10 Ways to Engage Students in an Online Course

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  • DECEMBER 2007

    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!

    In T



    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. @

    Continued on page 8 >>


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    Randy Accetta, Ph.D., Eller College ofManagement, The University of Arizona,a c c e t t a @ e l l e r . a r i z o n a . e d u ; T h o m a sD. Bacig Ph.D., Morse Alumni DistinguishedTeaching Professor of Humanities, Departmentof Sociology/ Anthropology, University ofMinnesota-Duluth, tbacig@d.umn.edu; ToniBellon, Ed.D, School of Education, North GeorgiaCollege and State University, Dahlonega, GAtbellon@ngcsu.edu; Sherry McConnell, DVM,Depart-ment of Anatomy and Neurobiology,Colorado State University-Fort Collins, CO,S h e r r y . M c C o n n e l l @ C o l o S t a t e . E D U ;Frank Moretti, Ph.D., Executive DirectorColumbia Center for New Media Teaching andLearning, Columbia University, New York, NY,fmoretti@columbia.edu; Dennis ONeil, Ph.D.,Professor of Anthropology, Palomar College, SanMarcos, CA, doneil@palomar.edu; Lawrence C.Ragan, Ph.D., Director-Instructional Design andDevelopment, Penn States World Campus,lcr1@psu.edu; Henry R. van Zyl, Ph.D., Director ofDistance Learning Programs, Thomas EdisonState College, Trenton, NJ phvanzyl@tesc.edu;John Wager, Ph.D., professor of philosophy,Triton Community College, River Grove, Ill.J w a g e r @ t r i t o n . c c . i l . u s ; S h i r l e yWaterhouse, Ed.D., Director of EducationTechnology, Embry-Riddle AeronauticalUniversity, shirley@db. erau.edu

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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 matt@edugeekjournal.com. @

    C O U R S E D E S I G N

  • 3Online Cl@ssroom

    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