Leader of the Pack: Preparing Small Group Leaders Virtually for In-Person Learning Activities

Concurrent Session 1
Streamed Session

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This session will help participants identify appropriate online instructional techniques to prepare small group leaders to lead effective in-person small-group learning experiences. The presenters will share examples from their own work and collaborate with participants to identify low-tech and high-tech tools that can be used in these efforts.


Dr. Kurzweil is the Director of the ETI and has worked at USU since 2006. In this capacity, she provides strategic direction for the ETI, instructional and educational technology support for faculty, supervision of ETI personnel, and management of the ETI office. Prior to that, she worked at the National Defense University providing direction and vision of the instructional team supporting the Center for Educational Technology. She also is a faculty member in the Health Professions Education program at USU. She has served on numerous committees and task forces examining a wide range of topics including educational technologies, inter-professional education, professional development for K12 and higher education faculty, learning management systems, program assessment and evaluation, instructional design, and teaching/faculty support paradigms. Dr. Kurzweil has presented at international, national, and regional conferences, including American Educational Research Association (AERA), multiple conferences offered by the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education, The Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation & Education Conference (I/ITSEC), the Open Apereo (Sakai) Conference and AAMC.
Dr. Marcellas has more than fifteen years of experience in designing instruction for classroom-based, DL and blended learning environments. Her main role at the ETI is ensuring that the team understands faculty members’ needs, and that the team designs and develops products that meet those needs. Her work at the ETI has included front-end analysis, content design, course evaluation, and conducting research on instructional interventions. She has led professional development sessions at USU on topics including the development of effective learning objectives, the use of Bloom’s Taxonomy to guide assessment, and techniques for creating an effective learning environment. Dr. Marcellas has been involved with many instructional and educational technology initiatives at National Defense University (NDU) as well as USUHS. Dr. Marcellas is the co-author of "Instructional Designers and Learning Engineers", a chapter in the book "Modernizing Learning: Building the Future Learning Ecosystem." She has made presentations at numerous national and international conferences, including the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting, the Association of American Medical Colleges Annual Meeting, the Online Learning Consortium Accelerate Conference, the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation, and Education Conference, the Open Apereo (Sakai) Conference, Educause, the IC Industry Consortium on Learning Engineering Conference (ICICLE), and the Association for Advancement of Computing in Education's E-Learn and EdMedia Conferences.
Dr. Linda Macaulay is an instructional designer with HJF in support of the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences (Bethesda, MD). She has over 15 years of experience teaching in online, blended, and traditional higher education programs. Before coming to the university, she was an Assistant Director of Instructional Technology, she taught graduate and undergraduate educational technology courses and was also an elementary teacher for eleven years. Her background in leadership for change, technology, and learning theory provides a broad base of knowledge to support faculty as they work to enhance their face-to-face, blended, and online courses with innovative teaching strategies and technology. She states that she is a "teacher first, techie second" because it is good teaching and course design that makes all the difference for student success. She lives in Landisville, PA with her son and pets and enjoys listening to Kenny Roger's music and spending time with her family to unplug and recharge. Look for her around the OLC Conference buzzing about in her red mobility scooter!

Extended Abstract

Session Outcomes/ Key Takeaways

By the end of this session, participants will be able to:

  • Identify types of learning experiences where small group, in-person instruction is essential 

  • Identify key elements of the in-person experience

  • Map elements of the in-person experience to teaching points that small group leaders need to know

  • Identify appropriate online instructional techniques to use when preparing small group leaders to lead effective in-person small-group learning experiences

Topic Description

The Covid-19 pandemic brought about seismic shifts in teaching and learning, with explosive growth in online teaching of topics that many had never considered teaching online before, and with educators devising unique ways to bring their content to life online.

Nevertheless, some topics require in-person learning experiences. For example, while simulators can enable medical and nursing students to practice techniques, and telemedicine is growing in popularity, these learners still need to interact with patients in the clinical environment in order to become effective practitioners.  As well, even as faculty members and students are becoming more comfortable with online learning, both groups still see benefits to in-person instruction as well, and are eager to return to some level of in-person instruction (Supiano, 2021).

Many learning experiences that benefit from in-person instruction will also benefit from having learners come together in small groups, so that they can receive more targeted instruction, or detailed feedback on their performance from the instructor and their peers.

As the availability of vaccines allows a return to in-person instruction in the United States and many other countries, educators will begin considering which topics can continue to be taught online and which will benefit from in-person learning activities. This session will draw on the knowledge of the presenters and participants to examine characteristics of learning where in-person instruction is essential, and to identify key elements of the in-person experience.

The discussion will then turn to the benefits of small groups for in-person learning, and the need to prepare small group leaders to work effectively with their groups to ensure that the students receive the benefits of the in-person experience. Preparation of small group leaders is essential, especially if they have not been involved in the design of the in-person learning experience. The designer of that experience needs to find ways to convey to small group leaders the main teaching points as well as some of the intangible elements of the experience that make it most suitable for in-person learning. In many cases, the preparation of small group instructors for in-person learning experiences can in fact be done online - with both low-tech and high-tech tools. Online instruction enables standardization of knowledge among group leaders and also provides ways to ensure that the group leaders have indeed completed their preparation.  

The presenters will discuss benefits of different online instructional techniques to prepare small group leaders for different types of in-person small group learning experiences, examining both low-tech and high-tech options. 

The presenters will describe two projects in which they collaborated with the designers of small group, in-person learning experiences to provide online preparation of small group leaders, with a special focus on how they mapped elements of the in-person experience to teaching points that small group leaders needed to know. 

Finally, the presenters will invite participants to consider how they could shape such experiences within their own environments, applying tips and techniques from the presentation as they begin planning ways that they can provide online preparation that can help small group leaders to provide effective in-person learning experiences.

Plan for Interactivity

As described in the topic description, there are four primary elements in the plan for interactivity for this session.

  1. After a brief background discussion, this session will open by asking participants to consider this question of what topics and content can benefit from in-person, small-group instruction. Session leaders will display a shared document and invite participants to make recommendations.

  2. Based on this list, participants will discuss a list of characteristics of the types of learning experiences that will benefit from in-person instruction.

  3. The presenters will then invite participants to examine the strengths of different online instructional techniques to prepare small group leaders for different types of learning experiences, using online polls to get the audience’s feedback to help measure the strengths of the various techniques.

  4. The presenters will invite participants to discuss their own experiences with providing preparation for small group leaders, and their own ideas for such projects in the future, documenting the group’s suggested practices in a shared document. 


Supiano, B. (2021). “The ‘Motivating Presence’ of Professors and Peers”. Chronicle of Higher Education “Teaching” Newsletter, April 22, 2021. https://www.chronicle.com/newsletter/teaching/2021-04-22