Prioritizing engagement in virtual settings: Using Q-methodology to elevate the scholarship of teaching and learning

Streamed Session Blended

Brief Abstract

How can you best engage students in virtual STEM courses? Engage in an online Q-sort alongside your fellow instructors to establish best practices to tackle this challenge. Learn about Q-methodology as a tool you can implement in your courses/research and create strategies to implement in your courses.

Extended Abstract

Topic: Engaging students and stakeholders in blended settings can be challenging due to the lack of effective kinesthetic learning experiences. By showcasing leading practices related to hands-on engagement, instructors can elevate their research and scholarship of teaching and learning in blended settings. This session will provide an overview of Q-methodology and how to identify personas of students and stakeholders related to STEM audiences in a virtual format. 


In Spring 2020, college students who elected to pursue in-person education were suddenly shifted into virtual learning environments. Without intentionally choosing this modality of learning, this disruption and shift created a new, non-traditional form of an online learner. Likewise, this immediate shift in learning also propelled many instructors with limited online teaching experience to adjust courses to be delivered in an online or hybrid format, which led to a sharp decline in student satisfaction. While engaging virtual instruction is not a new concept in the scholarship of teaching and learning, little is known about the best methods to engage and communicate with these non-traditional online learners in the context of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM); specifically, agriculture, food, and natural resources (AFNR). It is vital to evaluate lessons learned from students to be best prepared to meet the needs of learners in these online spaces. 

By engaging with peers through the use of Q-methodology, facilitators and instructors can help prioritize the kinesthetic needs of STEM learners in blending settings. Likewise, by using the “Innovation Studio Design Thinking Challenge” in this virtual presentation, participants will gain valuable ideas and experiences about how to incorporate Q-methodology in their own research projects or educational experiences.

Plan for Interactivity: Session participants will engage in a Q-sort to identify and categorize varying instructor perspectives on the challenge. The goal of this approach is two-fold: 1) to allow participants exposure to Q-methodology as a tool they can implement in their courses/research, and 2) to use this tool to foster discussion among instructors on best practices for engaging STEM students in online/hybrid courses. 

To expose participants to Q-methodology through an “Innovation Studio Design Thinking Challenge”, we will use research examples from an existing federally funded project supported by the Association of Public Land Grant Universities (APLU). The example study had multiple phases. First, we sought to investigate students’ experiences with online and hybrid learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in colleges of agriculture at New Mexico State University and Kansas State University. We used a qualitative, case study approach to investigate participants’ (N = 135) perceptions of their online or hybrid experiences. We collected data through a census survey administered by Qualtrics to an agricultural business communication course (n = 63) at Kansas State University and an oral communication and leadership course (n = 72) at New Mexico State University. We purposively selected these courses as they represented several majors across each institution’s college of agriculture. We used open and axial coding to identify emergent themes from open-ended written responses (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016). The second phase of the study involves investigating personas for various online or blended learning needs utilizing Q-methodology, which fits the style and demand for an innovation challenge. 

This research will serve as the foundation and prompt for the discussion in this session. Participants will tackle the challenge of how to best engage students in online, blended, and hybrid formats in STEM fields. A Q-sort will be utilized for participants to brainstorm and generate solutions to the posed challenge. 

For the Q-sort, participants will engage in an online prompt to help them prioritize needs for teaching in virtual, blended, or hybrid formats through the Online Q-Method Software ( Participants will also be asked to engage and collaborate with their peers in the session through idea-sharing platforms, such as Padlet and Jamboard. All resources will be made available to the participants and can serve as an example for instructors to deliver robust, engaging teaching activities while also adding a tool for conducting social science research in online or virtual settings. Finally, participants will discuss strategies to maintain accessibility and interactivity when conducting Q methodological research in online or remote settings.

Key Takeaways:

The goal of this session is to provide a research-based leading practice in administering Q-methodology in an online, blended, and/or hybrid format. First, by sharing preliminary findings from research at Kansas State University and New Mexico State University, participants will evaluate learning objectives best suited for staging and enabling interactivity in remote settings. 

Second, by modeling how to conduct a Q-methodological study in a remote format, we hope to provide participants with innovative tools to improve learning and engagement in blended environments as well as learn the tools needed to scale resources to conduct similar studies with varying audiences outside of the OLC conference. 

Finally, participants will log out of the session with helpful tools ensuring educational or research experiences remain accessible for all learners while maintaining a high level of engagement and interactivity.