Maintaining Engagement Through the Mid-Semester Slump

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Maintaining Engagement Through the Mid-Semester Slump

What’s Included in This Post?
• Tips for increasing student engagement through variety and instructor presence
• Linked resources for using tools in Canvas
• Examples!

Authors: @SamOHanlon (Instructional Designer), @SamanthaMatthis (Learning Experience Designer)

It can be difficult to keep students engaged once they’ve settled into a course. Especially if that course is fully online and they have in-person commitments piling up. When students are stretched thin, online coursework is often the first thing to slip. So how do you keep students coming back to Canvas? By being present! If you and their classmates are real people in their lives, you’re a lot harder to forget about.

Enhance Instructor Presence With Video Announcements

When students (and instructors!) hit the mid-semester slump, it is easy to feel disconnected from one another and the course. Implementing video announcements is a great way for instructors to humanize their course while connecting with students. Today’s students are more used to video than previous generations, so why not use that modality to communicate with them? Instead of creating an announcement with text that lists out what students can expect from class this week, consider recording a video directly in the Rich Content Editor explaining to students what they will be accomplishing this week. During this video, an instructor can demonstrate any skills that students may need for their assignments and activities. Video announcements are a great way for instructors to share information about themselves with their students. If it’s the beginning of the week, consider sharing something fun you did over the weekend and invite students to reply with what they did over the weekend. To further humanize the course, encourage students to respond with a video comment. That way, it feels like a conversation!

Options to Enable

If having students interact with your announcements is something you are interested in, be sure to allow users to comment on the announcement. This option can be checked for each individual announcement or can be enabled at the course level under Course Settings.

Before & After

Before: Text only, no engagementBefore: Text only, no engagementAfter: Video announcement, captivating text, student engagement and repliesAfter: Video announcement, captivating text, student engagement and replies

These images show the difference in engagement between an announcement with little instructor presence and an announcement with instructor presence and humanization. Notice how the video announcement post gives students a choice of what to respond with: a question about this week’s activities, what they did over the weekend, and/or what they have planned for the upcoming break. This is a great way for students to feel heard and a part of the conversation!

PRO TIP: Do your students overlook announcements? Help them out by adding recent announcements to your Course Home Page!


Refresh Engagement by Varying Assignments

For some students, doing the same types of activities and assignments week to week contributes to the mid-semester slump. Yet others thrive when things are consistent. So how do you meet the needs of both of these types of students? By having a consistent module structure, but varying the type of activities! Not only will changing up your activities improve engagement, it will allow you to choose the activity that best reinforces that week’s material.

For example, every module could include:

  • An overview with an introduction to the module’s topic, and module-level learning outcomes
  • Learning content (e.g., assigned reading, video lectures)
  • An activity (i.e., a formative assessment)
  • A conclusion

Following the same Module structure every week lets students know what to expect.Following the same Module structure every week lets students know what to expect.

What that activity is will depend on the topics covered in the learning content. If the topic is something with which students have personal experience, give them an opportunity to share their stories and connect with the material through a small group discussion or a reflection essay. If this module’s content required a lot of memorization of facts, a quiz may be more appropriate. If there is a lot of vocabulary to learn, you could ask them to make a concept map and write a short explanation of how the terms relate to each other.

Additionally, you can offer students a choice of how to complete their assignments and class activities. A text entry response assignment may become boring as the semester progresses so, if the activity allows for it, give students a choice of how to submit the assignment. Canvas Assignments allows for multiple online entry options so when setting up an assignment for students, allow for text entry, media recording, and file upload. In your instructions, explain to students that they get to choose how they want to submit their assignment as long as the expectations of the assignment are met. Not only will this increase engagement from students who may be checked out, but it will also help any instructors who are in a mid-semester slump themselves. Having a variety of submission types to review and grade, instead of one text entry response after another, makes grading a lot more fun!

There are tons of ways to reinforce learning through activities. Get creative!

Before & After

Before: Text entry submission onlyBefore: Text entry submission onlyAfter: A variety of submission types allowedAfter: A variety of submission types allowed

The assignments shown above are identical assignments; however, the first one only allows for a text entry response. This automatically takes away any choice from the students and leaves instructors grading the same type of submissions over and over again. The second assignment gives students a choice of how they want to submit their assignment: text entry, media recording, or file upload. This choice allows students to provide evidence of learning in a way that best suits them.

PRO TIP: You also have options for how to leave feedback! Personalized feedback shows that you are present in the course. Use video or audio comments to further humanize this interaction!


Build Community in Discussions

One way to build a sense of community in large courses is by dividing the class up into small discussion groups. When the whole class is together, it can become overwhelming for students. Additionally, students tend to reply to whoever posted first or last, and everyone in the middle gets overlooked.

Instead, try dividing your class into groups of 8-12 students. Using these same groups for every discussion will allow students to build rapport. As they get to know each other and become more comfortable, students who are more reluctant to participate or to bring their authentic selves to the discussion may open up. You’ll be surprised how big of a difference familiarity can make!

Before & After

Before: Full class discussion, which means a lot of scrolling for students and instructors.Before: Full class discussion, which means a lot of scrolling for students and instructors.

After: All students in a group participatingAfter: All students in a group participatingAfter: Threaded discussion within a small groupAfter: Threaded discussion within a small group

These images show the detailed responses and higher engagement that come from small group discussions as opposed to full course discussions. Allowing threaded replies gives students the ability to start a conversation within the original discussion to further explain their thoughts and gain perspective from their classmates.

PRO TIP: Require each student to provide a substantive response to a classmate. Instead of saying, “I agree,” ask them to explain why they agree. And disagreement is good too! As long as it is done respectfully.


Connect Through Gradebook

As instructors, we’ve all had students whose performance changed drastically at some point during the semester. Reaching out about a change in submission patterns is a great opportunity for an informal welfare check.

Andy was doing well in the course, but then stopped participating.Andy was doing well in the course, but then stopped participating.

When a student’s behavior changes like this, chances are that there’s something big going on in their life outside of class. Whether it’s a change at home, a physical or mental health problem, or simply being stretched too thin, reaching out can mean the difference between that student ghosting the course versus tuning back in.

When done with empathy, messaging these students reminds them that you are a person who cares about their wellbeing. Being present and showing that you care about them matters.

PRO TIP: When a student misses multiple assignments, frame your message as “Are you okay?” Do not scold the student, as that could make them withdraw further.


Before & After

Before: ScoldingBefore: ScoldingAfter: ConcernedAfter: Concerned

PRO TIP: Use the “Message Students Who” option in Gradebook or in New Analytics to quickly contact students who miss assignments.


Final Thoughts

In online courses, it is easy for students to feel disconnected from their instructor and classmates. Now that you’ve learned some ways to use Canvas to increase engagement, try some out in your own courses. Let us know how it goes in the comments!


Please comment below. We’d love to hear from you!


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