5 Tips for Increasing Student Engagement Online


Rosanne Abdulla, PhD, Content Marketing Manager, Education, D2L

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This year, OLC invited some of our Accelerate 2020 sponsors to share stories with our membership, as a way to contextualize their services and invite conversation with and within our membership. This blog post is one of those stories.

Why student engagement?

It may feel unnecessary for me to convince you that university and college students need to be engaged during their studies, but in reality, engagement can sometimes be confused with participation. Many of us use similar metrics to track both behaviors, and as a result, we may consider students to be engaged in our courses as long as they are completing the material on time. However, it comes as no surprise that students can participate in learning without truly being engaged. Typically, this occurs when students experience more passive participation as opposed to active participation.

Chickering and Gamson, in their article “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education,” discuss active learning:

Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just by sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing prepackaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.

Chances are high that the classes that left you feeling unmotivated as a student were the ones that relied on what I like to call the three R’s: read a lengthy textbook chapter, recall key points in your short-term memory, then directly regurgitate them during a test. While these tasks, of course, have their time and place, most of us recognize that they won’t keep students completely engaged, especially when faced with the added challenge of transitioning to online learning.

Let’s take a look at five strategies that instructors can use to increase student engagement in higher education, whether your course is fully online, blended, or face to face.

1. Provoke conversations and challenge students

Students will be more motivated to interact with course content if they feel that their instructor cares about what they have to say. You can provide students with a bit of autonomy by asking for their opinion in discussion forums, peer collaboration networks, or oral debates. Post frequently to those discussion boards to keep conversations flowing. Secondly, incorporate situational learning activities that challenge students more than traditional worksheets, then share relevant feedback with them in a timely fashion. Technology like a learning management system (LMS) can allow for close monitoring of ongoing coursework.

2. Encourage social media usage

Social media channels have become the spot where many higher ed students spend their time. In fact, valuable conversations and learning opportunities can happen there! Set up a Twitter hashtag or private Facebook group to share relevant content with your class directly through social media. Maximize real-time discussions that are already taking place by trustworthy thought leaders in your domain as well. Always ensure that institutional policies are followed in terms of security and privacy concerns, and also use the activity as a teachable moment to inform students about digital citizenship and potential risks.

3. Be clear about how and when to get in touch

Make sure that your students are well-informed about when you’re available both for synchronous virtual office hours and asynchronous communication responses. Email addresses are great for students to have a known line of communication, but you can also build a digital community to address frequently asked questions so that students know where to consistently look for answers. And don’t forget about the amazing benefits of video feedback and announcements to communicate with learners!

4. Use automation to monitor progress and communicate with students

To create customized and more engaging learning paths, instructors can set up conditional release in an LMS like Brightspace, whereby learners are required to complete certain tasks (like watching a video or taking a quiz) before accessing additional content. This type of automation can also be used to send encouragement for great work as well as advice for improvement to students who might be beginning to drift away. Technology is ultimately there to help you provide intervention and increase online student engagement in a more timely and personalized manner.

5. Celebrate greatness and accomplishments

Online classrooms can feel like informal locations since learning can occur anywhere. Because of this, students may feel as if their contributions or moments of learning are going unnoticed. It’s important to validate learning, no matter where it takes place (responding to a TED Talk, linking to a relevant news article or YouTube video, etc.). The more involved an instructor becomes in students’ online activities, the more these students will feel validated for the learning they’re demonstrating. Celebrating accomplishments is definitely one of the best ways to keep students involved in and proud of the work that they, and their peers, are doing.

Looking for even more strategies to engage your higher ed students online? Here’s another blog post, all about how D2L helps students to collaborate during times of isolation.

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