We Should Talk About Engagement

Concurrent Session 2
Streamed Session OLC Session

Watch This Session

Brief Abstract

Definitions of “online engagement” vary widely by context, spanning delivery systems, modalities and audiences. In this session, we will explore how we, as a field, define online engagement in professional learning ranging from defining engagement in outcomes, to conceptualizing activities that help us meet those defined outcomes.



Pronouns: she, her, hers Twitter: @MaddieShellgren As the Director of Online Engagement, Madeline (Maddie) Shellgren serves as the lead innovator, designer, and project manager of the OLC's portfolio of online engagement opportunities. Known for her love of storytelling, play, and all things gameful, Maddie thrives on facilitating and designing meaningful ways for people to connect, learn, and grow together. Within the OLC, she has served on steering and operations committees for several of the organization’s conferences (including as Technology Test Kitchen and Innovation Studio lead, as well as Engagement Co-Chair) and has had the distinct honor of being the mastermind behind the OLC Escape Rooms. She looks forward to continuing supporting OLC community building efforts, is committed to sustainable, equitable, and anti-oppressive ecologies within education, and is genuinely excited to leverage her interdisciplinary scholarly and professional backgrounds as she helps lead the OLC towards truly innovative and transformative models for what’s possible for online and digital engagement. Maddie joins the OLC from Michigan State University (MSU), where she has served as the lead on numerous student success initiatives related to instructional design and technology, accessibility, and equity and inclusion. Over the past eleven years, Maddie has dedicated her professional life to teaching and learning related initiatives and has strategically sought out opportunities that give her a multi-dimensional perspective on teaching and learning, including working as a Standardized Patient training medical students, serving as Program Director for Teaching Assistant development, taking lead on a number of cross-institutional educator onboarding and professional development projects, and teaching across online and face-to-face contexts. She most recently worked as an Assistant Rowing Coach for the MSU Varsity Women’s Rowing Program. There she was given the opportunity to help redesign a community from the bottom up, story the team's new journey together in fun and multimodal ways, lead in the co-construction of community expectations and norms, help ensure alignment across a variety of stakeholders and initiatives, and develop and operationalize strategic structures for long-term sustainability (such as entirely new social media, marketing, communications, and content management strategies). She had the privilege of seeing the impact of her human-centered and equity-oriented approach each and every day as the team reimagined what it meant to be a Spartan on the MSU Rowing Team. With her move to the OLC, she will continue on as a volunteer coach, still supporting these efforts and the team, and is excited to get back on the water.

Extended Abstract

For the field of online, blended, and digital learning, the pandemic revealed the striking realization that we as an educator and learner community do not have a consistent nor in-depth answer to the question of what quality online education looks like. In my own early experiences to online teaching, cost (and the story that “online would be cheaper”) was my department’s central motivator for moving online. A sweeping misconception, this predictably meant that our design work centered our own limiting factors as educators (like time, staffing, support, etc.), not the experiences different groups of students (and us as instructors) would ultimately have in our courses. Also predictably, initial reviews of our courses were not overly positive and highlighted that we had a lot more to learn about what quality meant for online teaching. In this session, we will dive into one key aspect of quality online education: engagement. 

We will begin with an exploration of the many ways we define online engagement, looking to its articulation in outcomes, our activity design, and metrics as useful starting points to gather around. We will also discuss the ways in which taking up certain definitions of engagement bound our practices, and consider the implications of these various epistemologies on the learning experience(s) itself. 

This session serves as a direct response to recent research around the impact of 2020 and our collective priorities for 2021. In an Every Learner Everywhere and Tyton Partners survey of 852 introductory faculty from over 600 institutions, “increasing student engagement in class” was ranked as the highest instructional priority for both the Spring 2020 and Fall 2020 semesters (Fox et al. 2021, check out the full report here). Interestingly, the survey report also identifies “Keeping my students engaged” as the top challenge for introductory faculty, again for both the Spring 2020 and Fall 2020 semesters (Fox et al. 2021). 

With this in mind, the session has been designed to connect educators around not just definitions of engagement, but example practices as well. And though this session seeks to largely support educators looking to improve upon the way they incorporate engagement into their learning environments, it will also provide useful starting points for instructional designers and other educators looking to facilitate similar conversations with instructors. Likewise, leaders, administrators, and researchers alike will benefit from the time dedicated to discussing engagement trends. 

Together, we will explore a number of key areas of focus that we should all be tending to in our teaching, including modality, format, diversity, equity, and inclusion, access, and community building, among other things. Finally, we will anchor our discussions and the example practices shared in core scholarship around engagement to help us better understand not only what engagement is and how to plan for it, but also what it takes to sustain it.