This time we have created a short video to share some tips for encouraging engagement using some of the most common activities available to most: discussion forums, live sessions and online group activities.
Teaching an online course means that your learners won’t be in the same physical space..they may not even be in the same time zone. So how do you encourage them to connect, share and learn together?
Let’s take a look at some of the common activities that can get students working together online.
Discussion forums are a great way for learners to share their diverse experiences, perspectives and opinions. They’re a great way to encourage social learning and for academics to demonstrate their teaching presence.
They’re especially good for learners based around the globe, as they can participate at a time to suit them at any time of the day.
Here are a few tips for encouraging participation in discussion forums:
- Set clear ground rules and expectations that encourage meaningful discussion rather than commenting. Consider a suggested minimum word count for posts and encourage students to provide evidence for stats and to reference any influences on their posts.
- Set a time limit. A week-long discussion allows all students to have time to contribute and to respond to the posts of others.
- Pose an open ended-discussion topic which links to the module content and, ideally the assignment, to offer a scaffolding opportunity.
- Be first to post. Often being the first person to participate can be quite daunting, so it might help to provide an initial reply - or something for people to look at and respond to - to encourage replies.
Once the discussion has kicked off, check-in regularly to share your thoughts, encourage participation and to reward learners for their contribution, using their names.
As the discussion draws to its conclusion, provide a summary for the key topics and issues raised, the areas for further consideration and the link to the module content to help frame the discussion.
Live sessions are an opportunity for you to connect with your students at the same time and in the same digital space. Online live sessions, or webinars, provide opportunities for interactive
How can you plan your live sessions for the greatest engagement between learners?
Ask what days and time will suit learners best to maximise attendance and share an announcement or email to all to remind students of the day and time it’s planned.
Plan activities and avoid the session becoming a one-way transmission. Encourage learners to work in groups to discuss the content and share perspectives and challenges
Make use of polls and voting features to make the session interactive just as you would in the classroom. Pause regularly to ask questions to check understanding or to invite requests for further clarification. A benefit of online live sessions is that students can usually pose questions anonymously using the private chat function.
Use your webcam to support greater presence and encourage students to also. But be mindful that not all learners will have access to a webcam, some may feel uncomfortable with being on camera and in the current situation, some may find it hard to find a comfortable space to participate in webinars, so don’t push too hard on this at this point in time.
Finally, given the current situation and the increase in demand for bandwidth around the world, if the internet connection is poor for you or your learners, you many need to request that students turn off their video and you turn off yours to help stabilise the connection.
You might like to simulate some of your campus group activities in the online space, such as group research projects, presentations and portfolio-based group work.
Group work is great for building a sense of connection, community and belonging amongst your learners, and to support social learning. Group work can also be really challenging for online students, especially across time zones and where guidance is unclear.
You will also need to plan longer for students to complete group work online than in the classroom. A relatively simple classroom group activity of one hour group task in the classroom may take a week or more to achieve online, especially across time zones.
Let’s take a look at some tips for planning group work to maximise engagement:
- Set clear ground rules and expectations, just like in your discussion forums, make it clear to the students how you expect them to work together; including how they should communicate and organise themselves, how they can divide up the task fairly and how the final work should be submitted. You could also share some advice on what options are available to groups in the event that something goes wrong, such as if someone becomes ill or unavailable to take part.
- Make it count towards the final grade for the course. Group work takes a lot of time and effort on behalf of your learners and they are much more likely to be positive about it and engage in it if they will receive a portion of their final grade for taking part. Be very clear about how the group work will be graded and whether the group will have a say in how grades are awarded.
- Provide clear timescales to keep groups on track. Particularly if this is a module or course-long group activity, such as working on the final summative assessment together from day one. Provide a schedule of activities, checkpoints and deadlines for the groups to use together to make sure they are progressing as they should.
- Check-in with groups regularly. Use the discussion forums, live sessions and messaging tools you have at your disposal. This will help you to understand how well groups are working together, to identify any challenges they may be facing and to flag any issues as early as possible. You could also use your live sessions for groups to report back on their progress to the larger cohort and for you to provide feedback.
Finally, consider carefully the scale of your engagement activities, based on student numbers and your available resources to support them.
For larger classes, discussion forums and live sessions will provide efficient engagement opportunities and activities that require more instructor support or time, may not be feasible.
As such, you may need to adopt more self-managing approaches in these cases planning and clear guidance for learners will be vital for your learners to succeed.