online learning June 26

Synchronous Online Classes: 10 Tips for Engaging Students

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There’s a widely circulated YouTube video you may have seen called “A Conference Call in Real Life.” To spoof the strange, stilted dynamics of conference calls, it replicates them in a face-to-face setting. Participants stiffly announce their names at the door of a meeting room, are suddenly interrupted by bizarre background noises, and find themselves inexplicably locked out of a room they were just in.

If you haven’t watched it, do. You’ll recognize the familiar awkwardness of virtual meetings, where the rhythm of conversational interaction is thrown wildly askew by technological hiccups and the absence of visual cues.

Virtual space is not always easy.

Yet, virtual meetings are increasingly common, not only for geographically distributed work teams, but also for online courses.


keyboard June 16

Creating Rich Learning Experiences Even When Class is Canceled

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In my corner of the country, we experienced an unusually harsh winter which resulted in many class sessions being canceled due to school closures. Our faculty, and likely other groups of faculty in our region, received an email message that stated:

If you cancel your face-to-face session, I expect a comparable experience will be online for your students.

This is easier said than done. For faculty who don’t regularly deliver coursework online, the expectation to “just move your teaching session online” can be an overwhelming task. It’s not as simple as putting that day’s lesson online. Teaching effectively online requires a skill set that can only be acquired with knowledge and experience. It doesn’t happen automatically.


laptop with book. March 10

Reduce Online Course Anxiety with a Check-in Quiz

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“Online classes are often intimidating for first-time students,” writes David St Clair. “They wrestle with the gnawing fear that their class has no anchor in the physical world and that there will be no one there to address their fears and concerns.” (p. 129) His solution? A simple, online check-in quiz.

Here’s how the activity unfolds. The first assignment in the online course, to be completed on the first day, is this required check-in quiz. In St Clair’s case, it meets the university’s first-day attendance requirement. Students can be dropped from the course if they don’t meet that university requirement. They read the syllabus and take the quiz, which comes to them as an attachment in the course welcome email. The quiz is also posted on the course Blackboard site. Beyond fulfilling the check-in requirement, this quiz is actually a tour of course features. “To find the quiz, learn about the quiz, take the quiz, and to receive their grade on the quiz, students need to navigate through virtually every part of the online class site.” (p. 130) As St Clair points out, you could “tell” students how to navigate the features of the online course, but the more powerful way is having them discover those features for themselves.


Online discussions: typing on keyboard February 8

Three Simple Ways to Energize Online Discussions

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Online course discussions are routine in online and blended classes, and they are gaining popularity in face-to-face courses as well. Proponents of online discussions tout that their use can help with community- and relationship-building, can push students to go deeper with course content and demonstrate critical thinking, and can allow students to share their knowledge and previous experience with course-related concepts and ideas.

Although the use of online discussions is becoming more common, I frequently hear faculty express concerns and challenges they have with them: the time it takes to read and grade each post, keeping students interested and engaged with the forums, and wrestling with how much they as instructors should be participating.

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Online student working on computer January 13

How to Make Online Group Projects More Effective

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When we look at the value of collaborative group work, the research is clear: group work is beneficial to learning. It improves retention, critical thinking, persistence, motivation, satisfaction, engagement, time on-task, and the list goes on and on.

Now, these benefits are not unique to the online classroom. Collaborative group work is valuable whether you’re sitting in a face-to-face classroom or in an online classroom. But it’s important to remember that some of these benefits are uniquely suited for the online classroom.

Think for a minute about students in an online course. Most of them are sitting at home, maybe at work. They’re alone at a computer. It’s just them and the monitor. It’s not the most engaging atmosphere.

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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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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.


male college student with phone and laptop December 1, 2016

Tips for Making Your Traditional Discussions More Engaging

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Engagement may go beyond the classroom.

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online student: PBL December 1, 2016

Using Online Protocols for Discussions

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After teaching online for a number of years, I grew weary of the normal “make an initial post, then respond to two others” discussions. Was there another way to engage students? How could I make discussions more meaningful and in-depth? Were there ways to ensure that all students had a voice in a conversation?

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online learning November 27, 2016

Promoting Meaningful Engagement

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Live sessions in an online course create dynamic exchanges that lower students’ anxiety about their learning by connecting them with their professor, classmates, and institution. They also enrich students’ learning by giving them the space to think through ideas and encouraging them to reflect critically upon the course content and the perspectives of others.

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