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Keeping Students Engaged in the Online Classroom

blendedlearning's picture

A recent article in Faculty Focus by Dr. Ronald Jones from Ashford University approached the difficulty of keeping students engaged in an online classroom to the same level of a traditional classroom. Dr. Jones research showed a statistically significant correlation between the time a student spent logged in to an online course and his grade. While he admits that correlation doesn't imply causation, the research seems to suggest that maximizing student engagement can significantly improve student outcomes. In a blended classroom, the instructor has control over how much time students spend in the classroom, so the variable becomes introducing that same level of engagement into the blended aspects of the course. While Dr. Jones focuses his five tips on the online course, they can be easily adapted to work for a blended course. The tips reproduced below are Dr. Jones' original tips, with modified descriptions to fit with blended learning classrooms.

  • Get to know your students - what you know about your students from face-to-face interactions in the classroom doesn't always translate perfectly to knowing how they will act and what they are comfortable with in an online forum. Ask your students to introduce (or re-introduce) themselves through detailed introductions online, and respond personally to each student.

  • Know the classroom mechanics of an online course - nothing is more frustrating for students (or for faculty) than being dependent on technology that isn't doing what you expect it to do. Familiarize yourself with your technology in advance - your course management system, any media you're expecting students to use, etc - so that you're prepared to answer student questions when they arise.

  • Be accessible and respond to student inquiries in a timely manner - waiting to respond to a question during the next class period is not always good enough. If you expect your students to be participating in digital forums, be prepared to respond to their concerns with the according level of promptness.

  • Go beyond the university requirement of posting a brief, weekly announcement - if you're orchestrating a blended course, you may not be bound to any particular requirement for weekly announcements. However, it's a good idea to create a requirement for yourself. Keep checking up on your students. Know which ones need prompting, and reach out to them when needed.

  • Provide substantive feedback and positive critique - positive reinforcement is important, no matter what kind of course you're teaching. Students will be more engaged when they hear from you often, and when the comments they're hearing are encouraging.

  • Inject some fun into the classroom - the online component of your course doesn't need to be a exclusively for distributing assignments and collecting student work. Use the opportunity to provide interesting and varied content - harness multimedia to add a little humor or entertainment. Even if you don't want to create your own media, the internet is a vast place. Look for interesting and course-related material you can use in your course.

As Professor Jones' concludes, there may not be a way to keep all students totally engaged. Nevertheless, it's worth trying anything that will increase student engagement. These tips are easy to implement in your courses, and could have significant returns.