Warren Watkins is an instructional designer in the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences. He also serves on the generative artificial intelligence (AI) committee. Learn more about his contributions to the Department, especially towards the Master of Public Health (MPH) online program.
How long have you been working at USC?
I started working at USC in November 2020. Prior to this, I was working at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo. My family and I moved back to Southern California to be closer to family and for the possibilities of more opportunities. When I started in the department, I worked primarily with the Master of Public Health (MPH) online program as one of two instructional designers. In August of last year, Beth Wellman took the lead of the team as the Manager of Instructional Design & Development. I am now part of cohesive and agile team.
What was it like to start working during this time?
It was challenging to start a new job during the pandemic—everything was done remotely, and I didn’t have a chance to do onboarding or orientation in-person and build that face-to-face rapport. It was tough to complete that over zoom—but it was done! Now, we’re more used to this dynamic as the years have gone on, and it’s been great so far.
What are your main responsibilities in the department?
My main responsibilities as an instructional designer are course design and development, and the design and development of multimedia and instructional content. I also provide instructional design consultation. As a team, we assist with all the courses in the MPH online program. They depend on us to ensure that their courses are ready to be taught—so the team also provides course management for the program.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I work a hybrid schedule because we have a very flexible work environment. I really appreciate that! I was surprised at how USC has a good focus on work-life balance, which has been great! I also work with a great group of educators and staff.
Can you share about how the role of developing online instructional design has changed over time?
The pandemic served as a learning phase. Today, there is more of an acceptance and understanding of the use of online tools and different online teaching strategies. Before there was a question of whether people would accept the online format, now I feel as though this approach is better understood.
From a student perspective, the pandemic really made a shift. There are things that they expect to be standard practice now. They expect content to be available online—including lectures, and also to have access to recorded materials. It has changed expectations, but also taught different levels of acceptance.
What are the skills that help you succeed in this position?
Someone who does well in this role is adapted to guiding and helping people through things. When we consult with faculty, it often turns into a coaching session. We provide a wide range of assistance, and when engaging with folks in a higher education setting—you’re dealing with subject matter experts. So, we don’t tell them what to put into their courses, but we provide our expertise through a collaborative approach to help them provide effective instruction in their courses.
Who do you work the closest with?
Diler Yuksel and I are both instructional designers, who report to Beth Wellman. Gary San Angel manages the Soto studio and provides recording and editing capabilities. Brian Erwin handles all things tech and the learning management systems (LMS) for the MPH online program. We bring together many folks who lend their expertise to get things done.
Every semester, we ensure the courses are ready to go and determine whether there are any courses that require revising or complete redoing. We also create new courses from scratch. This whole process relies on collaboration between our team and then with faculty.
What are you proudest about this department?
As a staff member in this department, I get to work with educators in public health who investigate different subjects that I have a great interest in. Since the pandemic, the importance of public health has been high on mind. I am a big advocate for health and interventions that improve our health, especially easy interventions that help my family stay healthy. With the pandemic, this was emphasized and brought to greater focus in my life.
Get to know Warren:
What did you want to be as a kid?
I had a wide range of things I was interested in as a child. My number one interest was in space and science-fiction. I had a drive to be some type of explorer and go on adventures. I’m the type of personal that wants to explore new things, and new tools. As I grew older, I also found that I have a natural knack to help people.
What development in technology are you interested in right now?
The use of artificial intelligence. Everyone is talking about it, and how it’s causing the most disruption. If you really look at it, it’s just another tool. It’s something that has been around—for example the predictive text in emails. Before, we had bits and pieces of it, but now we’re seeing applications and tools that allow you to effectively utilize it in day-to-day use. You can take something that you used to grudgingly do before and pop it into a generative AI application and it helps to quickly move you along—that’s what new about it. We can look to use it effectively and responsibly as it can help to get preliminary tasks out of the way. You can then move on to the more advanced work that lies ahead.
Something that causes the most uproar is something that’s going to cause the most revolution in society. Because of this, I feel it is important to look objectively beyond the uproar to find a constructive way forward.