Leading the Charge to Implement Strategic Engagement Initiatives to Capture Enhanced Online Learning Opportunities

Concurrent Session 4
Streamed Session Leadership

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Bringing to life online courses is no longer a wish, but a reality. World events have made this goal even more relevant today. This interactive session will focus on discussing engagement opportunities that can result in making the online learning experience more personal and rewarding for both Faculty and Students.

Extended Abstract

 Online courses are here to stay, and their use will expand greatly in the next few years. The question is “Are we, as educators, ready for this learning migration?”.

Online teaching is both challenging and a tremendous source of learning opportunities for both Faculty and Students.

In this session I will present a number of engagement activities that have been successfully implemented and have closed the learning gap between Faculty and their Students in online courses.

One of my main assignments this past Academic Year has been to make online courses feel more like in- person courses. Accomplishing this task has often meant having Faculty change their mindset in teaching online courses. It is no longer enough to just review and grade online assignments. What is urgently needed is the creation of a learning bond between Faculty and Students in online courses.

I am, currently, working with some 300+ Faculty encouraging them to enhance their engagement activities in their online classes. Trying to convince Faculty to bring new concepts of learning into their courses is often met with resistance. Faculty who have had very little personal contact with their online Students over the years find this transition difficult.

While the percentage of online course increases every year, we as educators need to ensure that our Faculty find ways of making their online courses more relevant.

The recent health crisis has had a major impact on education and, in particular, the increased use of the online modality.  The focus of this session will be on not just improving online education, but making online courses feel more personal and regain some of the positive aspects of the classroom experience. The impact of the worldwide pandemic has probably moved up the expansion of online learning by a few years. While that may put a burden on online educators, it has also created some very positive learning opportunities.

From my experience and from feedback generated by my Students and other Faculty members, most Students clearly want more engagement activities in their online courses. Some of these suggested engagement activities include:

  • Make the courses more personal.
  • Opportunities for greater knowledge sharing by both Faculty and Students.
  • Student-generated or Faculty-generated current assignments that bring the course material to life.
  • Expanded use of technology tools, such as videos, Zoom, Flipgrid, etc.
  • More interaction with their Instructors and other Students in their classes.
  • Communicate routinely.

Online courses need not be bland and impersonal. Students prefer it when they know that there are caring Faculty members working with them on their courses. It is not enough just to give a few brief comments on an assignment and post a grade. Where is the leaning in that approach?

Bring your personalities into the online courses. There are a number of ways to accomplish this. You can start out with welcome videos in Week One.  This video might include your family, your interests, and your pets.  You can then ask Students to do their Introduction assignments via videos with a focus on their personal lives. Such videos are both informative and a great ice breaker. Faculty often use some of the information from these videos throughout the course as a way of showing the Students that they are aware of their backgrounds.

Having taught online courses for a number of years, one of my biggest concerns has been how to effectively share my business experiences with my Students. In like manner, there was the challenge of bringing Students’ life experiences into the online courses. I felt that this two-way sharing of knowledge was vital to filling the possible learning gaps caused by not teaching in person.

So, to help rectify this learning gap, I started to supplement the feedback I gave to my Students on their assignments by incorporating my experiences with the assignment topics. In this way, I was able to introduce my real-life recommendations on the assignment issues. In addition, I encourage Students to also elaborate on how they might handle assignments while on their jobs.

Assignments found in online courses tend to have been developed a year or more from when the courses are taught.  While they may pertain to the module’s focus, just how relevant are, they? I often ask my students for their input about which topics are related to either their jobs or events in the news that they would like to bring into the course’s assignments. This allows Students to integrate course material with real-life situations, thus enhancing their learning opportunities.

Today’s technology offers as some great options. Videos for announcements, messages, and assignment feedback are excellent ways to close the interaction gap between Faculty and Students.  Using videos early in a course is an effective method for both Faculty and their Students to bond. The frequent use of videos throughout the semester can keep the personal touch moving forward.

While Zoom existed before the pandemic, it has become a very powerful tool for Faculty to use in better engaging with their Students in online courses. I routinely use Zoom as an option in discussion assignments. It has proven to be an excellent way for me to interact with my Students. It allows Students to better express their thoughts on the discussion subjects, while at the same time listen and react to other Students’ remarks.

There are several methods that Faculty can use to enhance their communication skills with their online Students.  One of the simplest ways is to use Students’ first names, as often as possible, when communicating with them. Another effective interactive tool is to have Students answer their assignment topics in video form. In addition, on these assignments, Students would give their replies back to their classmates in video form as well. This keeps building their connection with other Students in the Class.

Interaction activities can also be effective with groups within a course. Students can use videos or Zoom while working together on group projects. Students tend to work better in groups when they can actually see their group members.

When I discuss the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of online courses with Students one of the most repeated issues is a lack of knowledge about their instructors.  While communications involving learning should be a two-way street between Faculty and Students, it needs to start with the instructors in online courses. The Faculty can, and should, set the communications tone for a Class. Unfortunately, in too many Classes, the communications on the part of Faculty may primarily consist of short welcome announcements and some comments after an assignment.

The majority of Students want to know who their teachers are. The best way of doing this is for the Faculty to provide an ongoing stream of messages to their Students. I tend to compose 3-4 class-wide announcements, some in video form, for each module. I then include some individual videos to each Student on their assignments. I feel that such communications go a long way in achieving that personal goal I set for my online courses. My Students get to see me (and often my dog, Scamper) speak to them about my feedback on their assignments.

Recently, I have been working with some Colleagues on training them to be online instructors. These Faculty have routinely taught in person courses. Now with the virus, they are being asked to work in the online modality. This learning experience has not been easy for them. I tell these instructors that they have an advantage over long term online Faculty.  That advantage is that they know how to bring their personalities and experiences into their classrooms. My advice to these teachers is to find ways within their online courses of doing the same, integrate their personalities and experiences within their online classes.

I hope that a key takeaway from this presentation is how to effectively use a variety of engagement activities to make online learning more personal to both the Faculty and their Students. These engagement activities can help remove online teaching barriers and create an exciting interactive learning experience for all.