For faculty, encouraging student engagement is important in the online environment as the drop-out rates are significantly higher than the traditional face-to-face courses. Engagement like many other things in online education may have a different meaning based on perspective. Here are a few strategies for engaging online students in your online courses, from the faculty perspective:
Feedback – timely feedback on assignments will allow your online students to incorporate the feedback and make improvements for future assignments. This may seem nearly impossible for larger courses. A good strategy that many online faculty use is that of providing examples, templates or models of well-written assignments, this will allow the student to focus on the goals of the assignment. Having a well-written rubric available for online students to review before they begin their work will help them focus on the desired expectations. Online faculty should consider reusing feedback from the previous semester. Based on experience from previous semesters, faculty can proactively address items where students typically run into obstacles and provide clarifying directions as needed.
Interaction – online faculty must be present in their courses in order to engage the students. Faculty can be present in their online courses by participating in discussion forums and asking students probing questions and encouraging the students to ask probing questions of each other. Faculty can also be present by emailing individual students, groups of students and providing announcements, as needed to keep the discussions moving along. Group collaboration tools are also becoming more popular and online faculty are finding success in messaging students directly, outside of the LMS. [Slack is a great example of this technology.]
Application – many online students are also working adults and ensuring the content of the course is relevant and can be applied to their real-life/real-world experience is a key item in the effort to keep them engaged. Those students that consider themselves to be working adults are more likely to voice their concerns about an assignment being “busy-work” if they feel that it doesn’t apply to their work life. Online faculty should invest the time at the beginning of the course to get to know the students and the type of work they might be involved in as well as their expectations for the course. Engaging assignments will involve some type of research, developing an original idea and using their critical thinking skills to solve some problem they might be faced with in the workplace.
Interesting – online courses that include some type of hands-on learning activity will generally be more interesting and more engaging. By asking students to communicate what they have learned about a new technology and how they can apply its use to their current profession/future profession will make their coursework more interesting. As an online instructor, look for opportunities to replace traditional text-based assignments. Try to incorporate more audio and video by using online tools such as Flipgrid, VoiceThread or Jing. Using a few different options as a way to present their ideas will keep students motivated and interested in the course. Students all learn differently and providing a variety of options will only enhance the interest in the course and engage the student.