professor on laptop in library December 20, 2016

Online Course Activities to Increase Student Engagement

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I have learned that a few simple instructor activities greatly increase student engagement in an online course. Here are some of the most effective activities you can use in your courses.

Connect icebreaker discussions to content
The use of icebreakers has become widespread in online learning. But what kinds of icebreakers are best to use? My observations suggest that great icebreakers are those that pique students’ interest in the content while also helping them learn more about each other as whole people. For example, an icebreaker in a course about forensic biology might ask students to share an experience in their lives that made them think forensic biology is an intriguing field of study (their own experience, a film they’ve seen, or stories they’ve read).

The key is that the students begin to get to know each other through shared stories, but these stories are connected to the course content in ways that are personally meaningful to students. This allows the icebreaker discussion to flow into the content discussions that follow rather than create a space for “social chat” that is disconnected from the goals of the learning. Some students will immediately find peers they feel personally connected to through this story sharing. For students who are highly motivated by their relationships with peers, this gets the semester off to a great start.

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Top 11 articles on Faculty Focus December 16, 2016

Our Top 11 Teaching and Learning Articles of 2016

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It wouldn’t be the end of the year without a few top 10 lists. As we prepare to put 2016 in the rearview mirror, we’re offering up our own list, which goes to 11.

Throughout 2016, we published more than 200 articles. The articles covered a wide range of teaching and learning topics, including diversity and inclusion, critical thinking, peer feedback, assignment strategies, course design, flipped learning, online discussions, and grading policies.

In this post, we reveal the 11 articles that most resonated with our readers. Each article’s ranking is based on a combination of factors, including e-newsletter open and click rates, social shares, reader comments, web traffic, reprint requests, and other reader engagement metrics.


college campus in winter December 14, 2016

A Season for Silence

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Another year, another collection of posts and comments. Another time to say thank you for your faithful readership and express grateful appreciation to Faculty Focus’ extraordinary editor, Mary Bart.

Our lives are busy, full, and boisterous. We get a sense of that when the semester ends. Oh, there’s plenty going on at home, especially this time of year, but at work it’s quiet. Classes are done, and there are only a few students left scurrying around campus. Yes, there’s grading, but that now gets done without many interruptions. For a while we relish the quiet. The sidewalks aren’t crowded. Coffee can be had in the student center without a wait. We have the library to ourselves. But then the silence turns to emptiness. What is a campus without students?


female college student on laptop December 13, 2016

Three Methods to Enhance Peer Review in Your Classroom

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We’ve all done it: asked students to switch papers before turning them in for editing and peer review, only to receive superficial comments and vague critiques that make us wonder if peer review is really worth the time. Some of us have students put sentences on the board for whole class peer review. The sentences go up, but when I ask for edits that might make them better, I hear nothing but the crickets chirping.

Although extensive research indicates that peer review of student writing is beneficial and often critical to revision, many teachers are opting to leave it on the back burner. But I don’t think it belongs there and would like to propose some ways technology can improve peer review. In fact, research is identifying a number of advantages from online peer review. The comments reviewers provide are easily read and printed. Students tend to maintain greater focus on the task in the online format. Teachers can monitor the discussions and weigh in as they see fit. Technology makes it easy to compare peer review drafts with finished papers to see progress. I’ve used the methods I’m describing here, and they are making peer review a more productive part of the writing process in my courses.

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college student sitting outside with laptop December 12, 2016

Five Ways to Make Your Online Classrooms More Interactive

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The convenience and flexibility of the online learning environment allows learners to develop new skills and further their education, regardless of where they live. However, for all of its benefits, online learning can sometimes feel isolating for students and faculty. The question is: how do you build a sense of community in your online courses? One approach involves cultivating more interaction—between you and your students and among the students themselves. Here are five practical tips for increasing the human connection in your online classrooms.


unplugging cord December 8, 2016

Use It but Don’t Depend on Technology to Teach

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This article is not a Luddite’s rejection of digital technology. Even though I feel some intellectual kinship with Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau in regard to how some tools affect people constitutionally, I readily admit that digital technology has made my job as a teacher much easier in a number of ways. Courseware makes it possible for me to share handouts with students without having to make copies. I can post web links for easy in-class access. Using email, I can make important announcements when my students are not in class, and they can contact me with questions about their essays. After my students visit a local science museum, I can have them post their thoughts about the visit to a discussion board, responding both to me and to each other as they ruminate on connections between the museum displays and related content in the course text. In short, for teachers and students—including sometime skeptics like me—digital technology, despite occasional overuse, facilitates interpersonal communication and accessibility to information.

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students studying in the library December 7, 2016

A Memo to Students about Studying for Finals

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To: My Students
From: Your Professor
Re: Studying for Finals

The end of the semester is rarely pretty. You’re tired; I’m tired. You’ve got a zillion things to get done—ditto for me. You’ve also got grades hanging in the balance to be decided by how you perform on the final exam. The pressure is on, and it’s not just this course. It’s all of them.


information overload computer key December 6, 2016

Top Online Course Design Mistakes

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Although online education has been around for nearly 20 years, I still see a number of common mistakes among online course developers. Here are the top course design mistakes in online education and how to avoid them in your courses.

Too much content
When I hire someone to design an online course, I invariably get too much content. Developers will assign over 150 pages of dense, academic reading per week, along with websites and other resources. Covering all of this content would take far more time than can be expected of students, leading them to pick and choose what they think is important, not what the course developer thinks is important.

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students texting December 5, 2016

Teaching Students about Their Digital Footprints

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Our students live in an online world. They’re emotionally and physically attached to their devices and many of their relationships exist within technology. As educators, there are many ways that we have had to adapt to this changing landscape of communication within our teaching, and when I look around my institution, I think we’re doing a remarkable job at keeping up with the rapid pace of change.