While there are a ton of benefits of online education, academic administrators have their complaints too: they insist that the low student retention rate in online courses is caused by the students’ inability to engage with the course, even though studies have shown that students learn as much or more in online courses as in the traditional classroom.
The quality and amount of engagement and the rate of dropout in online classes are certainly related. If we can increase engagement in an online course, chances are high that the student is more likely to complete it.
Fortunately, there are now available a number of online engagement tools as well as a variety of well-researched student engagement techniques that can significantly increase just how much a student participates in digital courses.
Here is a short list of some of the best practices for student engagement in an online course.
Create an eClassroom with real students.
For engagement in an online course to develop, students need to feel that they form a true body of peers engaged in a specific learning experience. It’s the instructor’s responsibility to set the tone of the course, demonstrating how and when to respond to students’ contributions.
At the outset the instructor should communicate with the students, welcoming them and letting them know that their participation in class activities is vital for everyone’s success. Students should be encouraged to communicate with each other.
For example, they can be assigned interview partners and post the results in an introductory forum.
Prioritize goals, expectations, and best practices early in the course.
In a brick-and-mortar classroom, students can pick up information about course machinery and practices from peers. This is much more difficult in the online course, so having a syllabus that spells out exactly how the course is being run is essential for keeping students engaged.
In writing the syllabus the instructor should consider that some students may never have taken an online course before, and adjust details accordingly. The syllabus should clarify the course’s learning outcomes and evaluation procedures, especially the extent to which the student is expected actively to participate in the course.
For example, if the student’s grade will be affected by how often he or she participates in a discussion forum, that fact needs to be stated in the syllabus. Some online instructors quiz students over the syllabus before content-learning even begins: an easy and fun way to earn a good grade!
Incorporate meeting software and insist that it be used.
Software such as Wimba Live Classroom can allow teachers and students to interact in real time while using a webcam and microphone. If your online course has a specific meeting time, let your students know that you expect them to be present and to participate in discussions, either actively or through the chat-box function.
If the meeting software allows it, have students form small groups and give them a list of discussion questions, then call them all back into the general session to let them share their views. Online courses that don’t meet at a specific time can still make use of meeting software.
Small groups with specific research or discussion agenda can meet online, carry on discussion through forums, and submit their results to the instructor in either written or oral form.
Promote a sense of group learning
Students engage more fully with an online course that allows them to participate fully in the learning process. When a strong sense of community has been created, they respond with enthusiasm in projects such as peer reviews, student presentations, and review and discussion of guest lectures.
It is vitally important that the instructor not only engage actively in these projects, but also guide them by insisting that students submit individual written reports for evaluation, demonstrating the importance of each student’s active participation.
Students can be asked to volunteer to lead discussion groups and share results, thus encouraging greater involvement. Some online instructors have the members of assigned groups give each other grades; each grade is factored into the students’ final scores, thus rewarding active participation.
Keep learning at the center
It can be challenging to rate the progress of a class through the course syllabus in the online setting. To keep aware of how effectively learning is taking place for each student, it can be helpful to ask students to write feedback surveys, indicating which activities and projects have been successful and which less so.
These surveys can be administered at any time during the course. When the instructor adjusts teaching strategies to meet the needs of the students in this way, greater engagement ensues.
It’s also important to remember that learning can happen in less-than-serious contexts. Try creating some lighthearted graded activities that will bring variety and fun into the class.
Games of various sorts work well here, as do crossword and wordsearch puzzles.
Maintain a focus upon student learning
Students in online courses come from widely different backgrounds. Many of them have full-time jobs, young families, and a host of responsibilities outside of the classroom.
Under these circumstances, it’s easy for them to grow frustrated and discouraged if the instructor seems neither to care nor understand the challenges they face in learning. An instructor’s readiness to communicate with a student, answer questions, and give encouragement on the personal level is vital to keeping the student engaged in his or her learning.
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When a student receives a rapid response to an assignment, the instructor is sending a clear message that he or she truly values that student’s learning experience. And providing activities and forums that make learning possible under all of life’s circumstances fosters the student’s commitment and engagement in the learning process.
At the heart of a successful online teaching and learning experience is the use of student engagement strategies that promote the love of learning. Being flexible and adapting methodology for increasing student engagement can be a challenge, but it can also be a joy in itself.
Image Credit: student engagement strategies by envato.com
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