Learning from Experience: Effective Approaches for Implementing Client-Based Projects in Blended and Online Classrooms

Concurrent Session 4

Brief Abstract

In this session, the presenters will demonstrate how they used action research methods to design a curriculum for student-developed digital projects that could be implemented for real business needs. The presenters will introduce a framework for facilitating client-based projects in blended and online courses.


Steven Goss is the Vice Provost of Digital Learning for Teachers College, Columbia University. Dr. Goss joined Teachers College after working as the Director of Online Education at Bank Street College of Education and New York University for ten years as a faculty member and director of several teaching and learning online initiatives at SPS Distance Learning and The Center for Faculty Innovations in Teaching and Learning at the Tandon School of Engineering. He has had a long dedication to education, receiving his undergraduate and Master’s degrees in Art Education from Penn State University and New York University and his doctorate from Teachers College, Columbia University, in Instructional Technology and Media. Prior to starting his career at NYU, he worked in the New York City Public High School system as an arts educator; teaching a various arts based technology courses.
Information Technology professional with a doctorate in Instructional Technology from Teachers College, Columbia University. Skilled in user experience design, content management systems, learning management systems, curriculum development and training, online learning, full stack web development, and personnel and budget management. Adjunct instructor at New York University, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in database development, web technologies, and project development.

Extended Abstract

In this presentation, Steven Goss and Paul Acquaro, Adjunct Assistant Professors at New York University School of Professional Studies, will discuss the successes and challenges they have had and the lessons they have learned in implementing a client-based project for a course they developed and taught over several successive semesters using online and blended formats. The course, Application Architecture Development and Design, was offered for a masters level program in IT and Business Management and focused on the design of web-based applications. Embracing a client-based project approach, the authors designed the course activities around the use of a business case introduced by an external collaborator with a real-world business need.

The rationale for adopting a client-based project was three-fold. First, it provided the presenters with the opportunity to teach essential topics, such as project management, UX design methods, and basic technical languages, through the experience of creating a real-world digital project. Second, for students, the project approach provided an opportunity to connect with the instructors and clients outside of the classroom using various digital tools, creating an experience that mirrors a collaborative digital work environment. Last, clients would would come away with a workable project that they could implement to meet their business needs.

The evaluation of final projects showed that working on a real-world case was effective in helping students meet the course goals and objectives; however, the outcome for the client was mixed at best. The difficulty in developing a satisfying project that the client could put into use, compelled the presenters to explore how they could create a successful learning experience for the students and also support the creation of a proposal and prototype that could match the client's expectations and needs.

In this session, the presenters will share how they adopted an action research approach to be their own subjects, working directly with a client who had collaborated with the students on several occasions, but had still not received a satisfying project. Over the span of several months they engaged closely with the client to develop and deliver a fully implementable project based on the client's original request for a proposal. The presenters will discuss the steps they took to take on the role of the student, identify problem areas in working with a client to create a viable product, explain how they used this experience to create course activities and assignments to align with their findings, and provide a framework for how other educators can approach their own client-based projects in online and blended environments.

Purpose of the Presentation

The goal of this presentation is to share the knowledge and experience gained through the active approach that the presenters used to better understand the course experience for the development of effective client-driven projects. The idea of integrating real-world opportunities is appealing to students, faculty, and clients, however, the actual implementation can be complex, especially in online and blended environments. For example, as the presenters discovered during their research, unforeseen issues such as limiting access to the client and providing insufficient opportunities for direct feedback, impeded the students' efforts.

In order to better understand students' efforts, the presenters worked with a single client, entirely online, following the course activities and assignments to identify where the projects and prototypes fell short of expectations. Through this experience, from kick-off meeting through planning and implementation, the presenters worked methodically to accomplish each step of the development process successfully and documented their experience and final outcome. This examination of their own course goals and objectives, gave the presenters insight into how they could develop a better curriculum for future course iterations.

In this presentation, they will reflect on their previous course challenges, their experience using an action research method, and they will share the results of their collaboration. Throughout the presentation, they will showcase meeting notes, client interviews, project documentation, and the final product. They will conclude by presenting a framework to guide client and student expectations and strategies for a successful project outcome in both online and blended classrooms.

The presenters will encourage session participants to comment on the strategies and techniques presented and to discuss how they would implement the strategies shared in their own classrooms. Using polling applications and collaborative learning technologies the presenters will interact with the audience, asking them to provide insights into the strategies the presenters used with the students and the action research approach they adopted to strengthen their course curriculum. The session will conclude with a presentation on how the action research experience impacted the development of a client-based project framework to ensure stronger outcomes for the students and the clients. Takeaways for the participants will include a survey of online client-based project resources, and methods that can be used when implementing their own experiential and client-based projects in online and blended classrooms.