Advice and strategies to engage your students and you in your online classes
These strategies for online engagement were presented in a series of workshops at the CTL during Spring 2019. Workshop designers and facilitators were: Julie Magelky, Jenny Scott and Angela Wartel. If you have additional ideas to add, please email the CTL.
While you may have developed tools for building relationships, community and trust in a face-to-face classroom, and know what it looks like when that work is successful and students are engaged, it can be a much more mysterious process in an online class. Indeed, online faculty do not have the benefit of seeing when a student has an insight, or disengages. Neither can online faculty easily have a casual conversion before class, or offer immediate feedback.
It is no wonder that many questions posed by faculty at the Center for Teaching and Learning revolve around online classes. Many of our rural, and working, students benefit from the flexibility of an online class, but teaching an online class requires a new set of skills and approaches. So, too, the online teacher must redefine the rewards of teaching in ways that are different than those in a face-to-face class.
Below are strategies, advice and resources from successful online faculty at LCSC. They are arranged as challenges, and suggestions, as identifying and solving problems is an important tool for evolving into your best teaching self and having your greatest year, each year.
Challenge: I am having a hard time building a classroom community.
Jenny Scott: Building an online classroom community takes multiple different approaches and strategies, and is always a work in progress.
- Provide informal chat opportunities
- As a group, write your class values/code. This can include etiquette as well as shared values and goals.
- Assign some graffiti! Graffiti is a warm-up discussion to help students get to know one another/instructor by listing several sentences that they each need to finish on their own. They must post their own before viewing others and then can respond to one that had similar endings to sentences and respond to another that had very different endings
Angela Wartel: Help your students get to know each other.
- Help students feel comfortable sharing in online discussions by having students share photos or tell others about something interesting to them.
For more reading and strategies for building an online community, try:
Challenge: I don't know how to communicate expectations effectively with my students online
Julie Magelky: Consistent and varied communication is key to make expectations clear.
- Communicate what you expect in multiple ways: announcements, in the course content, on a calendar or on a checklist, to name a few methods.
- Post announcements at least once per week reminding students of upcoming due dates, expectations, and suggestions for succeeding in the class.
- Even if you can't meet every week with every student through Zoom or Collaborate, you probably can arrange to meet with one student from each group at important points in the semester, like before a project is due. If you meet with the students together, they get to talk to each other, and you.
Angela Wartel: Communicate expectations clearly, and help students keep reading.
- Make expectations transparent by providing rubrics and outcomes with assignments and quizzes.
- Use pictures in announcements to spark interest and keep students from disengaging when providing essential information.
Challenge: Students have a hard time navigating my class and knowing what needs to be done next.
Jenny Scott: Make sure that the information you are providing is accurate, clear and on time.
- Make sure that your announcements, grading/feedback are punctual.
- Re-read before you post/share/submit.
- “Words are worth a thousand images” / “Images are worth a thousand words”: while images are useful, make sure that you recognize that the images that you post can have different meanings to different people.
- Check all mentions of dates, days, etc., especially when using prior semester shell; also make sure that there is consistency between syllabus/calendar and assignments in a course site.
- Check all links each semester.
Angela Wartel: Structure the class to make it easy to navigate.
- Provide to-do lists and mantain a current task list on the homepage of the class. Remove or grey out already completed tasks.
- Always use the same format for each week. For example: overview of the week with objectives, readings, slides/videos and links to assignments (even if those links appear other places).
For more information about helping your students navigate your class, try:
- making an appointment with instructional designer Carrie or Angela at e-Learning.
Challenge: My students bring a wide range of experiences and backgrounds into the class, and I'm not sure how to support each individual as they grow and learn.
Julie Magelky: Meet students where they are to help them get to where they need to be.
- Find meaningful ways for your students to have some say in their paths through your classes. Make sure that the choices are consistent with your teaching philosophy. For example: students can choose how to present a report, or choose a topic, or choose which article to read for a discussion.
For further reading and information about choice is classes, see :
Challenge: I'm not sure how to show my students that their success and well-being matters to me.
Angela Wartel: Connect with students in a variety of ways.
- During midterms, send each student an encouraging note that includes a list of missing work, if any.
- Online office hours can be scheduled through zoom for Blackboard Collaborate.
Julie Magelky: Listen to your students, and use their names.
- Ask for feedback and make adjustments. Demonstrate to your students how they have a voice in your class, and that you will listen to them.
- In discussions and in feedback, use student names. Make sure to maintain a list of student preferred names, or instruct each student to sign their discussion post with their name every time they post.
Jenny Scott: Try "pep posts"
- Think pep “talk” but written/online; encouragements along the way; mention milestones, big and small; give them mental/emotional fuel for upcoming projects, etc.
Challenge Neither my students or I are having very much fun.
Jenny Scott: Include an “X-Factor” that WOWS them or keeps them logging back in.
- Have some fun
- Show personality / be personable
- Not the same ol’ thing / more than reading & discussion
- Change it up without changing the syllabus
Angela Wartel: Try an element of gamification
- Use achievements on Blackboard, or your LMS, where students can earn badges when certain conditions are met.
A few tools to try to make interactions more varied, interesting and (sometimes) fun:
References, further reading and resources