Instructional Designers Creating an Online Experience for Students

Adam Peterson, senior instructional designer at eVersity, and his team are changing the way online courses are delivered.

Building the state’s only 100 percent-online university from the ground up has allowed the University of Arkansas System eVersity to rethink the way courses are presented. 

Building the state’s only 100 percent-online university from the ground up has allowed the University of Arkansas System eVersity to not only rethink barriers keeping students from enrolling and being able to afford it, but also the way courses are developed and presented to students.

The instructional design team at eVersity is working in full force developing courses to make them available for its quickly growing enrollment since launching in September 2015. Members of the team are paired with faculty members across the University of Arkansas System to create high-quality, state-of-the-art courses that not only grab students’ attention, but present coursework in such a way that sets them up for future success. Adam Peterson, senior instructional designer at eVersity, said first-rate instructional design is paramount to student engagement in online learning.

“Quality instructional design can make learning happen quicker and more efficiently,” Peterson said. “In the online space, that’s why students are there, to squeeze in classwork around their schedule and to try to make the most of their time. So with each class, we’re faced with the challenge of finding the right mix of ways to streamline the most information we can and present it in a way that students will best be able to absorb it.”

Peterson is currently working with Jennifer Miller, Ph.D., a faculty member at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, to develop a corrections course within eVersity’s Criminal Justice degree program.

“When I first meet with my faculty course developers, I try to get an idea of the story they’re trying to share with the students,” Peterson said.  “What’s the course narrative? Where does the story begin and where does it end? The power of narrative has been proven to help people learn in ways traditional methods cannot.”

As a designer, Peterson said, getting a feel for where the content is going allows him to start to see how the duo can take the course to the next level.

“When I first started working with Dr. Miller, we discussed the roadmap for the course and she discussed how she wanted to show every step of the corrections process to the students,” Peterson said. “This initially triggered a thought of having the students see a story play out through each week.”

For example, the student would get “arrested” the first week of the course and make their way through the corrections process each week, all the while learning the ins and outs of the process.

“After discussing different ideas, Dr. Miller came up with the idea of each student selecting a real prisoner from a database and letting that person act as the student’s ‘avatar’ as they go through the corrections process,” he said. “Using the content the students learned throughout the week, they use their prisoner to build a presentation showing their journey. This allows the student to see a beginning, middle, and an end. Just as a cliffhanger in your favorite TV show, it makes the student want to continue on to see what happens next.”

This is just one example of how the instructional design team, led by Harriet Watkins, director of online learning at eVersity, is working to develop high-quality coursework across the new online university’s five programs of study.

“Our goal as instructional designers is to develop innovative online courses and faculty development programs,” Watkins said. “We want to ensure that we have engaging courses that bring real-world relevance to our students, and to make the tough choice of coming back to school a rewarding experience.”