Ways to Engage Online Students

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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

    his

    Issue

    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 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 benefits

    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 theInternet. Now add photos, bios, andaudio clips of Internet historians andpioneers talking about their contri-butions in the early days of theInternet and ask learners to discusshow the skills of this divergent groupof people led to the Internet as weknow it today. This is much moreengaging than the timeline alone anda good way to help learners thinkcritically about the people and events

    leading up to the Internet as weknow it today.

    Media obstacles

    There are some common learner-centered limitations that need to beconsidered when using media inyour online courses. Two of thebiggest are access (which makesviewing and interacting with mediapossible or not) and the lack of relia-bility of outside links.

    Got access?You may build it, but learners

    may not be able to access it.Bandwidth, or the amount of datathat can fit through the connectionbetween the server and the user(learner) at one time, can be a realproblem. The more media you useand the more bandwidth these mediaelements require, the more potentialhassles there are. Learners mayneed to wait for high-bandwidthmedia data such as video todownload and if they are trying to fitcoursework into an already hecticlife, waiting a long time may beextremely frustrating or even a dealbreaker.

    In most cases, learners need fastInternet connections (such as DSL,cable mode, or T1 access) to viewand interact with online media.Some learners may have fast connec-tions at work but not at home. Someare unable to listen to audio at work,though, because they either do nothave a sound card or are unable touse headphones (so they can listenwithout annoying everyone aroundthem). And they may be unable todownload needed media players (forexample, QuickTime or Flash)because of their companys ITrestrictions.

    When learners do not have fastInternet access at work and at home,online learning capacity is dimin-ished. Work and family schedules are

    often hectic and the ability to jumpinto schoolwork from anywhere isoften critical to online learnerssuccess.

    To do: Do a reality check on thetechnology requirements for usingthe media you want to produce orlink to. Select media that mostlearners can use. (But its usuallyunwise to take a lowest commondenominator approach.) Start a dis-cussion about whether the technolo-gy requirements are adequate. Forexample, should fast access at workand home as well as the ability todownload and use new players asthey become available be required?Help learners determine if they haveadequate access to be successful andhelp them think about how to getadditional, adequate access. (Forexample, many libraries and somefast-food restaurants, coffee shops,and laundromats provide freeaccess.)

    Got links?One of the recommendations I

    made in a previous article was toovercome costs and developmenttime by linking to existing media onthe Internet. I stand by that advice,but you should expect that some ofthe links you select will not workwhen learners try to use them. Somewill be down because of serverproblems, and others will havechanged URLs as organizationsupdate their websites. And otherswill simply vanish. Check all thelinks before your course materials golive, but remember that some of thelinks that you checked yesterdaymay be problematic today. Thatsjust the way it is.

    Another problem with linking toexisting media on other sites is thatsome online instructors provide toomany resource links. A long list of

    4 Online Cl@ssroom

    ONLINE TEACHING FUNDAMENTALS

    Continued on page 7 >>

    If You Build It (or Link to It), Can They Use It?

  • 5Online Cl@ssroom

    RealMedia, Windows Media, andMP3.

    Asynchronous discussion forums:Thoughtful discussions canencourage students to interactwith each other academically andhelp build a community. Weeklydiscussions that are supplementalto the textbook materials, open-ended questions that promotestudents learning and foster theircritical thinking, interactive topicdebates, and concise discussionguidelines and precise discussionrubrics, have been found to be aneffective approach in achieving thedesired learning outcomes(Aisami, 2007).

    Collaborative instructional activi-ties: Collaboration amongstudents provides students withthe social presence they need toestablish trust, build confidence,and develop the required onlinelearning attitude and self-disci-pline. Having students worktogether in groups to undertake acourse project and/or any othercourse instructional activitiesrequires students frequent com-munication, prompt collaboration,and active participation in the dis-cussion and decision making.Clear goals of the required collab-orative activity, concise guidelinesof the rules of engagement, andhomogeneity among groupmembers have been found tooptimize interaction and maximizestudents performance inachieving the desired instructionalgoals. In general, collaborationallows online students to do moretogether than they could alone(Aisami, 2007). With all thepositive potential outcomes fromsuccessful information andknowledge sharing expected froman optimal collaboration, it is easyto forget that such peer-to-peerexchange depends on time, effort,and trust among peers. Sharingmay not occur when there is com-petition for scarce resources,

    where knowledge is power, orwhere time is so short thatengagement with peers is outsidethe bounds of possibility (CarolineHaythornthwaite, 2006).

    4. Build an attractive and invitingcourse website

    The social isolation that exists inonline courses may not disappearentirely in spite of the continuousadvancements in Web technology. Itmay, however, be reduced byincreasing the level of social interac-tion and engagement of onlinecourses (Aisami, 2006). The followingare some of the features that canhelp you build attractive and invitingcourse websites: Video announcement: Prepare a

    video announcement and post iton the course website. It makes abig difference for online studentsto see and hear their instructorintroduce the course personally,present navigation instructions,and verbally explain the courserequirements, objectives, andassignments.

    Students homepages: Onlinestudents can use the CMShomepage function to build theirindividual homepages. This givesstudents the opportunity to seeeach others pictures and readabout each others backgrounds.

    Class photo album: You can coor-dinate the efforts with yourstudents to use the MicrosoftPowerPoint Album function tocreate an online class album thatincludes the instructors andstudents photos.

    Class group picture: Use thePhotoshop, Paint, or any otherphoto editing program to groupthe individual pictures of thestudents to create a group pictureof the class.

    iMail: The iMail feature ofBlackboard is a communicationtool that allows students to sendand receive email messages inter-nally within the course websitewithout a need for any externalemail address or an Internet

    service provider. This featureencourages students to visit thecourse website frequently to checktheir feedback messages and com-municate with the instructor andwith each other.

    Course calendar: A coursecalendar that charts the courseassignments week by week andexplains what to do is helpful inincreasing students participationand interaction.

    Break room: You can also add aspecial discussion forum on thediscussion board and call itBreak Room for students tosocialize by having some personalchats or by sharing personal expe-riences or social events.

    ReferencesAisami, R., (2007). Cracking

    Online Students out of the CourseShell. Paper presented at theSociety for Applied LearningTechnology (SALT) Conference.Proceedings of New LearningTechnologies in Orlando, Florida,January 30February 2, 2007.

    Aisami, R., (2006). Make YourOnline Course Engaging. Paperpresented at the U.S.-China Forumon Distance Learning sponsored byTroy University, Boston University,and China University. Troy,Alabama, April 911, 2006.Proceedings, pp. 64-68.

    Aisami, R., (2005). Principles ofEffective Online Courses: Overview ofthe 5Ds Model for Teaching OnlineCourses. Best Practices in ElectronicallyDelivered Courses. Troy University e-Campus, Vol. 3, pp. 10-11.

    Haythornthwaite, C., (2006).Facilitating Collaboration in OnlineLearning. Journal of AsynchronousLearning Networks Vol. 10, Number1, pp. 7-24.

    Riad S. Aisami is an assistantprofessor of education and instruc-tional technology program coordinatorat Troy University in Georgia. Contacthim at raisami@troy.edu. @

  • By Errol Craig Sull

    Bob Dylan said it best: Thetimes they are a-changin.The tradition of education has

    always dictated what we now knowas faculty-centered instruction(FCI). Here, the teacher has the roleof Lord of the Manor, holding theclass together through lectures,designing assignments and tests,grading, and dictating whatmaterial was to be learned andwhen. The students have little to doon their own, waiting for what theinstructor dictates and directs. Butthe educational process is constant-ly morphing, and one of the biggestchanges in recent years has beenstudent-centered instruction (SCI),where some of the learning burdenis shifted to the student. Here,active learning experiences are sub-stituted for lectures, students areheld responsible for material notexplicitly discussed in class, self-paced and/or cooperative (team)learning is used, and criticalthinking becomes more importantas students must solve open-endedproblems that do not follow textmodels.

    Many faculty, unwilling to giveup their traditional FCI role, havebalked at SCI. Yes, there is amyriad of challenges in implement-ing SCI into a brick-and-mortarclassroom; but we are here dis-cussing online instruction, andwhile difficulties remain in smoothlyintegrating SCI into onlineeducation, the distance learningclassroom is an ideal environmentin which to employ SCI. Thefollowing suggestions will help youmake SCI a valuable and effortlessteaching approach in yourcoursesand have you saying,Thats cool! to Dylans refrain:

    Write a Tom Sawyer-like

    whitewash the fence welcomingemail. In The Adventures of TomSawyer, Tom got others towhitewash the fencea job hehatedby pretending that he washaving a great time. Your sincereenthusiasm for SCIwithout everwriting SCI or anything like itcan go a long way in getting yourstudents excited about thisapproach to your course. You setthe tone: never forget that.

    Be a constant presence for sug-gestions and insights. Look atyour role as that of the coordinatorof a cooperative: give initial direc-tions and guidance, but also con-stantly pop in to give kudos forgood student postings, suggestionsto help their learning, and applausefor discussion or team postings thatdeveloped into long threads fromone initial students thoughts. Also,always offer suggestions onimproving writing. Be a bit self-dep-recating at times. Be sure to pointout the importance of supportingand thanking fellow classmates forideas. All of this will go a long wayin keeping students engaged andhelping them to learn more.

    Post mini-lectures thattranslate into ultra important. If Iwere to see lecture after lectureposted by a professor for reading,Id sooner take out my eyes with ahot poker than read them. Lectureslike this become so much blah-blah-blah, and students soon find itdifficult to absorb all the informa-tion. But by posting mini-lectures(one to three paragraphs centeredon one subject), the students willrecognize these as importantbecause of their infrequency, bemore eager to read them, and willcertainly absorband remembertheir contents easier. (Hint: youmight want to mention these in

    your welcoming email.)

    Offer an engaging variety ofassigned and supplementalreadings. Textbooks, it seems,have, for the most part, remainedstodgy in their writing styles; askingan online student to read largeportions of these can result in thesame problems as posting manylong lectures. Choose your assignedreadingsand how much to readwisely. And also always offer avariety of supplemental readingsthat are engaging, interesting, andperhaps funthe students wonthave to read them, but you canmake them want to.

    Offer reality-based educationapproaches to material covered inclass. By stressing connectionsbetween what students learn fromthe assigned material and its use inthe real world, you are tellingstudents they must rely on theircritical thinking, interacting withothers in class, and furtherresearch to fill in the blanks ofwhat they have not been implicitlytaught. Hold them responsible forgetting this informationbut dontpunish them if they get it wrong:you want them to have A-ha!moments of learning, not Whatsthe use of trying? thoughts.

    Get students actively involvedin the course. By having studentsoffer suggestionsreadings,websites, poetry, theories, organiza-tions, etc.to enhance variousportions of the course they becomemore invested in this cooperative ofa class you are coordinating andguiding. The bonuses are thatstudents will be learning in deeperlayers of what the course initiallyoffered, they have another internal

    6 Online Cl@ssroom

    Online Teaching: Perfect for Student-Centered Learning!

    T E A C H I N G O N L I N E W I T H E R R O L

    Continued on page 7 >>

  • 7Online Cl@ssroom

    links, to many learners, is a recipefor overload and anxiety before thefirst click. Learners need guidanceand focus when using links and themedia elements they may contain.

    To do: Consider recommending awebsite download tool such as WebWhacker (www.bluesquirrel.com/products/webwhacker/) so learnerscan download online materials incase they become unavailable.Caveat: The purpose of this tool isfor students be able to view websitesoffline, not to be able to share thesefiles with others. Ask the owner ofthe materials for permission if youwant to share them and get advice

    from your legal department to makesure you are not infringing oncopyright laws.

    Find some really good outsideresources, but dont link to theuniverse. Annotate these links solearners know exactly what to expect(what they will see/hear/do, timeneeded, media players needed).Provide very clear instructions onwhat students should look for whileusing the media (for example,instruct them to observe how agraph changes over time as moredata points are added) and what todo afterward (for example, answerdiscussion questions or write aposition paper).

    A good instructor helps learners

    make personal meaning out of thecourse content, activities, and inter-actions. Media can be very helpfultoward this end, but first, thelearner needs to be able to accessand use the media without gettingfrustrated or overloaded.

    Next month, Ill begin a new serieson ways to evaluate your onlinecourses.

    Patti Shank, PhD, CPT, is a widelyrecognized information and instruc-tional designer, writer, and authorwho helps others build valuable infor-mation and instruction. She can bereached through her website,www.learningpeaks.com @

  • the way into the semester, studentsare required to complete ananonymous feedback survey, whichasks them about how the class isrunning; the depth, length, and chal-lenges of assignments; preferences incommunication with the instructor;and the time they spend weekly inreading, completing assignments,and responding to discussionquestions. This survey provides mewith very important informationabout their levels of satisfaction andtheir expectations. It also serves as aself-check to me as an instructor.After hearing students voices, I willsummarize the results, share themwith the students, and makeimprovements.

    4. Group projectsCan group projects be done suc-

    cessfully online? Yes, but successrequires planning, time commitment,monitoring, and supporting. Iusually spend two or three timesmore time during the group projectperiod to check on the progress ofeach group. In order to have aquality experience in this activity, Ineed to have strong leadership ineach group. Before setting upgroups, I ask for volunteer groupleaders who will guide the group,brainstorm ideas and topics for thegroup project, set up group chatsessions, communicate to groupmembers on the process of theproject, and finally combine individ-ual presentations into one torepresent the group. Once I havegroup leaders, I assign groupmembers. Each group member has aspecific role, and each has to submita draft of the project to me to begraded. I constantly check withgroup leaders and provide them withmy assistance and support. Tomotivate participation in a groupproject, I design it in such a way thathalf of the grade of the group projectcomes from peer evaluation. Eachmember has to anonymouslyevaluate the contribution and partic-

    ipation of each team member. I thentally the result. I find this method tobe fair because every member gets achance to evaluate his or her teammembers candidly. By working col-laboratively in cyberspace, isolatedstudents regard themselves as com-ponents of a cohesive group.

    5. Elluminate Live or Wimba LiveClassroom

    I use Elluminate Live and WimbaLive Classroom, where students andI can talk via microphone orheadset and see one another viawebcam. I create a name puzzle withtheir first names and have them findtheir names on the Whiteboard/eBoard. I ask them to import theirpictures onto Whiteboard/eBoardand have them tell stories so we cansee and visit each other acrossthe nation and around the world. Ialso use desktop application sharingto demonstrate step-by-step instruc-tions in understanding a particularassignment, tutoring them and trou-bleshooting their problems in com-pleting the assignment.

    6. Peer review/critiquesAfter developing their own

    websites as one of the assignments,students are asked to post theirURLs in the discussion board. Toencourage sharing and learning, Ihave students critique each otherswebsites with the guidelinesprovided. They get a chance to visitclassmates websites, share theirideas and thoughts with the class,praise and encourage their class-mates good work, learn from eachother, and, as a result, makeimprovements on their own websites.

    7. Sharing research findingsMany times we have students

    search the Web for individual writingassignments. What about pairingthem so they get another chance tointeract with one another? Throughcommunication, they find the sameresearch topic of interest, readarticles together, respond to eachothers findings and reflections, and

    learn from each others perspectives.What a great way to get theminvolved in the subject matter!

    8. GamesI also create games using

    StudyMate (www.respondus.com/products/studymate.shtml) for themto learn contents and concepts, suchas flash cards, crossword puzzles,fill-in-the-blank, pick a letter, trueand false, multiple choice, fact cards,etc. It is fun, interactive, and non-threatening, and it reinforces thecomprehension of the content.

    9. Student presentationsIn almost every face-to-face class,

    students are expected to make pre-sentations. Can it be done online?Yes, sure! How? There are a coupleof ways to do it, including using adiscussion board for students to posttheir presentations and/or present-ing in Live Classroom chat sessions.With the technology we have now,such as Wimba Live Classroom,Elluminate Live, Adobe Connect, etc.,students can talk via microphoneor headset and can make a live pres-entation. Students are able to askquestions and comment on theirpeers presentations, and presentersare able to respond to questions as ifthey were in a traditional classroom.

    10. Guest speakers Another way to engage students in

    an online course is to bring in guestspeakers via discussion board andlive chat sessions.

    There are many ways we canengage students in their learningjourney. We just have to be creativeand have an open mind. Anotherimportant aspect we have toremember is that not everyone learnsthe same way as we design. We haveto be flexible and make adjustmentsalong the way.

    Mingsheng Dai is director of theCenter for Instructional Design, Off-Campus Programs at CentralMichigan University. Contact Dr. Daiat dai2m@cmich.edu. @

    8 Online Cl@ssroom

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