By Mingsheng Dai, PhD
The success of an online coursedepends greatly on how activelyengaged students are with theinstructor, with their classmates, withthe content, with technology, andwith course management tools.Interactivity in any teaching andlearning context involves studentsresponding to information, seekinginstructors feedback, reflecting on thefeedback, and acting to appropriatelytailor personal learning experience.
In many cases, effects of interac-tion in an online environment canbe richer than in face-to-face situa-tions, since students can criticallyevaluate their understanding of thecontent by sharing their knowledgeand experiences in discussionquestions and postings.
Engaging activities for onlinecourses are designed to be relevantto the content, associated withcourse objectives and outcomes,require active involvement fromstudents, increase retention, and befun and rewarding. Simply clicking alink, or uploading a file, is just thefirst step toward other experiencesof interactive learning.
Here are some of my methodsand examples in creating engagingactivities for online courses.
1. Syllabus quizTo reinforce policies, deadlines,
expectations, projects, etc., specifiedin the syllabus, I have created asyllabus quiz to test studentsunderstanding of course outcomes,to stress their responsibilities, andto communicate my expectations. Ithas to be completed within the firstweek of the course and studentsneed a 100 percent score.
2. Interview reportMost online students are working
adults with very busy anddemanding schedules. They tend towork at their own pace and inisolation. To reduce loneliness andto increase their awareness of thelearning community, I use the dis-cussion board not only for them tointroduce each other as a get-to-know-you activity in the first week,but also to have them interview eachother on the topics and report backto the discussion board. This offersa vivid description of what eachstudent has learned from his or herinterview partner. Students find thisactivity helpful because it givesthem another opportunity to interactwith each another.
3. Feedback surveyWhen the course is one-third of
2Blogs or Discussion Boards?
3Retention of Online Students
4Online Teaching Fundamentals:
If You Build It (or Link to It), Can They Use It?
6Teaching Online with Errol: Online Teaching: Perfect forStudent-Centered Learning!
10 Ways to Engage Students in anOnline Course
Tips from the Pros
Hybrid Course DesignConsiderations
Creating a hybrid courseposes challenges thatdiffer from those of creating aface-to-face or online course.Here are some questions tokeep in mind as you create ahybrid course:
What are the learningoutcomes for your course?
Which learning outcomesare best suited to the onlineenvironment and which areappropriate for the face-to-face classroom?
How will you integrate youronline and face-to-facecourse components?
What will online discussionsadd to your course?
What challenges regardingonline discussions do youanticipate? How will youhandle these challenges?
How will you assess thework in each setting?
Source: University ofWisconsin-Milwaukee LearningTechnology Center. Questionsfor Reflection on CreatingHybrid Courses. AccessedNov. 14, 2007 at http://www4.uwm.edu/ltc/hybrid/faculty_resources/questions.cfm. @
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2 Online Cl@ssroom
Blogs or Discussion Boards?
Blogs and discussion boards bothprovide opportunities for inter-action in online courses, but thereare instances when one is moreappropriate than the other, saysMatt Crosslin, instructional designerat the University of Texas atArlingtons Center for DistanceEducation.
Blogs are typically organized inreverse-chronological order andfocus on the most recent input,whereas discussion boards focus onthe feedback to an initial prompt.
Blog entries are typically longerthan discussion board prompts andcan include multimedia. These blogentries are excellent places to com-plement the content in the rest ofthe course by providing currentinformation on a topic culled fromthe Web.
When youve got five, six, or tenparagraphs of initial stuff tocomment on versus one question, itdoes give the students a lot more tobase their response on, Crosslinsays.
Often the prompt for commentingon blogs is simply a commentbutton. With discussion boards,since there is usually just a shortintroduction, the prompts tend to bemore specific. A discussion boardcan have a broader range ofquestions, more than just what areyour comments? Crosslin says.
Pros and cons of blogs
As with all tools, there arepositive and negative aspects ofblogs in an online course.
According to Crosslin, blogs havethe following pros: Blogs generally have an interface
that is intuitive to use. Blogs present content in reverse
chronological order, which makesit easy to follow.
Blogs enable instructors to addcurrent content to their courses.
Blog platforms have tools thatenable live chat and the viewing ofcontent by date or topic.
Crosslin cites the following cons: Most course management systems
do not feature blogs, and so blogsare often hosted by externalwebsites, which brings up theissue of support and ownership.
One downside of keeping onescourse up to date is that there arefewer opportunities to proofreadthis content before posting it.
Advice for using blogs
Crosslin offers the followingadvice for those considering usingblogs in their online courses: Use blogs for a specific pedagogi-
cal purpose. Dont duplicate content from the
main part of the course. Provide a rubric to help students
know what is expected of them. If possible, host the blog within
the course management system soyou wont have to depend on anexternal host.
Uses for discussion boards
Discussion boards will continueto have a place in the onlineclassroom, Crosslin says. Someinstructors just want the questionsup there and the student responses.Thats their focus. I still think theresa great use for discussion boards,especially for feedback forums, toask questions. If you dont have anews or announcement function, adiscussion board can be a greatplace to put news and announce-ments, and students can askquestions if they need clarification.
Contact Matt Crosslin at firstname.lastname@example.org. @
C O U R S E D E S I G N
Retention of Online Students
R E T E N T I O N
By Riad S. Aisami, PhD
Isolation, disengagement, discon-nectedness, dissatisfaction, andtechnology issues are key factorsthat contribute to students droppingout of online courses. While attract-ing students to enroll in an onlinecourse is the prime responsibility ofthe academic institution, retainingstudents is the responsibility of theonline instructor. Hence, thequestion is this: How can onlineinstructors make their coursesengaging? The following suggestionscan help make courses more attrac-tive and engaging, which will helpretain online students:
1. Use the Instructional SystemDesign (ISD) approach
As you prepare to take on anonline course, think about followingsome kind of a systematic approachsuch as ISD that provides theneeded tools to develop and managethe online learning process. Aisamis5Ds Model (Define, Design, Develop,Deliver, and Determine) and othersimilar online teaching models likethe Louisiana State UniversitysModel are developed based on theADDIE Model (Analyze, Design,Develop, Implement, and Evaluate).
These online teaching modelshave the following characteristics: The overall goal and learning
objectives are defined in light ofthe students needs and skills.
The instructional structure isdesigned around the specificskills, knowledge, and attitudesthat students need to learn inorder to achieve the learningobjectives.
The instructional strategy andmaterials to teach the courseobjectives are both developedbased on the blueprint of thedesign step.
The course website and the course
instructional delivery approachare built, developed, and managedbased on the instructionalstrategy.
An evaluation process is designedand conducted to determine theeffectiveness of the course interms of the students abilities toachieve the course objectives.Based on these determinations,the course is revised to be moreeffective and engaging for a newgroup of students.
2. Develop an engaging onlinecourse syllabus
Engaging online courses requirean engaging course syllabus, onethat: is comprehensive and hyperlinked presents detailed guidelines of the
course information, learningobjectives, assignments, require-ments, teaching methodologies,documentations, and course-related resources
provides hyperlinks to thewebsites that students may needto refer to before or as the coursestarts, including websites of thebookstore, the online library, theelectronic learning managementsystem, supplemental materialsand course-related resources, thehelp desk, and the instructorsprofessional homepage (if applica-ble).
An engaging syllabus will help youmake a good first impression, chartthe courses roadmap, and set therules of engagement. The coursesyllabus helps online studentsovercome the fear of the unknownand provides them with the securitythey need by teaching them upfrontwhat to expect and how to plan for it.
3. Develop interactive instructionLook for ways to develop an inter-
active instructional delivery mode
that attracts students attention andengages them further in the coursematerials. The following are some ofthese ways: Computer-Based Training (CBT):
You can develop Computer-BasedTraining for the course instructionand post it on the course websiteusing authoring system tools suchas Trainersoft or ToolBook. Thesesoftware programs enable you todevelop interactive course instruc-tion with no programmingrequired. Also, they allow you tointegrate into the course instruc-tion all types of multimedia. WithCBT, students can gain newknowledge independently and gothrough some drill-and-practiceactivities that encourage their par-ticipation and allow them to checkon their learning. Also, studentscan receive instant feedback thatinforms them of the knowledge ofresponse (KOR) on a particularpractice question or activity.However, CBT and Web-basedinstruction with a variety of multi-media files requires large electron-ic space on the Web and,therefore, instructors need to beaware of the space available fortheir course shells on the Web.
Synchronous class sessions:Synchronous sessions bringonline students closer togetherand put them in direct contactwith the instructor. Also, you canuse some other Web technologiesto post audio or video files of a livelecture, discussion, or aninterview with a professional.These technologies may includePresenterPlus, a synchronizedmedia tool that works inter-changeably with Blackboard andother E-LMS programs andsupports streaming formats ofvarious media players such as
Continued on page 5 >>
By Patti Shank, PhD, CPT
In the last few articles, I havediscussed using media in onlinecourses and how to overcomenumerous obstacles to getting theright kinds of media for your onlinecourses. This month, Ill finish theseries by discussing some learner-centered obstacles that need to beconsidered so the media elementsyou build or link to will have thedesired impact.
Media, such as pictures, charts,animations, audio, and video, havenatural characteristics that can beexploited to help learners learn andthink critically about the contentbeing taught. For example, videoprograms dramatizing historicalevents can help learners analyzefactors that may have led to theseevents. Computer animations ofhuman body processes, such asdigestion, help medical studentssee body processes so they canthink more critically about digestiveconditions.
In online courses, where text (inbooks, articles, or on the screen) isoften the primary content deliverymode, media can make the contentcome alive. Imagine designing anonline course in which one of thecourse modules is about the historyof the Internet. You might provide atext-based timeline of the eventsleading up to wide adoption of theInterne...