Meet Our Governance Board: Peter van Leusen Emphasizes Integrating Courseware Into Learning Experiences

Written by: Susan Lanier-Graham

As Director of Digital Learning Initiatives in the Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, Peter van Leusen is part of the Learning and Teaching Hub that supports all the engineering schools across ASU’s locations. The Fulton Schools of Engineering have grown rapidly in recent years, now serving 32,000 students across all modalities, including on-campus, hybrid, and online. 

At the heart of everything at ASU is its charter, which focuses on access to education and helping students succeed. “We partner with academic units to help them reimagine their practices with the ASU charter in mind,” says van Leusen.  

Much of van Leusen’s work concerns large enrollments in introductory and gateway courses. Previously a member of the CourseGateway Product Advisory Board, he is now a member of the CourseGateway Governance Board where he contributes his experience identifying practices and technology solutions that can serve the most students. 

Rapid Growth Presents Unique Challenges

Considering the rapid growth in enrollment within the Fulton Schools, van Leusen and his team of designers work to support the academic programs, courses, and learning experiences, both inside and outside the physical classroom. “We want to ensure that our programs, courses, and learning experiences are effective, efficient, and engaging,” says van Leusen. 

Because ASU is a school of access, there is a diverse student population of varying ages, backgrounds, and academic preparation. “We need to ensure that despite the diversities, everyone is successful,” van Leusen explains. “I often review existing technologies, courseware, and other instructional materials to see how they can align with our goals.”

A Career in Education Technology Born Out of Necessity

Today, van Leusen says he loves his job, but it was not a career path he planned initially.  After receiving a bachelor's degree in computer information systems and a master’s degree in literature and pedagogy, he began his career teaching high school foreign language. 

“The high school figured out I was pretty good with technology,” laughs van Leusen, “so they gave me all the new technologies to test in the classroom. I created my own curriculum and learning experiences to engage my students.” 

When the high school phased out his foreign language program, van Leusen returned to school to pursue a PhD in instructional systems technology at Indiana University. He focused on thinking about the systems that support learning, including design, design pedagogy, and how people learn, and then how the teacher works as a facilitator to integrate technology to increase efficiencies and engagement. 

After completing his PhD, he began his career at ASU, working on several projects where he could integrate his teaching expertise with his studies in instructional systems technology. 

Personalization at Scale

One of van Leusen’s first ASU projects was the Adaptive Learning Initiative, focusing on large enrollments in introductory and gateway courses. “We utilized a system's approach bringing in design, pedagogy, and technology—to improve learning experiences so that most students are successful,” explains van Leusen. 

As part of the initiative, the team developed adaptive platforms and personalized learning experiences at scale. “Then, in class, instead of having a lecture with somebody talking to you, we have active learning where students are engaged,” van Leusen explains. “The students apply the concepts they learned in the adaptive software and then participate in the collaborative work, like presentations and group work.” 

Van Leusen sees his work at ASU as particularly beneficial while serving as a member of the CourseGateway Governance Board. “Because we have implemented courseware at scale—thousands of students in hundreds of courses—my expertise in designing the learning experience as well as preparing instructors and students for implementing courseware can be an asset,” he says. 

Van Leusen has also been part of a group exploring the various uses of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) at ASU for non-credit continuing education or as part of creating pathways into the university. 

Related reading — The 4 Pillars of Active Learning Practices for Online Instructors

One Tool Alone Won’t Solve All Problems

Van Leusen applauds the job that CourseGateway has done in creating a process for evaluating courseware and raising awareness of what goes into creating it. However, he sees the potential for much more. “ I would like to see it providing best practices for integrating courseware into learning experiences,” he explains. 

Van Leusen emphasizes the importance of understanding not only the technology but also the students and preparing them for learning. “Just throwing technology into the classroom will not guarantee that students will be able to use it,” he says. “We assume students today are all digital natives, but that doesn’t mean they know how to use technology for education.”  

Van Leusen says that, throughout his career, he has often seen instances where educators look at tools as the only way to solve problems, but it is not that simple. It is crucial to approach courseware in two ways: by evaluating the actual courseware and then by taking a step back to examine the broader needs of making the tool work effectively and efficiently for the broadest student success. 

“It’s important to consider all these factors—such as design, pedagogy, instructor readiness, student readiness—and how they impact the success we’re looking for,” he says. “You might have perfect courseware, but if you don’t use it right and it doesn’t align with these broader needs, it will fail. Looking to the future, we need to identify practices and solutions to assist the various populations.”

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