Tailoring Online Courses for Residential Students: Considerations, Strategies, and Affordances Provided by this Context

Concurrent Session 8

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Residential students in online courses have unique challenges: limited time management skills, intrinsic motivation, and study techniques.  Learn how strategies such as branching, gamification, learning analytics, digital storytelling, and stepped peer review were incorporated for this generation of learners while leveraging the many advantages this type of student cohort provides.


Amy Kuntz is as Instructional Designer within Teaching and Learning with Technology at Penn State University and has been in the field of higher education since 2006. Her main role is to work with faculty in the design and development of blended/online/video-conferencing courses for shared degree programs. As Instructional Designer, Amy's work also consists of facilitating a university-wide Learning Design community with other members of her department, working on large/strategic pedagogical redesign projects for the university, and supporting shared degree programs by offering faculty development, technology pilots, and operational support initiatives. Amy Kuntz received a Master of Science in Instructional Technology from Bloomsburg University. She has been an active Quality Matters Peer Reviewer and adjunct professor since 2008 teaching for-credit academic courses in both the face-to-face and online environments. Her professional interests include emerging instructional design models, pedagogical research, and quality assurance in online education.
With a 20 year background in Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12 education, my focus has always been on technology and how it can be used in education. As a former teacher, educational consultant, and faculty professional developer, connecting schools, teachers, and students with current and innovative technologies has been the motivator for expanding my knowledge in many areas of technology and education. Being a part of the instructional design team within the Teaching and Learning department and Shared Programs at Pennsylvania State University has provided me with the opportunity to not only share my knowledge, but also learn more about technology in higher education and how it can impact teaching and learning. I am currently working on finishing my doctorate in instructional design and distance education.

Extended Abstract

Higher education institutions have been developing new models to enable and support online/blended program delivery whether it be at a singular campus or across multiple campuses to meet the demands of students. Penn State University has created a robust portfolio of academic programs in a shared structure across regional, geographical locations. These programs consist of a mix of residential courses, blended courses that connect to regional campuses via video-conferencing, and/or online courses. Titled Shared Programs, this type of academic offering is geared for traditional age, residential students. Shared Programs gives new opportunities for students who may not otherwise have had access to the degree offering and a larger student/faculty community without transferring to another campus location. New shared academic programs have and continue to be proposed in support of University initiatives to develop strategically important programs that are projected to be growth areas in Pennsylvania. 
According to the Digital Learning Compass: Distance Education Enrollment Report 2017 "Students who are taking at least one distance education course comprise 29.7% of all higher education enrollments as of fall 2015." While many in this segment can be non-traditional learners, the report also points out that "The total number of students who are physically on campus (those not taking any distance course or taking a combination of distance and non-distance courses) dropped by almost one million students (931,317)" between 2012 and 2015.
Within Shared Programs at Penn State, most academic programs share select courses among the geographic locations by utilizing online, asynchronous courses. These online courses geared towards traditional age students present new opportunities of having tailored online content / activities to this type of demographic. They also pose potential threats in that students might not have an in-person option for select courses and might not have proper preparation / exposure to this type of coursework.
From the first few cohorts, there was informal data collection and feedback that uncovered the challenges of students despite having online orientation modules, virtual office hours, student learning resource assistance available, and other best practices. The challenges that arose included students limited time management skills, intrinsic motivation, and study techniques. This partnered with the online student body coming from different campuses / different levels of student preparedness of prerequisite knowledge have posted a unique challenge in program implementation.
Approach and Results:
Within the disciplines of Biology, Business, Business - Accounting, Corporate Communication, and Project Supply Chain Management select additional strategies were implemented based upon the needs of the faculty/students/content on a case-by-case basis.
Strategies included, but are not limited to:

  • Learning analytics - Those provided within the Learning Management System (including any in beta testing), detailed video watching analytics, etc. Findings were then addressed by altering the set-up of the Learning Management System to accommodate the learner preferences of navigating the course while adding additional directions to guide students through the recommended learning pathway.
  • Digital storytelling - Captured narratives of real life applications and "stories from the field" based upon the faculty members industry experience, guest interviews, and generalized stories for reliability.
  • Gamification - Addition of game-based elements as part of interactive tutorials and online lessons followed by a game with a publicly available leaderboard for motivation.
  • Stepped peer review approach - Within a Corporate Communication course, utilizing VoiceThread to provide a stepped approach for showing examples of good/bad press releases, guided practice to analyze and provide feedback for generalized press releases, and then peer review of each others work (including feedback on students performance of giving a peer review)
  • Branching - Utilization of pre-assessment to provided various learning pathways and provide pre-requisite knowledge if applicable to ensure all students are adequately prepared for new information.
  • Optional synchronous recitations - Web-based weekly offerings to meet in real-time to provide  clarification, emphasis of important material, answering of questions, etc.
  • Hours of equivalent instruction - Quantified the time on task for learning activities in each week of the course to determine alignment to the Penn State expectation of 9 hours / week for a 3-credit, 15-week course.
  • Community of Inquiry - Focused on added engagement activities and assessed with Student Engagement Assessment adapted from Measuring Student Engagement in an Online Program by Dr. Paula Bigatel and Dr. Vicki Williams.
  • Case-based learning and authentic learning - Incorporation to to increase intellectual curiosity, provide more real world applications, and make the application relevant to their current/future careers.

Informal data collection and self-reporting was conducted in the 2016-2017 for the initial implementation.  Anecdotally when when it comes to student performance and preparedness students performed better than previous online course offerings and were adequately prepared within new online courses.
The anticipated new and revised online course offerings for Fall 2017 will incorporate these additional strategies and formalized data will be collected. Early results will be available during November 2017.
Session Information:
This session will focus on strategies leveraged in tailoring online courses for traditional age, residential students. A background of the unique challenges and affordances provided by offering online courses for this demographic will be presented. Specific examples of implementation of select strategies within particular courses will be covered in-depth. The session attendees will have an interactive experience as presenters will model best practices of increasing engagement for geographically dispersed blended and online courses during the session. The presenters desire this session to be a community of practice where application of strategies is covered while also having a dialogue among participants around these ideas throughout the session.
By the end of the session, attendees will: 

  • Recall the unique challenges and affordances of offering online courses for traditional age, residential students.
  • List strategies leveraged in tailoring online courses for traditional age, residential students and paraphrase how they were incorporated in an online course environment.
  • Analyze the explanation and course application of example strategies to determine if it is an appropriate use within their own courses.
  • Engage with at least one of the strategies presented during the session.
  • Discuss their own experiences of creating/teaching online courses for this demographic and participate in the community of practice via dialogue and brainstorming of best practices strategies for tailoring online courses for these students.

Allen, Elaine, Ph.D., and Jeff Seaman, Ph.D. Digital Learning Compass: Distance Education Enrollment Report 2017. Rep. Babson Survey Research Group, e-Literate, and WCET, May 2017. Web. 8 May 2017. <https://onlinelearningsurvey.com/reports/digtiallearningcompassenrollment2017.pdf>.
Bigatel, Paula, Ph.D., & Williams, Vicki, Ph.D. (summer 2015). Measuring Student Engagement in an Online Program. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 18(2). Retrieved May 8, 2017, from http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/summer182/bigatel_williams182.html