Unlocking Online Student Engagement Through Collaborative Instructional Design

January 29, 2021
By China Llanos and Whitney Stewart

An online classroom can seem two-dimensional, but the connections Penn Vet professor Dr. Meghann Pierdon and instructional designer May Truong-Merritt foster with students virtually remain as tangible as ever.

Building an online course certainly has its challenges, but when this pair tackles them together, the resulting learning experience is, as one former student stated, “interactive, educational, and fun!”

“The [online learning experience] is interactive, educational, and fun!”

For Dr. Pierson and May, collaboration is essential to delivering elevated educational experiences for students online and in the classroom.

Dr. Pierdon leverages her rich Masters course material and instructional expertise to build the foundation. May, in turn, provides insight related to online learning strategies, and utilizes her user experience design and videography skill sets to help enhance the structure of the course. These contributions in concert empower Dr. Pierdon to push the boundaries of what’s possible for student engagement in the online learning space.

“These contributions in concert empower Dr. Pierdon to push the boundaries of what’s possible for student engagement in the online learning space.”

They both maintain that course components like synchronous sessions, which allow instructors and students to meet for discussions virtually, “bring the course to life” and create the sort of classroom intimacy that can be difficult to capture in an online environment.

Summarizing student feedback, May notes that classroom interactions have been maintained, and even become more dynamic, than in a traditional in-person environment.

May beams as she describes her role in creating this online environment as an instructional designer, “It’s exciting, because everyday presents a unique challenge to solve. There’s never a dull moment!”

“Everyday presents a unique challenge to solve. There’s never a dull moment!”

By wearing so many hats, May plays a pivotal role in developing a dynamic, enjoyable, and highly interactive environment for online learners. May explains, "As online learning requires a lot of self-management, this type of dynamic works encourages students to remain fully engaged and empowers them to ask more thought-provoking questions.”Dr. Pierdon couldn’t agree more.

Dr. Pierdon asserts that teaching an online course and working with an instructional designer has pushed her to be more conscientious about accessibility and the structure of her content, even for her in-person lessons.

She reflects, “It’s made me rethink how I teach everything.”

“It’s made me rethink how I teach everything."

May & Meghann Zoom