Exploring Design Elements for Online STEM Courses: Active Learning, Engagement & Assessment Design

Exploring Design Elements for Online STEM Courses: Active Learning, Engagement & Assessment Design

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The purpose of this study was to examine effective design elements for online courses in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields at a large four-year public university in the southeastern United States. Our research questions addressed the influence of online design elements on students’ perception of learning and learning satisfaction. An online survey was completed by 537 students from 15 online STEM courses in spring 2016. The survey results indicated that student perceptions of learning and satisfaction were correlated with their perceptions of the efficacy of specific design elements, such as integrated active learning activities, interactive engagement strategies, and robust assessment design. In particular, the perception of assessment design efficacy was significantly correlated with students’ self-perceived learning and learning satisfaction for students of all subpopulations. The findings inform instructors and instructional designers on how to design effective, inclusive, and engaging online STEM courses. Student survey responses were observed to support universal design for learning (UDL) and in light of this, online STEM instructors are also strongly encouraged to utilize UDL principles in course design, which benefit not only students with disabilities but for all students.


Active learning, assessment, online courses, online education, online interaction, online learning, online STEM courses, STEM education, student satisfaction, student perception, Universal Design for Learning, UDL

Exploring Design Elements for Online STEM Courses: Active Learning, Engagement & Assessment Design

The number of enrollments in college courses taught using the Internet has soared over the last ten years and the increase in online courses continues. According to the 2017 report of the Digital Learning Compass, over six million higher education students are taking online courses and 30% of all higher education students now take at least one course online (Allen & Seaman, 2017). At the same time, STEM education has become a national priority (STEM Education Coalition, 2014) and in 2010 President Obama dedicated resources to the advancement of STEM education through the Educate to Innovate initiative and America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010. With the increase in online learning and a national focus on STEM education, there is a growing need for pedagogical best practices that address the unique challenges of delivering STEM instruction online (Chen, Howard, & Bastedo, 2015).

Limitations and Directions for Future Research

There are limitations that should be acknowledged in this survey research method and sample. The major limitation is the self-selection bias as participants volunteered for the study. Even though we have a large sample size (N=537), the data only includes volunteer students at one southeastern university in the United States where online learning has been established as a norm for almost 20 years. Thus, it is unclear whether the current findings would generalize to college students engaged in other universities or countries. Future research could focus on students in other universities and possibly from other countries. Some additional areas of future research (STEM) might focus on correlations between the online course design elements students prefer and measures of learning and persistence, in addition to student self-reported data on learning STEM. This survey research is exploratory in nature. Each of these design practices can be established through experimental or other research designs to gain a better understanding of what works and in what contexts. The following summarizes some of the current best practices drawn from STEM

● Engage students with real-life problems and active experiences.

● Provide students with a variety of additional instructional resources, such as simulations, case studies, videos, and demonstrations.

● Provide online and face-to-face opportunities for students to collaborate with others, such as peers and teaching assistants.

● Faculty should be clear, concise, and consistent about instructions, assignments, assessments, due dates, course pages, and office hours, and improve communications with students.

● Use Universal Design for Learning principles to design online experiences to benefit all students, not just students with disabilities.

Developing quality online courses in the STEM disciplines has the potential to increase access for all populations and engage diverse students, especially underrepresented minorities and students with disabilities. This study has attempted to elucidate and explain the design elements of online STEM courses that students perceive as beneficial for learning for all students. Instructors and instructional designers need to focus on integrated active learning, interactive engagement strategies, robust assessment design, and UDL principles in designing effective, inclusive and engaging online STEM courses.

About KSRA

The Kavian Scientific Research Association (KSRA) is a non-profit research organization to provide research / educational services in December 2013. The members of the community had formed a virtual group on the Viber social network. The core of the Kavian Scientific Association was formed with these members as founders. These individuals, led by Professor Siavosh Kaviani, decided to launch a scientific / research association with an emphasis on education.

KSRA research association, as a non-profit research firm, is committed to providing research services in the field of knowledge. The main beneficiaries of this association are public or private knowledge-based companies, students, researchers, researchers, professors, universities, and industrial and semi-industrial centers around the world.

Our main services Based on Education for all Spectrum people in the world. We want to make an integration between researches and educations. We believe education is the main right of Human beings. So our services should be concentrated on inclusive education.

The KSRA team partners with local under-served communities around the world to improve the access to and quality of knowledge based on education, amplify and augment learning programs where they exist, and create new opportunities for e-learning where traditional education systems are lacking or non-existent.

FULL Paper PDF file:

Exploring Design Elements for Online STEM Courses: Active Learning, Engagement & Assessment Design




Baiyun Chen, Kathleen Bastedo, and Wendy Howard Center for Distributed Learning, University of Central Florida


We would like to acknowledge that the National Research Center for Distance Education and Technological Advancements (DETA) and the U.S. Department of Education Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education funded our project.



Exploring design elements for online STEM courses: Active learning, engagement & assessment design. Online Learning, 22(2), 59- 75. Volume 22 Issue 2 – June 2018

The following is the supplementary data to this article:  Download PDF file


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Nasim Gazerani was born in 1983 in Arak. She holds a Master's degree in Software Engineering from UM University of Malaysia.

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Professor Siavosh Kaviani was born in 1961 in Tehran. He had a professorship. He holds a Ph.D. in Software Engineering from the QL University of Software Development Methodology and an honorary Ph.D. from the University of Chelsea.

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