engaging online students
To compensate for the lack of face-to-face contact, faculty need to make a special effort to connect with students when introducing online courses. Learn how you can transform course introductions from ho-hum exercises in housekeeping into time-saving, inspirational new beginnings.
Developing an online course with student expectations in mind can enhance student engagement and promote development of self-motivated learning. This pointed and practical session will show you how to meet online students’ desires without sacrificing your standards.
You’ve been assigned your first online class to teach and you feel like you’re ready. You’ve done your homework and learned the ins and outs of the institution’s course management system. You’ve structured your content in purposeful ways and developed thoughtful guiding questions to situate student learning and motivate them. When the class starts, however, you realize that while everything is technically functioning correctly, many of the students are not engaged. While you were looking forward to teaching online and interacting with students, the students are approaching your course as if it’s an independent study. This wasn’t what you anticipated when you agreed to teach online!
Understanding learners’ experiences in the online classroom can help you improve your courses for current and future students and help build a strong learning community. Jill Schiefelbein, owner of Impromptu Guru, a company focused on helping individuals and groups improve communication in both face-to-face and online environments, recommends using a reciprocal feedback process to elicit this valuable information from students.
Who should be taking online courses? Are online courses equally appropriate for all students? Can any content be taught in an online format or do some kinds of material lend themselves to mastery in an electronic environment? Who should be teaching these courses? These are all good questions that institutions offering online courses—and instructors teaching them—should consider.
One of the first and most difficult tasks an online instructor faces is how to establish the presence of a learning community. Learning in isolation may be possible, but it’s neither enjoyable nor complete, and many online students end up quitting or failing the course simply because they miss the classmate support that is readily available in face-to-face classes. To ignore the importance of peer learning and personal connection in any classroom, including those in which participants might not physically meet, is to deny the significance of social interaction in learning.
Student engagement is a popular topic and the overwhelming majority of the information on this topic is concentrated on the big issues of keeping students engaged, such as the importance of faculty presence in the classroom, adhering to deadlines and responding to students in a timely manner, and giving thorough feedback on assignments.
Almost 25 years have passed since Chickering and Gamson offered seven principles for good instructional practices in undergraduate education. While the state of undergraduate education has evolved to some degree over that time, I think the seven principles still have a place in today’s collegiate classroom. Originally written to communicate best practices for face-to-face instruction, the principles translate well to the online classroom and can help to provide guidance for those of us designing courses to be taught online.
Monica Rothschild-Boros, an art appreciation and cultural anthropology instructor at Orange Coast College, uses a combination of embedded lecture questions, threaded discussion, and innovative assignments to engage students and get them to think critically in her online courses.
Have you ever worried about the level of participation in your online courses? Perhaps you have difficulty encouraging students to interact with one another, or maybe you find student responses to be perfunctory. Surely there must be a way to encourage the kinds of participation that really supports learning.