38 Programs, 1 Design: Building Accelerated Custom Courses Utilizing Universal Design.

Concurrent Session 7

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

By utilizing templates and the principles of Universal Design for Learning for throughout online programs, we help students easily navigate our online courses in the accelerated online environment. This approach guarantees consistency for learners in the online modality, as well as delivering high-quality courses that are ADA compliant.


TommyShawn is just your average computer nerd who occasionally runs 60 miles. His entire professional life has been spent in higher education where he became a self-taught instructional designer. While working as an Instructional Technology Support Specialist at a small community college TommyShawn received his Master’s in Computer and Information Science. Shortly after finishing his Master’s degree he was offered a position as an Instructional Designer at Arkansas State University working with the 100% online programs. When he has time, he enjoys traveling, ultra-running, fitness, and triathlons.
Instructional designer at Arkansas State University. Interests include research, data analysis, and online delivery of new technologies. Gustavo loves to travel and to try different kinds of foods from around the world.

Extended Abstract

A-State Online launched in 2008 with the sole purpose of focusing on the growth of online programs that our traditional students could not take. We initially started with 1 program in 2008 that begun with 3 courses and had 143 students. Currently, we support 38 programs, 380+ courses per year, and over 140 faculties. We currently have over 4,500+ students attending our online programs. The main challenge we faced with the rapid growth of our online programs was to ensure that our courses are designed in a way that not only promoted student learning and engagement but also making the design easy to follow for instructors to build their courses.

Since our enrollment is growing at such an accelerated rate and we have more than 4,500 students from 46 states it was important to us to make our course both easily navigable. Since no student is the same we wanted to ensure that all our students were getting the same online learning experience no matter what challenges they may face. We found that the traditional online courses that did not fall under our department's umbrella were often confusing when it came to navigation and would result in students dropping the course due to this. Even though each of the programs we offer is very different, they all follow the same design ensuring students are less likely to get lost in their online course.  For the programs that fall under our department, we implemented a template across the board for our programs. We found that making all the courses consistent when it came to course menu and navigation greatly reduced the stress and anxiety students would often face in an online course. With our courses being fast-paced 7-week, there simply was no time for students to have anxiety about how to navigate their course.

For every program they all consist of the same default menu regardless if you’re enrolling in a Nursing course or a Political Science course while the content is going to be very different your side menu to navigate through the course would be the same. A glimpse at our side menu:

Course Home



Getting Started


               Syllabus and Schedule

               Meet your instructor

               Online Testing Information

Weekly Modules

               Example Module

               Module 1

               Module 2


               Course Project

               Course Resources

Course Tools

               Course Email

               My Grades

Program Resources

               Program Information

               Campus Resources

               Writing Style Guides

Further examination of the template will be offered during the session.

While we encourage instructors to incorporate multimedia within their course we often found that they fell short in making the media compliant for student needs. In order for all the content in the course to be accessible to meet all learners needs we began doing thorough checks of the courses ensuring that all the content and media within the course was accessible for all students:

  1. Alternative text on images and hyperlinks

  2. No underlining unless a hyperlink. (bold and italics used instead)

  3. Audio, videos and other multimedia elements had proper captions and transcripts

  4. Text within the course had good contrast levels so it was easy to read.

  5. Alternative assignments for those who couldn't complete one because of a disability.

One of the most challenging things we have faced is that we encourage instructors to make module overview videos as well as Tegrity videos. With videos comes the issue of captioning and transcribing them for ADA compliance. We would generate the captions via YouTube and then send them to the instructor to edit. One of the major drawbacks for instructors is that YouTube auto-generated captions were only about 10% accurate. Meaning they would have to re-watch their videos and edit the captions to reflect what they said during the time. As you can imagine this is very time consuming and many instructors opted just not to have videos because of this. I looked into partnering with a caption service but instead decided to hire English majors as student workers to edit the auto-generated captions from YouTube for grammar and spelling. Once we removed the stress off the instructors to handle the captioning and transcripts for ADA compliance they were more than happy to make videos to be utilized within their courses.  However, where one problem is solved two more emerge. Tegrity and our Media Server require the captions to have different formatting. Getting them in the correct format was time-consuming, and we were only able to produce about two accurately captioned videos per week. One day I had an epiphany: why not write a formula that will put them in the correct format? So that's what we did! My Graduate Assistant and I wrote two algorithms to put them caption file in the format that they need to be in. As a result, we were able to increase production from only two a week to 10 a week and meeting all ADA guidelines.

Arkansas State University is partnered with Academic Partnerships, who provide us with support services and program carousels of courses that are being offered. From the carousels, we are able to determine what courses are coming up for the next term. We have a team of four instructional designers and we divvy up the course programs between ourselves. Once we have compiled a list of courses that are going to be taught in the upcoming term, we create a development shell for our instructors that we import the template to. There are three reasons why we do this:

  1. We have a 15 week build time. During this 15 weeks, we have course calls with instructors and AP and get them familiarized with the template and in some cases teaching them how to teach online. During this 15 weeks, we as instructional designers help instructors build the best possible course with UD. We do not pay instructors for building their course until it has been sent to be reviewed. This means that they aren't getting paid until they have ensured the course is quality material and two accessible to all as it that is a big portion of the QM rubric.
  2. The live course isn't available to instructors until six weeks prior to the course start. By creating a development shell for the course this dramatically cut down on instructors not building anything until last minute and provided instructors longer time to get familiar with the template and how they wanted to utilize it to organize their content for the course.
  3. The most important reason we do development shells is that it prevents instructors from making a complete mess of their course while it's live with students enrolled in it. The development shell essentially provides them a playground where they can play with how they want their content to look, get the grade book in order...etc. In the development shell, anything the instructor breaks can be fixed by us without there being any damage. If an instructor deletes the grade book in the live shell with students in it, you can just imagine the havoc that ensues. In the event, the instructor deletes something from their live shell we can go into their development shell and copy back over what they deleted and have the course restored in a matter of minutes. In a sense, the development shell for each course is our hail mary in the event something goes wrong in the live shells.

The presentation will consist of a mixture of PowerPoint presentation and live demonstration of courses currently utilizing Universal Design. Video demonstration showing the utilization of captioning and transcription algorithms developed to streamline the process.

During this session, participants will learn how Arkansas State University has used Universal Design for Learning to help streamline the course building process for instructors, while at the same time ensuring students are getting the best academic experience possible. You will learn how we were able to modify our templates to help instructors meet Quality Matters Standards, which in return resulted in better overall courses being built throughout all the different programs offered online. Participants will also find out what obstacles we have encountered when it comes to the use of multimedia within the online courses (Captioning & Transcribing) and how we were able to overcome these issues to ensure our online courses meet ADA compliance.

For audience engagement, we will have a combination of an open forum and a hands-on demonstration. For the open forum, we will poll the audience at the beginning asking what Universal Design methods they practice and then at the end poll to see what adaptations they are going to make based on what we presented. For the hands-on demonstration, we will get two volunteers who have never seen our courses before. One will navigate through a course that is not using UD and the other will navigate through a course that has had UD applied. Once finished we will discuss the implications that good UD can bring to the accelerated online environment.