Online Learners and the College Experience: The Integration of a Capstone Series of Project-based Assignments to Enhance Character Development

Concurrent Session 3
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Brief Abstract

Students are often surprised at how much they achieve in character development resulting from online college experience. A program with a capstone series of project-based assignments was designed to assist and assess character development for online students. Participants will experience, reflect on, and discuss the impact of this capstone series.


Dr. Theresa Veach is the Director of the Behavioral Sciences Department at Indiana Wesleyan University. She is the first author of Cancer and the Family Life Cycle and currently oversees graduate and undergraduate programs in Psychology, Social Work, Addictions Counseling and Human Services. She is an advocate for integrated, program curriculum with an emphasis on experiential and project-based learning.

Extended Abstract

Online Learners and the College Experience: The Integration of a Capstone Series of Project-based Assignments to Enhance Character Development

This study seeks to assess the character development of adult students in an online learning psychology program. Although students’ mastery of content is foundational to any program, it is our hope and plan that online students will also develop in character and professionalism as a result of the ‘college experience.’ For many beginning students, online programs are a way to conveniently advance in intellectual knowledge. Rarely do students consider the possibility for personal and professional development. They are often surprised at how much they change and grow as a result of their online learning experience.

An integrated program in psychology was designed to intentionally assist and assess character development in the online learning environment. A capstone series comprised of project-based assignments was included in four courses strategically placed within the curriculum. In the first capstone course, students are to identify their own strengths and passions and to determine a topic of interest. In the second capstone course, they conduct a literature search on their topic to learn about research methods and more about their topics of interest. They also develop an action plan for implementing a project based on their discoveries about their chosen topics. In the third capstone course, they implement their action plans with the intent of bringing hope to the world. In the fourth capstone course, students submit a portfolio of their work from the entire capstone series and share their personal growth and professional development achievements.

In this presentation, participants will experience the capstone series for themselves. They will reflect on their own interests and choose a topic of exploration. They will develop a brief plan of action and share how those plans would bring hope to others. A question and answer session will emphasize how project-based learning assignments can serve to not only improve intellectual or cognitive development, but to enhance character or professional development as well.

Over time, the learning process has become synthesized around three main areas of consideration: 1) the cognitive domain or how learners acquire content or intellectual knowledge, 2) the psychomotor domain or how learners develop physical skills, and 3) the affective domain or how learners acquire attitudes. Although each of these three areas of learning can be regarded as separate constructs, all of them are dynamic components of a fully orbed epistemology.

Within the formalized assessment process, most of our efforts to date have focused on cognitive outcomes. Evaluating cognitive learning is a relatively straightforward process particularly when compared to the assessment of the more ‘soft skills’ of the affective domain, skills such as self-awareness,  leadership skills, team-building skills, the ability to communicate effectively, the appreciation of diversity, creativity, diplomacy, and even change-readiness. These ‘intangible’ characteristics of the affective domain have been placed along a continuum that spans across five levels: receiving, responding, valuing, organizing, and characterizing. In the literature on education and assessment the affective domain has been often noted as essential for learning albeit the “least studied, most often overlooked, the most nebulous, and the hardest to evaluate of Bloom’s taxonomy (Glinn & Koballa, 2006). Regardless of the difficulties that may be associated with the assessment of character development in higher education, it is critical to assess outcomes that we value, rather than appear to value outcomes just because they are readily measureable.

An innovative presentation style will be used to increase participant engagement. Participants will be invited to experience the capstone series for themselves. Participants will be able to achieve these learning outcomes:

  1. Identify ways to enrich their programs using project-based assignments

  2. Synthesize projects into a unified series

  3. Discuss how to assess character development