One of the persistent myths of online teaching is that it is impossible to engage students and create meaningful student-teacher relationships unless those parties are meeting face-to-face in a classroom. While it is true that engaging students in this format take a more thoughtful and intentional approach, it is by no means impossible.
Hiding in the Back Row
One could argue that there are students in campus-based classes who sit in the back row and do not talk at all with their peers or instructors and engaging them is equally difficult. One benefit of an online course is the learning makes “hiding in the back row” impossible. Everyone in an online course must communicate with others and the instructor through active participation in discussion boards and group projects.
Program Design and the Student Experience
It is important to note the idea of engaging students does not begin with the start of a course. The student experience must be considered at the beginning of program design when determining which learning management system to use and what instructional design elements must be included vis-à-vis course content.
For example, the concept of universal navigation within an LMS supports student engagement because it provides a framework for all courses. Universal navigation allows a student to learn the classroom once, and focus their attention on materials and interactions.
The Right Tools
It is important to have a variety of tools available for faculty and students to use to connect and research in the online classroom. Collaborate, a mobile web conferencing tool, allows Blackboard users to connect to video sessions with their instructor for office hours and with their fellow learners to work on group assignments or to present on a range of topics.
During a recent gathering of Kettering University Online faculty, instructors shared their opinions and best practices for engaging online students in both the instructional design and delivery of courses:
- Encourage students to introduce themselves and socialize with others in the virtual student lounge. Blackboard’s dedicated space for this is the Class Café.
- Provide opportunities for students to choose their own topics for study within assignments. Instead of assigning topics to students, allow them to choose from a list of topics or come up with their own.
- Be available! One of the most direct ways instructors can connect with students is through their office hours. Holding office hours at the same time each week as well as being available and responsive engages learners while also building trust, rapport, and maintaining the instructor and student relationship.
- Provide hands-on learning activities. Designing assignments that challenge students to explore the world around them is a great way to boost engagement.
- Provide meaningful and substantive feedback, as doing so is a necessity for student success. Instructors who take the time to offer this type of feedback, particularly BEFORE the next due date for an assignment, help keep students engaged and committed to improving their work.
- Providing text and video content in line with ADA compliance guidelines is essential for student engagement and a requirement for online education.
- Create lessons in chunks. Breaking down course material into smaller pieces can make the material easier to digest. Long sections of text and videos longer than 5 to 7 minutes do not engage online learners. Breaking up the material and arranging it with increasing levels of cognitive difficulty is one way to keep students engaged with course content.
- Make use of social media by encouraging students to create groups on social media platforms to share learning resources and videos related to course material.
- Send brief video messages to individual students. A personalized video to praise or encourage a student or to answer a question is a wonderful way to engage students. It sends the message “I see you” which is invaluable.
- Providing new student orientations is a good way to introduce new learners to institutional procedures and procedures as well as highlighting services such as writing centers, wellness and psychological services, and learning support/accommodations.
- Writing course content in a clear, concise manner allows students to move through material and directives with less confusion.
- Using rubrics – rubrics are designed to provide students clarity about assignment expectations as well as demystifying the concept of grading.
- Encourage students to use video, graphics, and other innovative ways to present course material. Tools like YouTube, Prezi, and PowerPoint are great ways for students to engage with their material, instructor, and peers.
- Writing clear learning objectives and explanations of why students are learning what they are learning is a very direct way to support student engagement. Students are typically more engaged with course material when they understand why they need to know it.
- Gamify content – using effective games or simulations supports group problem-based learning and can make adult learning fun.
These 15 suggestions are a great place to start to keep students engaged in the process of learning. Special thanks to our faculty for sharing these ideas!
Homes, N. (2017). Engaging with assessment: Increasing student engagement through continuous assessment. Active Learning in Higher Education, 19(1), 23-24.