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Take Five: Q&A with Becca Verna

January 31, 2013

An instructional designer with ASU Online, Becca Verna enjoys the variety handed to her each day in her job. She says the best course she ever designed was one that included a game feature. And when it comes to Nia dance fitness, she doesn’t just take the classes – she teaches them.

Verna has worked for the university on the SkySong campus since March 2012.

1. How long has ASU Online been around, and what direction do you see online learning taking in the next five to 10 years?  

In its current form, ASU Online has been around since late 2009. In that time, we’ve increased the number of fully online degree programs from six to 60 and the number of fully online students from a few hundred to about 7,500.

We’re reaching large numbers of adults who have not yet earned their four-year degree, and we’re providing them access – without constraint – to everything that a great research university like ASU has to offer. That means faculty who are actually involved in knowledge creation and knowledge synthesis, high-quality course design and cutting edge learning technologies. It’s powerful. And, for me, it’s part of what makes coming to work every day so exciting.

In my area, we provide faculty with a number of resources and workshops for teaching online. We’re also constantly testing emerging learning technologies, talking with ed tech innovators and working with leading education companies, all of which enables our team to provide faculty with the best possible instructional design support.

I am especially interested in data-driven, adaptive technologies that customize student-learning experiences based on interaction with online course material, and how these strategies will play out in five to 10 years. I’m also excited for future evolutions of learning management systems that offer integrated educational media and user-friendly course design tools. Match such systems with adaptive strategies and ed techs as appropriate, and educators and students can look forward to even more dynamic, interactive, tailor-made online learning experiences.

2. What is your favorite part about your job?

The variety! Each day is different. One day I might help a faculty member design a master’s course in taboo texts; the next I’m posing as an extra in an educational video. I can’t play favorites because I also love the people. Our staff and faculty are creative, sharp, and make work fun. Our passion for and belief in quality online education is apparent; we all care about what we do, so we do it well.

3. What tips would you offer faculty in designing an online course? Likewise, what tips would you offer students in taking one?

The best tip I can give to a faculty member is to take the time to do it well. Design is a wholly creative process; like painting a landscape, a course reveals itself to you as you create it. Give yourself the time flexibility to become inspired as you organize your course; ideas will arise – but can they be implemented? If the time is there, the answer probably is “yes.”  

For students: show up, participate, ask questions and get involved. Make connections with classmates and your instructor. Use that course calendar to plan ahead. Minimize distractions (which really do depress learning). If something’s not working for you, say so in the course survey. We care about your experience!

4. What was the best online course that you either took or helped design?

I’m most proud of a game feature I recently added to a film course originally created by Steve Beatty and instructional designer Tracy Smith. With input from instructional design manager Tahnja Wilson, Dr. Beatty and I “gamified” the course using a native function of our LearningStudio platform. As students work through readings and videos, they encounter related, yet simple and optional quiz questions. When answered correctly, those questions unlock media-rich study clues that hint at questions students will find on midterms and final exams. The questions and clues, which have a game-like look and feel, are simultaneously spot-checking understanding and providing a learning edge for the students who use them (because again, it’s optional). We will be evaluating the impact of this feature, if any, on student performance within select courses this spring.

5. When you're not at ASU, where are you most likely to be found?

You can find me teaching a Nia dance fitness class in Tempe or Scottsdale. Though it’s a lesser-known style, I’ve danced Nia since 2008 and in December 2012 began teaching it locally. It’s a fusion dance method combining dance arts, martial arts, and healing arts. It’s very mind-body-spirit centered, and it’s a lot of fun. It keeps me dancing through life!