Paired Courses to Support Student Success in Online General Education Courses

Concurrent Session 7

Brief Abstract

Participants will receive information regarding The University of Arizona’s project to revamp general education for non-traditional online learners through cross-disciplinary pairings. Additionally, participants will leave with meaningful applications of digital tools and effective practices for collaboration and engaging students that are translatable to a variety of general education settings.


Asst. Director for instructional design in support of the University of Arizona's fully online campus. Oversees the general education academy and UA Online's instructional design team. Currently pursuing an Ed.D. in Leadership and Innovation. Areas of research interest include instructor presence and its impact of a sense of community and student success in online learning.
Joshua Steele is the Senior Director of University of Arizona Online, partnering with centralized student services to ensure that students who attend 100% online have the necessary resources and guidance to be successful.

Extended Abstract

In 2015, The University of Arizona launched its fully-online Bachelor’s degree platform (UA Online), allowing students to complete their degree in the Online modality. In addition to launching new majors, UA Online needed to build all components of an undergraduate curriculum, including English Composition, math, second language, and general education courses.

A core competency of gen-ed curriculum is the opportunity to learn about the greater world, particularly through inquiry and discussion with classmates. Online education poses an opportunity to leverage the vast experiences of non-traditionally aged students to learn from each other. In fact, one of the principle learning goals of the university’s general education program is to create “…common foundation for wide-ranging dialogue with peers on issues of significance.” It was important to translate that ethos into this new instructional delivery method. The university’s existing general education distribution model, while providing expansive breadth of choices to meet curricular requirements, did not provide recommended pathways or tailoring of a common experience for students.

Early returns on student success data showed that foundational learners (students entering with less than 30 units) struggled to succeed in the fully online environment, resulting in higher rates of course non-completion than their peers. Additionally, students had reduced success in courses designed to meet the university’s science general education requirement. Inspired by research on guided pathways and prescriptive advising, UA Online sought to create a clear curriculum for these students, highlighting curricular linkages across disciplines to integrate science into broader societal conversations. Through an internal call for proposals tasking faculty to make a joint submission with reciprocal content, two general education pairing were created, both linking social science and science courses. These include:

  • A social science course on media literacy, paired with a science course on climate chage

  • A science course on Geology, paired with a social science course on Human Behavior in response to the natural environment

Through joint development, guest lectures and scaffolding of deliverables the courses interact providing a level of pre-knowledge that can be used in the reciprocal course.

Participants will review data on one-year of the paired general education course strategy, as well as student and instructor feedback on course linkages. We will also discuss future steps and additional strategies to improve learning and success outcomes in general education coursework. Participants will experience a sampling of the student experience of the paired gen eds and will be actively engaged via polling tools and discussion opportunities.