Best Practices in Project-Based Learning: Applications Within Online Instructional Technology Courses

Best Practices in Project-Based Learning: Applications Within Online Instructional Technology Courses

Jason Rosenblum
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9261-7.ch007
(Individual Chapters)
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Educators are increasingly challenged to offer students access to, and depth of instruction on, complex digital technologies in their degree offerings. Although these courses already exist, significant challenges remain for educators to offer cutting-edge online instruction in educational technology programs in ways that have real-life relevance for students. Students are often asked to turn to independent learning through online video tutorials and other resources to close the technology learning gaps that exist within these programs. This chapter explores how a curriculum that prioritizes significant learning through the application of project-based learning and design-based thinking can be used to teach online instructional technology courses. Included are examples from courses in mobile learning, game-based learning, and instructional systems design to illustrate these approaches. Complexities associated with this process are highlighted and strategies are suggested to help instructors create learning experiences that are challenging and professionally relevant to students.
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This chapter offers an overview of the research in digital media production within online environments and suggests best practices in designing technical courses in online instructional technology programs. A taxonomy of significant learning and a model of design thinking are proposed as strategies to design project-based courses for online programs. Finally, best practices in the design and implementation of online technology skills courses are given to guide the design of significant learning outcomes, course infrastructure, and management of course logistics to ensure a smooth and engaging online course. The objectives of this chapter are to:

  • 1.

    Introduce readers to student-centered design models,

  • 2.

    Illustrate successful examples of project-based learning approaches to teach technical online courses,

  • 3.

    Offer faculty design strategies to help design similar courses,

  • 4.

    Offer best practices in the construction of online course outcomes, infrastructure and logistics management, and

  • 5.

    Suggest opportunities for future research in this area.



Online programs in higher education that teach online courses with significant technical components are common. In a 2019 search of the 1800 schools ranked by the US News and World report, there were 154 digital communication and media program, 67 digital arts programs, 253 radio, TV and digital communication programs, 54 web and digital multimedia programs, 46 programs in games, interactive media and game design, 48 programs in animation and interactive technology, and 34 undergraduate programs in instructional technology alone. A search on (Education, Technology & Online Learning, n.d.) revealed a more comprehensive count of instructional technology programs, with a total of 313 programs, including certificate, masters and doctoral programs. Out of this total, 133 of these schools offered programs online. While it is less possible to tally the proportion of those programs that include courses that require learning new online technologies, it is likely not a stretch to assume that a substantial number of online courses require acquisition of skills in software and hardware usage. Courses with significant technical requirements exist not only within digital media programs, but also in instructional technology programs within schools of education. This is certainly true for the instructional technology program in which I recently taught, at a mid-size private university in the northeast. Research is scant on the efficacy of formal online curricula by which student learn these skills. A 2007 study by researchers at Kent State, Yantai University, and Ohio University found that teacher attitudes for a technology skills course were consistently positive in both face-to-face and online environments. Unsurprisingly, acquisition of technologies skills in the online environment required that students rely more upon use of self-guided tutorials and independent instruction, as opposed to individualized interaction with instructors (Kuo, Song, Smith, & Franklin, 2007). It is also not surprising that online courses and their hybrid counterparts varied greatly in the ways in which they require students to learn online course components, and the degree to which learners had control over their learning progress (Wayer, Crippin, & Dawson, 2015).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Design Thinking or Design-Based Thinking: An approach to problem solving that incorporates creative and strategic processes used by designers to generate design solutions.

Prototype: A design milestone in the production of any digital or analog product that demonstrates a working solution to a design problem; commonly used as a basis for testing and further iterative development.

Digital Media Production: The process by which to create digital assets such as images, video, and websites.

Legitimate Peripheral Participation: Social interactions among members of a community which enables people to engage in a community of practice as a way to share knowledge and support community learning.

Taxonomy of Significant Learning: A strategy by which to plan the design of learning environments that includes not only cognitive outcomes, but also supporting and broadening of knowledge, and application to the learner’s particular context.

Project-Based Learning (PBL): A pedagogical approach in which students iteratively pursue a bounded project as a means to achieve course goals.

Software Simulation: A feature in a software system that enables the viewer to see recorded video of desktop software applications, and that enables the viewer to simulate interactions with the software through use of a mouse or keyboard, without the need to have the original software installed.

Game-Based Learning: A learning strategy that uses analog or digital games, game strategies, or game creation to facilitate student participation and learning.

Mobile Learning Application: Software designed to be used by learners on a device such as a cell phone or tablet, and that is created using specialized desktop software tools.

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