Voice and Choice: 5 Strategies for Fostering Student Agency in the Online Classroom

Concurrent Session 6

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Meaningful student engagement relies upon tapping into students’ individual passions, purpose, and interests; in essence, giving students voice and choice in their learning experience. In this session, we explore five strategies for increasing student engagement in the online classroom via enhanced student agency.


B. Jean Mandernach, Ph.D. is Executive Director of the Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching at Grand Canyon University. Her research focuses on enhancing student learning in the online classroom through innovative instructional and assessment strategies. In addition, she has interests in the development of effective faculty evaluation models, perception of online degrees, and faculty workload considerations. Jean received her B.S. in comprehensive psychology from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, an M.S. in experimental psychology from Western Illinois University and Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.
Helen Hammond is a passionate Lifelong learner and enthusiastic encourager. She is committed to the development of others and enjoys seeing them realize their potential. She believes we are 'Better Together'. When she’s not loving 'Lope Life' on campus at GCU…she’s loving 'Arizona Life' on the 40 acres she and her husband have in Northwest Arizona and their adult sons frequently visit! Dr. Hammond is senior program manager and assistant professor in the Center for Innovation in Research on Teaching at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona. She teaches undergraduate business courses including management, organizational behavior, servant leadership, marketing, and leadership in organizations. Dr. Hammond holds a PhD in In Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Her Research interests include servant leadership, management, teaching and learning, and online teaching best practices.

Extended Abstract

Today’s students are keenly focused on the value and relevance of their educational experiences as they align with their personal and professional goals. As such, generic activities and assignments often fail to meaningfully engage students in the learning process. Students are seeking activities and assignments that allow them to tailor their learning toward personally relevant outcomes. Simply put, students are more willing to invest their time and effort in the teaching-learning dynamic when they have choice and voice in the process.


Student agency rests upon creating learning that is: 1) meaningful and relevant to students, 2) directed by students’ individual interests, and 3) supported through guidance of the instructor. In this context, students actively make decisions about how they will most effectively engage with course material and the structure/format in which learning is measured. This doesn’t imply that students select their own learning objectives, but rather they have a voice in the path by which they master the instructor-established objectives and choice in how they demonstrate their understanding. Embracing student agency creates a more personalized learning experience and empowers students as active collaborators in their own learning. The simple act of making an active choice and self-directing learning triggers increased motivation, interest, engagement, and investment.


In this session, we explore five strategies for increasing student engagement in the online classroom via enhanced student agency:

  1. Content Paths
  2. Assignment Shifting
  3. Adaptable Assignments
  4. Choice Menus
  5. UnEssay