Inside DELTA: 5 Questions with Caitlin McKeown
In her three years at DELTA, Caitlin McKeown has used her role as an instructional designer to improve online learning at NC State.
McKeown was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts, but she grew up in Tampa, Florida. While living in Florida, she earned a Bachelor of Music Education from Florida State University. After graduating, McKeown taught middle school band and guitar for six years, and she discovered that her favorite aspects of the job were related to instructional design.
“The things I enjoyed most about being a music teacher were things like creating my own systems for tracking the students’ skills and putting together a bunch of materials for guitar class instead of using a method book,” McKeown said. “As I started to realize that was what I was enjoying the most, that is when I started to shift my focus to instructional design.”
McKeown then earned her Master of Science in Instructional Systems Design from Florida State University to initiate her shift in career path. She held her first two positions as an instructional designer at the University of South Florida before moving to North Carolina. McKeown began working part time as an instructional designer at DELTA in 2017, which allowed her to balance her work at DELTA, manage her own consulting business, finish graduate school and spend time with her baby. She began working full time for DELTA last summer, and she plans to graduate with her Ph.D. in Adult Education from the University of South Florida this spring.
How would you describe your position to someone unfamiliar with DELTA?
“The way I usually describe it is that I work with the university faculty to create online courses and help them improve the learning that is happening in their courses, so creating things that are more effective, more engaging and more aligned with their goals for the course,” said McKeown.
McKeown’s biggest responsibility at DELTA is to work with faculty on DELTA Grants projects to develop these online courses. She works on several of these courses throughout a year’s cycle and guides faculty as they develop each piece and part of their course. Other projects that McKeown is involved in on a daily basis include website projects for DELTA, such as the teaching resources website projects and tasks for DELTA’s accessibility initiatives.
What has been your favorite project you’ve worked on?
McKeown’s favorite project that she has been involved in at DELTA was a 2018-2019 project that allowed her to develop MUS 107, an introductory class piano course. As a former music teacher, McKeown was particularly passionate about this project and had a lot of experience and ideas to bring to the table.
“That was a really great opportunity for me to combine my original career with my new career, so it allowed me to combine the two areas that I have a lot of expertise in.”
While working on the project, McKeown helped develop an online app that functioned as a music textbook. The app was interactive, easily accessible to students and allowed students to track their own progress in the class. These developments made the course materials more helpful and enriching than a physical textbook could have.
“It was just a really rewarding project to work on, and I had a really great team on that project too, and we had a really good time,” McKeown said. “It was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun too.”
What is your area of expertise?
McKeown considers her main area of expertise to be creating and organizing understandable course content for online learning.
“I think my biggest area of expertise is this area of e-learning, so creating the actual lessons, modules or lectures, those kinds of materials. That’s what I have done in my previous consulting work,” McKeown said. “I do have a lot of expertise in that and trying to digest the content and make it understandable to a user who’s seeing it for the first time.”
Accessibility is another area that McKeown considers herself to be proficient in. She uses her knowledge of this topic, taking part in accessibility initiatives at DELTA, to provide resources for faculty to improve accessibility of their online courses. She is currently working with a team to compile these resources in one website, making them more readily available to instructors. She also offers her expertise to DELTA Grants projects that present unique accessibility-related problems.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
“One of the things I really like about my job is how it’s always changing,” McKeown said. “I never really settle into a rut. One day I’m doing something, and then I’m on to a completely different topic, and I really like that about DELTA.”
McKeown enjoys when each day is different from the last. Being able to work on a variety of DELTA Grants projects allows her to expand her skills and experience something new every day.
“I like that we have a huge diversity of classes that we work on and grant projects that we accept. I really like that I get to dabble in a bunch of different topics.”
The problem-solving aspects of DELTA Grants projects also make work enjoyable for McKeown.
“I like how wide open the DELTA Grants are. There’s not some set formula that we apply to all the courses,” McKeown said. “I really love that it’s up to us to figure out what the problems are, what the best solutions are going to be and it’s always different. It’s never the same thing. There is always a new challenge that we get to work with.”
What do you like to do outside of work?
When she has a break from work, McKeown is most likely traveling the world with her family.
“Any time that I have a break or there’s any opportunity for us to go somewhere, I usually try to jump on that. We really are a big traveling family.”
One of her favorite traveling experiences with her family was a trip to England in 2019. On this trip, she explored London and took her kids to Peppa Pig World. The same year, she went on a transatlantic cruise from Florida to Spain and made her way around France with her family. A frequent destination for McKeown’s family is Disney World. As avid Disney fans, McKeown and her family typically travel to Disney almost every month. COVID-19 has slowed all travel plans this year, but McKeown hopes to get back to traveling soon.
McKeown remains a valued member of DELTA and continues to bring new ideas and creative solutions to the challenges that arise during a surge in online learning.