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Designing courses to help navigate COVID-19

Shannon Perry works on her laptop.
Shannon Perry works on her laptop in the Office of Research. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski/UGA)

Shannon Perry helped create and launch several pandemic-related classes

Perhaps the best way to describe Shannon Perry’s job is that she is kind of like a house stager, but with information. As an instructional designer in the office of Research Integrity & Safety Support Services, Perry receives facts, data and other material from an expert or experts and turns it into an instructional course. It’s all the same information but gussied up for maximum impact.

Perry starts by getting a PowerPoint or document. “I sift through it, pull out important points, figure out how to condense or reword it as clearly as possible. I arrange it so that there’s a logical flow to the ideas, always keeping in mind how a learner or a novice to this information would perceive the flow of information,” said Perry. From there she adds some multimedia components to it like visuals and voiceovers.

“I’m always thinking about how to make trainings accessible and convenient for diverse kinds of learners,” said Perry. Drawing on learning theory, she makes sure to include — or exclude — elements for visual and auditory learners. “I try not to overwhelm learners by using too many on-screen words, for example, or by having too much going on.”

Since the pandemic, Perry has added COVID-related material to her roster, working on and helping launch several UGA-wide courses including Protect UGA: COVID-19 Required Training for Faculty and Staff, COVID-19 On-Boarding Training for New UGA Faculty and Staff, and Faculty and Staff Travel: COVID-19 Required Training.

Shannon Perry standing on a bridge on campus.

Shannon Perry (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski/UGA)

Translating a large amount of new material for her audiences wasn’t daunting to Perry because she’s learned how to create courses on subject matters that are wholly new to her.

“I come from a humanities and education and social science background,” said Perry, who has a B.A. in English and English education from UGA, a master’s in anthropology from Appalachian State and is currently working on a doctoral degree in Learning, Leadership, and Organization Development at UGA. “When I joined the Office of Research, I knew next to nothing about the subject matter. It was a completely different language. My colleagues are, essentially, scientists, chemists, biosafety and animal care experts, and people who are really steeped in the language of legal regulations. So I’m constantly learning. That’s the nice thing about my job – I have subject matter experts who I can lean on and ask questions. I come with the learning theory, ability to edit, an aesthetic sensibility and some technological know-how.”

Perry sees her job as a way to be behind-the-scenes but have a wide impact across campus. “The field of instructional design, and especially eLearning, is constantly changing as software and technology changes along with people’s expectations for what constitutes a quality online experience. I really love that the skill of lifelong learning is baked into this job,” said Perry. “I have to constantly learn and relearn, try out new skills, and push projects through many messy iterations in order to see what new, more beautiful experience or product I am able to create. I find that process of experimentation deeply fulfilling.”