Bridging the Gap: Solving the Problem of Bringing Experiential Learning Activities to Online Capstone Courses

Concurrent Session 4
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Brief Abstract

Online courses provide educational opportunities to students without the barriers of distance or time but make experiential learning difficult.  Come and learn how Melinda’s organic approach bridges the gap between experiential learning and online capstone courses in which students work on a common project utilizing their own talents and experiences.


Melinda Stanley has been teaching for Indiana University in a variety of roles since 2006. In 2015, she was tasked with developing and teaching a slate of courses for delivery to a new, online degree track. Partnering with educational designers, Melinda has strived to create innovative courses through the use of technology and pedagogical theory. Prior to her work at Indiana University, Melinda was an executive director for a healthcare organization which allows her to bring vocational experiences to the classroom as well.

Extended Abstract

Capstone courses, by definition, provide learners with the opportunity to synthesize and demonstrate what they have learned through their studies often through experiential learning opportunities.  Online capstone courses present a challenge to this model.  Learners come to online courses from a variety of geographic locations and time zones making experiential learning difficult. Current events, creative thinking on the part of the instructor, and student preferences and experiences can help bridge the gap between capstone courses and the provision of experiential learning opportunities.

By the time learners enter their capstone courses, they have encountered a wide variety of courses no matter what their majors might be as they fulfill their general education and subject matter topics courses.  Learners may find their general education courses as memorable and as enjoyable as their subject matter courses.  If one examines their work, themes begin to emerge.  Some learners enjoy ethics topics.  Others enjoy computation type work.

Creative instructors can blend learner preferences with current events to make rich, mock experiential learning activities for their students by reviewing student work.  Bachelor of Applied Science students at Indiana University Kokomo who are a part of its Health Management track are given this experiential learning opportunity in their capstone course utilizing a problem-based approach to learning.

At the onset of each semester, these capstone students are asked to provide an unofficial transcript and examples of five past activities from any courses of their choosing.  Students are instructed to provide their favorite past work, not necessarily those on which they had received the highest grade.  The students are also asked to provide an introduction of themselves to the class in which they give a brief description of their interests and vocational background. The instructor then reviews these materials to discover themes and preferences of the class and each student.

Faculty, by nature, enjoy the creative process.  This project gives learners the opportunity to shine, but also gives faculty the opportunity to be innovative and progressive with the course materials.  Using current events as a backdrop and gathering inspiration from what is in the materials the students have provided, the faculty member writes a case.  It can be about anything.  One summer, the capstone course was comprised of all female students.  The theme of the case surrounded the unwillingness of Hobby Lobby owners to provide birth control coverage in the health insurance it provides to its employees.  Fall of 2019, the theme of the case is a zombie apocalypse (the project is due on Halloween after all).

Once the case is defined and developed, the learners are assigned roles based on their preferences and asked to complete an individualized project.  In the case of Hobby Lobby, learners were provided with the narrative that they lived in a small town whose sole employer was Hobby Lobby.  The town has a much higher number of female than male residents.  The learner who expressed an interest in pharmacology was tasked with researching the instances when birth control can be used for other conditions such as acne.  One student enjoyed taking political science courses.  She was tasked with looking at how the politicians of New York, a state with a large Catholic population, got the mandatory provision of birth control passed there.  As the population of the town was predominately female, one student was tasked with arguing the ethics of withholding potential quality-of-life improving health care interventions to over half of the population.  Pulling this information together was the student who enjoyed persuasive writing.  She was tasked with writing a letter to the CEO of Hobby Lobby to try to convince him to provide birth control to the employees.  The final phase of these projects is one in which students create a presentation to share with their classmates on their part of the project.

This experiential learning project is creative, collaborative, and organic as student interest drives the project.  It bridges the gap between experiential learning and online, capstone courses.  Join Melinda as she presents a description of how to build the project and allows participants an opportunity to reflect upon similar projects they might build in their own courses.