracuse.

Q: What qualities define a good instructional designer?

A:  Perseverance, persistence, tenacity. You also have to be honest and dedicated, do the right thing and do it right, be truthful and not too defensive.

Q: Looking back at your career, how would you evaluate it?

A:  I did the best I could, and tenure kept me from being fired.

For more information about IDI, please refer to this short article as of 1973 here:

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