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Student Engagement in an Online Course

Student Engagement in an Online Course

Let me state a few assumption based on my experiences and observations:

1. Online Learning will increase since students see availability and time restrictions increasing.

2. Employers will find it more necessary to use online courses/workshops to continue to have current employees become more informed and updated on their skills in the future due to the dramatic changes in technology and needs of customers.

More assumptions and facts could be researched from other points of views, such as teachers, advisers, etc. to confirm or repute what is stated but this is sufficient for this discussion at this moment.

My main purpose/question is to ask how effective is student learning in an online learning environment and how we can improve it?

One theory is that the more students are engaged in their learning, the more retention of information occurs.

If this is true, what student engagement activities are you using that are proven to be effective in student learning where students understand the concepts, apply the concepts and use them to solve the problem, question, issue or purpose?

I would appreciate depth and breadth examples and sharing of ideas to help teachers and our students become more engaged and thus better learners. Thank you, Joe Halter

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Community Champion

Hi jhalter‌! I am a complete believer in fully online courses, and have been teaching fully online as my full-time job for many years. I teach writing, so writing is a natural (and more fun than just retention of information): you learn to write by writing... and my students write, blogging, sharing their writing, etc. etc. I've written up some notes here about my experiences teaching online; it's from a couple years ago, but I am even more excited about the possibilities now than when I wrote this. 🙂

Devotedly Digital: Why I Love Teaching Online 

Community Coach
Community Coach

I absolutely believe students can learn effectively in an online course/environment. I was just having the conversation earlier this afternoon that my online students actually have higher quiz grades and fewer 0's (so not doing the quiz) than my hybrid students. This is for the exact same course and same content, just different modality. What I think makes the difference is that my online students expect that they will need to do the work all online. My hybrid students seem to think that if they just show up to class that's enough and the out of class stuff isn't that important.

For my online course there are a number of things I do to improve student learning and retention, but below are probably my top three... at least right off the top of my head!

  • Video - lots and lots of video. For me I make all of my own video and tend to keep them short and sweet. Yet, I use them as an opportunity to talk students through difficult concepts, how to do the homework, what will be covered that week, etc. This allows the student to see and hear me talk about the content and what's going on in the course. In addition, for my Instructional video I create handouts that go with the video. The handouts have the problems or questions, but no answers. To get the answers students have to watch the video and fill out the handout!
  • Projects - I think that project based learning works great in the online environment. It gives students the opportunity to engage with the material in a more hands-on and less abstract way. For example doing a bunch of ANOVA's isn't nearly as interesting as coming up with your own project, collecting your own data, analyzing it, and then talking about what you found!
  • Real life examples - I try to infuse as many real-life examples as I can into my course. This means lots of current event stuff and articles/video that are relevant to what we're learning about. I also have the students go online and find real life examples of what we're learning about and share them with the class. Example: I provide different articles where people used statistics in nefarious ways. Students pick an article and then in a discussion talk about why they think the person initially got away with the bad stats and what could have been done to prevent it in the first place.

Love, LOVE, LOVE THIS! Can I wrap you up and bring you home to my faculty?

Writing it was very therapeutic! 

I don't know what it's like for others, but I've spent the last 15 years trying to justify online teaching to my colleagues... and basically I've gotten nowhere. Again and again, faculty assume that teaching online is a poor substitute for face to face. 

The students, at least, know better... because they have taken online courses. Sometimes quite a few online courses. So they understand some online courses work really well, some not so well, just like classroom-based classes. And I feel really lucky to have had the chance to be teaching online year after year so that I could really pursue what does work well, at least for me. And like  @kona ‌, for me it's about PROJECTS more than anything else. Instead of me being up at the center of the room (literally and symbolically), online things can all revolve around the students and their projects.

Do you know  @michelle_pacans ‌ and all the fabulous work she has done on "humanizing your online class"... such great stuff! She's writing for EdSurge now, which is getting her a whole new audience: yay!!!

Michelle Pacansky Brock | Edtech Writers on EdSurge 

Timely as always! I was just having some hallway conversations with faculty about the importance of being present in their online courses. I went and followed  @michelle_pacans ‌ on Twitter and found this great article on this topic

Yes yes yes. Michelle is AWESOME. 

She wrote a book about online course design a few years ago and the publisher is bringing out a new edition really soon. It always seems a little strange to me that for learning about online learning people want a printed book... but if that's what they want, then that's what they should have, and very soon they will be able to get a brand-new edition of Michelle's book! Here is the first edition from five years ago:

Best Practices for Teaching with Emerging Technologies (Best Practices in Online Teaching and Learni... 

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Community Coach

Although I do not teach (I'm an admin for our Technical College's Canvas instance), I have been meeting with groups of our faculty to show them the Office 365 integration with Canvas.  I've only been able to spend about 15-20 minutes of time at these meetings to talk about the O365 integration, and it's a very quick overview where I cover 4 or 5 different things that instructors/students can do.  One of the things that I haven't covered is the use of Office 365 with Collaborations where students can collaborate on a Word, Excel, or PowerPoint document all within Office 365.*  Here are a couple links I've found here in the Community on the topic:

How do I create a Microsoft Office 365 collaboration? 

 (from about 2:57 through 17:52 in the video)

I think using O365 and Collaborations in this way is a good way to keep students engaged so they are working together to complete assignments and learn from each other along the way.

*Edit: I believe this would be to collaborate on a new document (Word, Excel, PPT) only...not an existing document that was previously saved to one's O365 OneDrive account.


I think this is one of the best topics at the moment - How can students have the most success in online learning! 

I am currently reading/ watching/ soaking in everything I can about this topic, and something I always come back to is the integration of microlearning in online studies. Short, sharp, loaded learning snippets using as much Edu-Tech as necessary - interactive videos, interactive quizzes, flip cards, imagery, anything to keep the mind focused on small projects or tasks.

Humans can focus for 15 - 20 minutes at a time before their learning capacity is reached and they need to reset. So, I believe the trick is to keep it short and sweet, then supplement the content with discussion, applying, reflection, light competition, games, etc. There is a great Lynda course about the Neuroscience of Learning that talks about the science behind learning - Trailer here

In a lot of the research I have conducted while working in schools with an online presence, I have always concluded that if the content online is long, laborious, designed poorly and flat, then the students are equally as flat, and you can sit back and watch their engagement drop. 

Rich content = productive learning! 

This is a topic I'm very passionate about and could go on and on and on about how important it is to tap into the science behind how we as humans learn, and how we can use that information to develop engaging online content. 

As someone who teaches fully online, I am always thinking about this stuff too,  @jayde_colquhoun ‌, and I am really glad we can connect and share here. I don't think there are any hard and fast rules about attention: if people are doing something just because they are required to do it (as often for schoolwork, which they don't really care about intrinsically), then their attention space will be shorter... but with real engagement, deep engagement, the quality of attention is very different.

That's not easy to achieve in school, but it's what I aspire to, so I am more focused on how we can open up more CHOICE for students in classes so that instead of doing what they are told to do and doing the same thing as all the other students, they can instead be choosing something that is really of interest to them. So, not just rich content, but individualized rich content based on students' own individual choices and interests. That's hard to do in a classroom with the constraints of same time / same place (and thus: same content)... but online, we have the option to build truly choice-driven courses.

That's actually why I don't use the LMS very much: the LMS mimics the classroom, based on the assumption that everybody is studying pretty much the same thing at the same time in the same way.

Online, I think we can do better than that! 🙂