Increasing Engagement in an Online Learning Environment, Part 2

In Part 1, we discussed creating online learning environments and adding engagements and connections to students. We discussed lectures (live and recorded) as well as discussion forums. Today we will continue that discussion with interactions with the class, touchpoints, videos, maintaining the work you are doing, and setting boundaries and expectations.

1. Interactions with the Class  (Discussions, Quizzes, Assignments) 

The professor may choose to interact with students in an online class in a variety of ways. In addition to discussions, professors may also use assignments and quizzes as tools for boosting interaction. Each discussion or assignment needs to be crafted with a purpose in mind. These interactions are a way to keep the student connected with the course. When a professor asks a student to do something, it should be very clear what is being asked and why. What is the direct benefit to the student? How will it help the student accomplish the goal of the course?

2. Every Touchpoint Matters 

Don’t get lazy in an online environment. A quiz is what you give all of your students to determine whether the student read and understood the content. However, that’s only a basic reason behind the quiz. Why else are you giving that quiz? Why, at this point and time, is it critical for the student to know this information? Where will this information help the student later in the course? If the student gets a 100% grade, how does that help the student with the next piece? If the student gets a 0% grade, how does that hinder them? The path to success must be very clear in an online learning environment.

Moreover, short quizzes and other exercises can provide an excellent opportunity for your students to engage in active learning. A few multiple-choice questions or a few short-answer questions given before class help to get students engaged and thinking about the materials. 

3. Intro Videos Help Create a Welcoming Online Learning Environment

A personalized “intro” video at the start of the course helps connect the course with a real person—or people. If multiple people teach this course and a video is not practical, then writing a quality, personal message welcoming students to the course is a must.

4. Video Content Helps Engage Your Online Learning Environment

Content is king, but you need to present it in a way that makes the content easily consumable by the students. Breaking down your lectures into 15-minute sections (or less) will help. If you have 45 minutes of content, break it into three videos. Small chunks of content are better than one large piece. 

5. Fun Videos Can Help Break the Ice

Yes! It’s always best to find some content that is fun as well. You have a sense of humor that comes out when you teach. Find that humor in a few videos and give the students an option to watch those videos. Especially in online courses, students need a break from the hard content every so often. These fun breaks are engaging and help students realize that the course is intentionally presented by a qualified professor.

6. Don’t Start What You Can’t Maintain!

Professors often think they will have time to respond to every discussion post and every email, so they let the design of their course lapse. Twenty students posting one initial post and two replies is sixty posts to read. This can be overwhelming for professors.

We recommend you design your course with twice as many students in mind. If you are used to teaching 15–20 students, design your course like you are teaching 40 students. This approach really challenges you to think about how to set up your content and assignments.

7. Boundaries and Expectations to Set A Healthy Online Learning Environment

Because adult learners need to know what’s expected of them, professors need to set up good boundaries and expectations for students. At the start of each course, clearly explain how and when students should communicate with you, and set your expectations for the quality and quantity of work students need to produce.

Students are students, regardless of the modality being used, which means some of them will wait until the last minute to do certain things. You may receive an urgent email on a Sunday night at 10:00 saying a student is having an issue with the assignment that’s due in two hours. Set the expectation of when you will respond to emails and issues such as these.

Technology issues do happen, though, so be reasonable. However, hold the student accountable. Almost every student has a smartphone or tablet these days, which they can use to access the LMS if their computer isn’t working. If the LMS itself is not working, the student can email you. Communication is an important part of a successful online course for both the student and the professor. 

In sum, the word that best describes what you need to be when teaching an online course is “mindful.” Be a student of your students. Empathize, observe what they’re doing, and make sure you know what it is like to go through an online course as a student. Walk in their shoes before you teach in an online course. Being mindful will help you be a better online professor, and help you guide your students to be better online students.

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