New eLearning specialist to enhance online and hybrid courses within College of Media

Ann AbdelzaharWhen Ann Abdelzahar looked at the job requirements for the College of Media’s first-ever eLearning specialist, she knew she was a perfect fit. 

Abdelzahar started in special education and earned her PhD in instructional technology. She then worked at Danville Area Community College as an online support and web technician before moving to Illinois Fire Service Institute as an eLearning developer.

Through her previous experience, she learned how to make material more accessible to people with disabilities. She also gained skills in website design and video and audio production.

In her new position, she’ll be partnering with faculty in each department to actualize their ideas for building innovative online and hybrid courses. This includes engaging students through videos, animations, games, audio, and photos during lessons.

“Faculty in the College of Media have many ideas about how to innovate in the remote classroom,” Abdelzahar said. “My role is to facilitate technical and creative options and turn those ideas into a reality.”

Additionally, because of her background in special education, she will be working on accessibility issues. This includes making sure videos have closed captioning and that there is descriptive audio available. She will also work on having all material in the courses be readable by screen readers used by students who are visually impaired.

Abdelzahar said the pandemic proved how important it is to have effective virtual learning options available. She added that even after school returns to fully in-person, there are still non-traditional students who will need online education. This includes students who don’t go straight to college after high school and might be working full-time or have families.

“With the advent of COVID, it has become increasingly clear that we need to have these options in place,” she said. “I know a lot of departments did not have very many online courses prior to COVID. And when COVID came, and all of a sudden everything had to be online, people were struggling. And I think this is just the way the world is going.”

Meghan Burnett, director of information technology and operations, said Abdelzahar will help the College of Media expand and improve its education.

“The eLearning specialist position will allow the college to continue to explore opportunities to grow our curricula and programs,” Burnett said. “Ann brings a unique blend of experience, skills, and pedagogical understanding to this role. We are very excited to have her on our team.”

As for what Abdelzahar is most excited for as an eLearning specialist, she wants to show faculty just what is possible in an online format. She said the position is a dream job for her.

“I was super excited to get a call for the first interview and then I was over the moon when I got the information to meet with Meghan [Burnett] for a second interview, and when I got the job I was just ecstatic,” she said.

—Marissa Plescia, Communications and Marketing Intern