Reimagining a Virtual Learning Experience for Underserved Learners

Brief Abstract

This session reflects on identifying and addressing key challenges of reimagining three traditional, asynchronous online courses into experiential learning courses for self-paced learners. Through the use of virtual meet-ups, portfolios, peer-review and badging tools, and carefully scaffolded project-based assignments, three courses were reimagined to provide students with rich learning experiences.


Cat Jackson is the Director of Curriculum Development at TEL Education. Cat holds a Master's in Secondary Education and nine Oklahoma teaching certifications. She has taught all grade levels in secondary and primary education, later moving into higher education where she taught online and traditional classes in Public Speaking, Principles of Communication, and Teaching with Technology, a required course for pre-service teachers. She has also served as a TRiO advisor and educational technologist at Cameron University. Cat has been recognized for her work in curriculum development and educational technology, working at the Center for Teaching Excellence at the University of Oklahoma. She is currently completing her Ph.D. in the Instructional Psychology and Technology program at the University of Oklahoma with a research focus in online learning and cognitive presence.
Educational Psychology Doctoral Fellow at Oklahoma State University.

Additional Authors

Extended Abstract

This session reflects on identifying and addressing key challenges of reimagining three traditional, asynchronous online courses into experiential learning courses for self-paced learners. This session is important for the community as it reflects on real design, development, and implementation and the challenges and successes that have been experienced thus far. Designers will share learned experiences with participants and discuss suggestions for future iterations of the design, specifically as it relates to providing access to experiential learning opportunities to underserved learners. 

The session will be divided into a visual presentation and active, short discussion of four key areas: (1) a short description of the courses that were reimagined, (2) the challenges in creating a hands-on learning experience for students from the previously designed courses, (3) presentation of the design solutions, and (4) reflections on the first and second pilot testing and focus group research for the design. 

Designers took three courses—Introduction to Communication, American Government, and Introduction to Information Technology—and identified possible solutions to provide students with richer, more engaging learning experiences. These courses were delivered in a self-paced, linear, asynchronous format with several writing and practice assignments in the respective fields. Students were required to take lesson and module quizzes as well as a midterm and final exam in each course. The intended audience for these courses focused on dual-credit students or students at community colleges or single-subject institutions. Many of these students reside in rural and low-income communities where access to rich educational experiences are few. Therefore, the courses needed to be designed in a way that they could be facilitated asynchronously or synchronously, blended or completely online, and in project groups or independently. While such experiential elements are commonly used in traditional face-to-face instruction, there has been little design and development for scalable distribution across diverse institutional settings and populations. Participants will engage in discussions about current courses or training programs they are working with that they might want to reimagine into experiential learning focused courses. 

A number of challenges were identified when looking at the constraints of the current courses, the intended learners, and the pedagogical goals of the redesign. Constraints centered around three themes: time and facilitation, designing learning experiences, and student readiness. Some challenges identified focused on time and facilitation, including the increased need for student facilitation in the course and how to create structure in a self-paced, asynchronous course for this type of activity. 

Other challenges identified centered around the learning experience, which included fundamental principles in experiential learning: iteration and reflection. Students needed to be allowed the ability to iterate their experiences and to fail while still receiving adequate support. Moreover, in this iterative experience, students needed to be provided with opportunities to reflect on their experiences, identify strengths and weaknesses, and make improvements to show cognitive and emotional growth. 

Lastly, students, particularly those coming from dual-credit institutions, had little experience in both college-level courses and experiential learning focused courses. Students needed an extra level of scaffolding and support to feel successful and not discouraged by the assignments in the course. Participants will be asked to identify their biggest challenges, barriers, and constraints in reimagining an existing course into an experiential learning course. 

A number of solutions to the challenges identified were explored while reimagining the design of these courses and will be discussed in detail in the session. Through the use of virtual meet-ups, portfolio and badging tools, and carefully scaffolded project-based assignments, these three courses were reimagined to provide students with richer learning experiences. In each course, students are tasked with identifying a community problem related to the field of study (communication, government, or information technology). Working with local governments, organizations, and community experts, students will create a proposal or solution to this problem through a series of scaffolded assignments that build into a final presentation of the project. 

Participants in this session will discuss the efficacy of the design choices made to address the challenges presented. For example, students were provided with an orientation course and resource library to begin building the appropriate skills and resources needed for both experiential learning and the rigor of college courses. To address challenges of iteration and the linear format of a course, as well as to help students develop skills when addressing ill-structured problems, the courses were designed to include portfolio and badging assignments. Younger, less experienced students, in particular, struggle with ill-structured open-ended assignments like experiential learning projects. In particular, they struggle with developing strategies and identifying tasks that are appropriate for project completion. The badging assignments help scaffold student learning of skills while still promoting student choice. 

Lastly, designers will discuss the outcomes of two iterations of pilot studies currently underway with these three courses, the lessons learned so far, and ideas for design refinement. Designers will also discuss the results of a focus group of stakeholders (educators, students, and administrators) who provided concerns, feedback, and solutions for strengths and weaknesses in the design. 

Participants will walk away from the session with a copy of the presentation (accessed via QR code) and a paper flyer that visually shows the challenges discussed and the explored solutions to these challenges. Moreover, participants will have an opportunity to talk one-on-one with designers about their personal design challenges and collaborate on possible solutions as well as reflections and experiences learned from pilot testing.