Promoting Online Student Engagement and Success for Skills-Based Learning

Concurrent Session 2
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

This presentation describes how widely-available technology can be used to promote online student engagement and success in a skills-based course. We present five tools and techniques that have been found to be highly effective in conveying course content and assignments, and providing assistance to students in an online learning environment.


Sarah Bleakney PhD is an Instructional Designer for the Teaching & Learning Center at the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business. She provides instructional design support to graduate and undergraduate faculty for online and blended courses. Her current research focuses on supporting active and engaged learning in blended and online learning environments.

Extended Abstract

Instructors are faced with a number of course design challenges when responding to the move to online learning, especially in the case of skills-based learning. The Introduction to Information Systems (IIS) course that is the focus of this presentation introduces Information Technology (IT) skills to lower-division Business majors in order to increase their proficiency in using IT tools by preparing them for Excel and Access Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) Certification exams. Given the complexity of the course and breadth of the topics it addresses, it is consistently a challenge to promote student engagement. This presentation describes five tools and techniques that can be used to accomplish this goal for online skills-based learning.

The five tools used to support online student-centered design that will be presented include:

  1. Engaging and focused video content
  2. Instructor-curated external educational resources
  3. Student-centered assessments with immediate feedback
  4. Hands-on multimedia troubleshooting
  5. Learning Management System (LMS) optimization

Each of these tools are crucial in promoting engagement and success, particularly in the face of students’ varying technical capabilities and interests. Each of these tools is also, importantly, widely available and easy to use.

1. Engaging and focused video content

To engage students, a course needs compelling video content. In addition to being directly related to measureable student learning outcomes, these videos must also be short, focused, and useful. For this IIS course, short instructor-created videos are used to provide a basic explanation of various IT skills. These video tutorials are also supplemented with real-life examples that demonstrate the application of these skills, along with more advanced examples that highlight the capabilities of the skills that students are being taught. The presentation will describe how the instructor created videos for the course and how the video content is organized and presented to the students.

2. Instructor-curated external educational resources

In order to promote deeper student engagement with the content, students are provided with curated links to external educational resources. This additional content, while not part of the assessed course material, is used to stimulate student interest, especially for those students who are motivated to extend their learning to more advanced topics. The presentation will describe the online resources that are used to curate additional educational content and how this content is organized and presented to the students. 

3. Student-centered assessments with immediate feedback

To promote skills-based learning, we have found that student-centered assessments can result in students’ deep mastery of course content, especially in the case of more complex or advanced skills. In this IIS course, students are provided with multiple opportunities for hands-on practice through assessed and non-assessed exercises that are delivered using textbook-based resources, such as MyITLab. These exercises provide students with immediate feedback and allow them to improve their performance over the course of multiple attempts. These low-stakes assessments also enable students to continuously improve their mastery of these skills in the lead up to higher stakes exams such as the MOS Certification Exam. The presentation will describe the different types of hands-on activities that were assigned, and how this information was organized and presented to the students.

4. Hands-on multimedia troubleshooting

When teaching at a distance, providing hands-on troubleshooting to students can be a challenge. The instructor overcame this challenge by responding to student questions using short video responses that provide a step-by-step demonstration of the skill that needed to be learned. This method enables the instructor to convey the actual completion of a skill more accurately than long text descriptions over email. The instructor extended this method to address commonly-asked questions by creating brief video tutorials that were designed to support challenging parts of assignments. These assignment assistance videos were made available to all students to preemptively answer questions that they were likely to have. The presentation will describe the tools that were used to create multimedia email response and assignment assistance videos, and how this information was conveyed to the students.

5. Learning Management System (LMS) optimization

The LMS plays a crucial role in the delivery of all online courses. The instructor found that creating a self-service LMS experience where students were able to easily find all the information that was relevant to them at a given point of time supported student success. Effective LMS organization supports self-directed learning, enabling students to focus on learning course topics rather than trying to navigate a disorganized LMS setup to find the information that they need. This method was found to be highly effective at conveying the course schedule, deadlines, assigned content, and assignments. The presentation will describe how the LMS was optimized in order to keep students on-track throughout the semester.

The goal of this presentation is to prepare instructors and instructional designers to support online student engagement and success for skills-based learning. Participants will learn how to:

  • Create engaging video content, and organize and present those videos to students.
  • Curate additional educational content, and organize and present online resources to students. 
  • Develop a student-centered assessment structure that includes a variety of assessed and non-assessed hands-on activities, and organize and present these activities to students.
  • Respond to student queries using easily available multimedia tools, and convey this information to students both individually and as a group.
  • Leverage and optimize the LMS in a way that effectively supports self-directed learning, while keeping students on track throughout the semester.

To achieve these outcomes, presenters will include scenarios and real-life examples from the IIS course throughout the presentation to prompt individual brainstorming, as well as small-group discussion, along with polls to gauge audience needs, interests, and concerns.