Engaging students online – Day 1

In this coffee course, we’ll be looking at some strategies to foster engagement in online teaching and learning spaces, whether it be for fully online courses or just in your Wattle (Moodle, or LMS) course site. To get us started, this post will look at some of the aspects of engagement in higher education and explore how they differ online from face-to-face.

What is engagement, anyway?

In a regular face-to-face classroom, how can you tell if students are “engaged”? Whenever I ask this question of teachers, they usually reply by saying that students are paying attention, asking questions, participating in discussions, and look interested. (Please share your own responses in the comments below!)

A cat lays, disinterested, next to a computer.
Photo by Anita Hart

But these are all visual or interpersonal cues that are often missing when students are online: if you can’t “see the light in their eyes”, are they really engaged? John Hannon (2009) points out that even the most experienced classroom teachers often feel disoriented when they are teaching online for this reason. The nature of online delivery impacts many aspects of how engagement has traditionally been understood in the face-to-face classroom. For example, missing verbal communication cues mean that developing rapport with students doesn’t happen automatically. Unlike face-to-face “contact hours”, where the whole cohort meets in person in the same physical space, the flexible nature of online teaching also means that students may be in different time zones, accessing their course sites at different times. Students can often be following the course with interest online, but are unknown to the teacher or other students if they do not post anything in the forums (commonly called lurking). Many teachers are concerned that they are “shouting into the void” as they cannot see if the information they are putting online is being read. Another key difference is that while face-to-face classrooms mostly rely on verbal communication, in online spaces text-based communication is more common – this can benefit some students while disadvantaging others. (We’ll explore this more in Day 4 of the course.)

Definitions of Student Engagement

“Engagement is more than involvement or participation – it requires feelings and sense-making as well as activity. Acting without feeling engaged is just involvement or even compliance; feeling engaged without acting is dissociation.” (Trowler 2010:5)

Contemporary academic work on student engagement highlights the social, communicative, and participatory dimensions of learning. In her literature review on the topic, Trowler (2010) shares the following dimensions of student engagement:

  • Active and collaborative learning
  • Participation in challenging academic activities
  • Formative communication with academic staff
  • Involvement in enriching educational experiences
  • Feeling legitimated and supported by university learning communities

These aspects are seen to be the key to foster student interest and participation in learning. Improved outcomes and student success are seen to be the key goals of fostering student engagement:

“In essence… student engagement is concerned with the extent to which students are engaging in a range of educational activities that research has shown as likely to lead to high quality learning.” (Coates 2005: 26)

Student-Centred Learning

This is part of a broader trend in higher education towards a philosophy of student-centred learning:

“Engaged learning is not a new instructional approach. It has been written about under various terms such as active learning, social cognition, constructivism, and problem-based learning, all of which emphasize student-focused learning within an instructor-facilitated environment.” (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011:1)

A student centric-approach focuses on the activities and ways that students engage with the material and how they can make it relevant to their own circumstances in order to facilitate deep learning. For example, a student-centred approach to teaching will de-emphasize the role of one-way content transmission (such as the long lecture), and encourage peer and collaborative work along with activities.

Engagement, Online

Many learning technologies enable student-centered learning. Indeed, our ANU Wattle environment is based on these principles in its design. The developers of Moodle (the system behind Wattle) have explicitly stated that the system is designed to support engagement and interaction rather than large amounts of content. Despite this, the aspects of a course that contribute to student engagement, listed above, are precisely those that are often under-served by online teaching and learning spaces. It’s very common when developing online courses for a significant amount of time to be spent to be focused on putting the course content online (such as recording videos, presenting information, curating resources). The elements of a course that foster engagement might happen more naturally, and in an unplanned way, in a face-to-face context. Students and teaching staff can interact, speak with each other, make jokes, and share experiences in an on-campus classroom, but it takes special consideration to create the same experiences online.

For the rest of the course, this is what we will explore! We’ll look at some ways to create engaging experiences and build relationships online, including how to build social presence and communicate effectively. In the meantime, take a moment to think about your experiences and respond to one of the discussion questions below.


Discussion Questions

We invite you to respond in the comments to one of these prompts, or share your thoughts more broadly. Please respond to the posts and questions of your peers as well! Please note: If you are signed up on HORUS to receive professional development recognition for this course, you will need to comment on each of the daily blog posts.

  • Why did you take this course? What would you like to learn from it?
  • Tell us about your least engaging online experiences. What makes you tune out or log off?
  • What would you consider to be evidence of engagement in your own teaching practice? How can you tell if your students are “engaged” online?

We look forward to hearing from you in the comments!


53 thoughts on “Engaging students online – Day 1

  1. In response to the second question, about least engaging online experiences, I’ll be a contrarian and answer with my most engaging experiences! This is rather tangential but relevant still… I tend to have multiple windows open at any one time across various devices. So if I read or hear something which I find interesting (online or on the radio, which is probably my most used resource on the weekends) I’ll sometimes veer off and want to probe further. I’ll click here and there and pursue a particular thought or angle for up to 10 minutes. During which time I have zoned out of the podcast or the radio show or the article I was reading… I often won’t even go back to the original source of interest!

    1. Hi Thea! Thanks for your comment – I have a feeling you and I have very similar practices! I always end up with 20+ tabs open in my browser and often find myself doing multiple things at the same time. I suspect the situation is similar with students as well. As much as we’d like them to be focused on our content with all their attention, like most of us they are probably multitasking!

    2. I do the same thing Thea and imagine this might be an issue for online students for my course, who have hour and sometimes two hours of lectures to watch each week.

  2. Student characteristics may influence their willingness to engage in discussion forums – as a professional busy with work commitments, family etc I have not had the time or inclination to engage in the discussion forums of online courses I have taken. It has been enough to review the necessary materials and complete the assessments.
    Students without competing life commitments may have the time and inclination to engage more in online forums to express their views.
    Making commenting mandatory for credit may work (like this course) – but then is this the approach for adult learners?
    Am interested to hear peoples ideas on how to engage students in the online platform outside of uploading and downloading course resources – without making it time intensive

    1. Hi Tam,
      This is a great point. We’ll talk a bit more about the role of making participation mandatory or for marks throughout the course, but your point about adult learners is well made. Perhaps in a higher ed context we could see marks for participation/commenting as an indication that students should make it a priority?

      I’d also love to hear from others about strategies on dealing with forums without taking too much time. We’ll get into this in detail in the next few days!

  3. When I began teaching at university I used Wattle (Moodle) in exactly the way its developers intended it NOT to be used. That is, I treated Wattle as a repository to store information. I dutifully added a reading for each week of the course expecting students to read this material before appearing at the first lecture for each week. However, I quickly discovered that only about 25% of the class actually looked at the readings. I’m guessing that fewer actually engaged with these readings. This isn’t really surprising. Journal articles are boring to read from start to finish and really are designed to be cherry-picked based on the information you are after. Many readings are too long. Many are too difficult without some background to the topic. Some of my readings were selected without thinking deeply about their alignment to the learning outcomes . Then I discovered the Lesson tool in Wattle. Now my “readings” are embedded in a short, interactive lesson that gently introduces the topic, explains how the reading aligns with learning outcomes, points students to the specific parts of a reading (or video or podcast) that is particularly relevant and encourages engagement with the subject matter by asking questions. But how do I know if students are engaged? In the first year I did this I found a significant positive correlation between the number of completed online reading exercises and marks for the course. A smattering of SELT comments also suggests these exercises are well-received. However, statistics from Wattle indicate that the number of students accessing these online reading exercises declines as the semester progresses. Thus, I’m not sure I have nailed this part of online engagement just yet. So, getting a better sense of how I might better understand the degree to which my students are engaged in these online activities and how online tools can help engage students more broadly in my courses – particularly given fewer and fewer appear at lectures in person – are topics that would benefit me greatly.

    1. Hi Phil, I really liked hearing about how your use of Wattle (Moodle) as evolved. Using lessons in the way you describe is a fantastic suggestion, particularly in explicitly connecting the content to the learning outcomes. We’ll share a lot of strategies about how to engage students online that I hope will be helpful. Is anyone else dealing with the same issues as Phil?

  4. I’m creating and convening a new second semester course in Biology this year, and joined this forum to get understanding of the latest (best?) approaches in online teaching tatics. I’m considering runing a version of the Minute Paper that acts partly as a survey/monitor on the student attendance and understanding of each week of lectures , and encourage some student reflection on the week’s topic. I’m thinking to ‘encouarge’ engagement by awarding marks for completing the Papers, which contribute to the final grade (eg. one % per week). I’d be interested in hearing from others use similar approach in their courses. What does/doesn’t work? Thumbs up or thumbs down?

    1. HI Brendan, welcome! I am a big fan of minute papers myself, and when I taught actively I used them regularly. I myself am a proponent of offering some marks for doing these things, but like Tam mentioned above there are a few questions about this (which we will get into over the next few days). I sometimes wonder if enforcing marks encourages participation/engagement, or just completion? But then if it takes time for students to complete something like that then we should show that we value that, by offering marks. I hope you get some more ideas from the rest of the course and discussion!

      1. Ideally it would be great to be able to give students to make decisions about how they would earn the points for their course – maybe they can either do the minute paper or take part in a discussion that week, for example. This adds more of an element of self-direction that should be a hallmark of adult learning.

        1. I like this idea Jill. It also allows students to play to their own strengths or challenge themselves – but their choice.

  5. For me engagement in an online course will depend on relevance and design of what is being offered. What is perceived as relevance can vary from ‘helping pass exams’ to ‘better looking after patients (I am from medicine). Like a good book it has to be designed so you do not want to stop until it is over.
    Being a parent of two postgraduates and two undergraduates I know they are engaged with an aspect of their studies when they spontaneously tell me about it 🙂

    1. Hi Michael! Welcome back! I’m so glad you are sticking with us through the courses!

      That value proposition of engagement is such as important one – making the value of particpating clear to students so they can see the benefit beyond just “I have to”. I’d be keen to hear more from you from a medical education context as the course develops.

  6. * Why did you take this course?

    I worry that my students are not really engaged, just going through the motions to get marks.

    * What would you like to learn from it?

    I would like to know how to tell if students are engaged.

    * Tell us about your least engaging online experiences.

    For a course in statistics I had to read a very dry textbook, then watch some very old blurry videos. The assessment for the course consisted of filling in a spreadsheet template. At the start of the course the instructor basically told us to get started and that is the last we heard from them, until we got back our marks. There was no student interaction and no opportunity to work on your own project.

    But then I have had an equally un-engaging face-to-face experience: as a night school student where the instructor would race though their slides and then leave. The students would then shuffle out into a sub-zero Canberra night, on a badly lit campus where everything was closed and go home. Compared to that to that most of the on-lince courses I have taken have been warm, caring and sharing.

    * What makes you tune out or log off?

    The sense that the instructor doesn’t care (as illustrated by no or late postings from them), puts me off. But then some instructors drive me away with too many postings and one with too much personal irrelevant content.

    * What would you consider to be evidence of engagement in your own teaching practice?

    For face-to-face teaching if a student asks a question, or answers a question. Body language is not a good indicator, as this varies by culture.

    * How can you tell if your students are “engaged” online?

    Student postings to the discussion forums are about the only evidence of engagement, as I can’t see or hear the students. Cho and Cho (2016) found that scaffolding promote students interactions with each other and the instructor. I do some of that by having regular messages and feedback for students (Worthington, 2011).


    Cho, M., & Cho, Y. (2016). Online Instructors’ Use of Scaffolding Strategies to Promote Interactions: A Scale Development Study. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distributed Learning, 17(6). doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v17i6.2816

    Worthington, T. (2011). ICT Sustainability. Tomw Communications Pty Ltd. Retrieved from http://www.tomw.net.au/ict_sustainability/tutors.shtml

    1. Hi Tom, welcome to the course! Thanks for this great post. I like your comparison between unengaging face-to-face courses and engaging online courses! I think there is a lot of emphasis at the moment on online engagement, but obviously crafting more engaging face-to-face experiences (so we don’t have more students going through what you went through!) is important as well. Hopefully we can help find that balance between including some inter-personal engagement without crossing the line into the “too much information” category – this can be difficult to do! Looking forward to chatting more, and thanks for sharing that resource! I will take a look!

  7. Why did you take this course? What would you like to learn from it?

    I’m interested in improving the online content I use in my teaching, I often default too much to long lectures and I’m interested in ways to use more videos and the like to prepare students for class.

    Tell us about your least engaging online experiences. What makes you tune out or log off?

    I’m very much a text/image based learner, so for me I find videos that are simply replacing reading to very disengaging. If a video is well made and uses good graphics I can easily get into it, but if it is a video of someone talking I very quickly tune out. This may also be because I listen to music constantly while working and the videos interrupt my listening.

    What would you consider to be evidence of engagement in your own teaching practice? How can you tell if your students are “engaged” online?

    As I mainly use online material to supplement in-class activity, I think the best measure of online engagement is when students start talking about and using the online material in the physical classroom.

    1. Hi Brendan! I too listen to music all day while I work (movie soundtracks are my favourite!) so I understand your pain about having to interrupt your flow to switch to watching a video. It’s interesting that a lot of online courses have defaulted to using video in the place of text, but just whacking up a video on your course site doesn’t automatically create engagement. I think in this course we’ll be looking specifically at the encouraging participation and discussion components of engagement – I wonder if a specific course on videos might be of value for the future?

      1. I don’t listen to music, and I do generally prefer reading text if I really need to learn something, although I think short videos can work for key points to remember or for brief intros (and perhaps things like mapping the topcs to learning outcomes). I am pleased to hear that at least some others think the same about videos- it give me a bit more licence to experiment!

  8. There are a lot of interesting posts already and what a difficult task to evaluate student’s engagement in an online setting. I use Wattle for both face-to-face undergraduate courses but also for a post-graduate fully online course. I must admit that I am far less interested in the level of engagement with Wattle of my students in the face-to-face courses than that of my students in the online course. This seems obvious considering I meet my undergrad students many times a week (although this doesn’t mean they are all engaged active learners!) while I will never meet my post-graduate students (the majority of students being from other states or from overseas). Therefore I am very eager to gain any tips, strategies to greatly improve my student’s engagement with all the online resources I create for them. I am particularly interested in maintaining a very interactive forum in my post-grad course as what generally happens is that, in the first half of the semester, the forum is very “busy” with lots of input from both the students and I but then all this tend to fade away towards the end of the semester. This always makes me feel like I managed to create a learning community, that we are able to share our reflections on the issues raised in the course, to support each other (even between students and myself as students will point out at some resources of much relevance or will make me reflect on issues that I will then add to the course and so on, so really this aspect about feeling like a team is very valuable to both the teacher and the students), to get to know each other even if we will never meet. Yet, after all this early enthusiasm, almost every single year, I become disappointed by the fact that less and less students, as the semester runs, remain active via the forum (although they complete all the course’s hurdles). The fact is that I am also less active in the forum as the second end of semester starts so how could I blame my students? How could I therefore ask students to maintain their forum engagement if I don’t? Is it possible to keep a forum, of a fully online course, interactive throughout the semester with less input from his/her lecturer (because, unfortunately every year, I am overloaded with all my courses by mid-semester so I have less time to participate in the forum) ? I am hopeful this coffee course will shed some light on this issue among many others.

    1. Isabelle, thanks so much for these observations. This has also been my experience in teaching fully online courses – lots of enthusiasm in the early days that fades away by mid-semester! I think we will cover this topic specifically in Day 3 of the course. One strategy I have seen that worked quite well was for students to have roles as facilitators, commenters, summarisers, encouragers, etc that rotate each week – so to get their participation marks for the course they need to do something specfiic in the forums. This is one way to alleviate the burden on the teaching staff, and hopefully to keep the conversation going when teaching staff are more busy. But it sounds like you have been very successful at creating learning communities in your courses, which is just fantastic. Let’s explore more how to keep this going!

      Have others had this experience as well? Was there anything that you found to keep things active during busy times?

      1. Katie thank you very much for the feedback. Having students as facilitators or any other roles that could give them a strong incentive in participating actively and routinely in the forum is a great idea. I will try to give it a go however I have quite a large group of students and I might have to think of the roles I could give them so that each of them will endorse one such role during the short 12 weeks of a semester! I have however a little concern regarding the pressure that might put on some students. Indeed a vast majority of them are working professionals (mature aged and full-time employees) who often cannot commit to the course as much as they would like but maybe that is what they actually need to see the importance of the course’s forum (as a strong, not only learning tool, but also as one that enables them to feel less lonely, supported and part of a team).

        1. Hi Isabelle, hopefully some of the roles might be relatively lightweight in terms of time needed (hopefully not much more than writing a regular post).
          Here are some suggestions on roles I have found in various sources:
          Icebreaker – someone is assigned to make the first post and start off the conversation
          Responders – someone is assigned to answer / respond to posts instead of starting a new one
          Summariser – this person reads the existing posts and write a brief overview (no longer than a regular post)
          Questioner – this person posts the question for the discussion
          Connector – someone is assigned to point out some of the similarities between posts by others
          Challenger – this is a more difficult one, but if it is for an advanced class or as part of a critical thinking requirement, someone could be assigned to challenge / constructively critique the posts of others.

          I wonder if this sort of thing might work? Does anyone else have any suggestions?

          1. Hi everyone, I have had the same experience both as student and teacher, with the “fade out” phenomenon. Obviously as a semester progresses the hurdles mentioned by Isabelle become all too real, and everyone prioritises urgent tasks and assessments, particularly busy adults participating on line and working full time. One strategy is to build in a significant part of assessment as a kind of continuous assessment within forum activities that gives value recognition for efforts during the semester, and take at least some emphasis off final ‘hurdle’ assessments. The role allocation mentioned here could be combined with that with some type of recognition provided for taking certain roles.

  9. – Why did you take this course? What would you like to learn from it?
    I am convening a course (part of a Master) that is going fully online this semester (last year it was the first time that that the course was delivered and we used the flipped classroom method). This year we are offering students the possibility of doing the course either online or face to face. I have been heavily involved in the development of much of the content of the course (but not delivering it all). Given that i am convening the course this year i am interested in learning strategies to keep students engaged in the online delivery as well as being able to better understand the nature of their posts – well, assuming they will participate in the online forums!
    I think that when face to face it is not only the verbal communication that is important but all the other cues that our bodies give when we talk – our posture, if we blush, stutter, speak loudly or softly, etc…and also the obvious (ie how good is our command of english in a multi cultural environment as ANU). I wonder how we can pick up these cues when reading online posts (if at all!)….

    1. Hi Susana, thanks for sharing that! It sounds like this course has come along at the perfect time for you and I hope you can learn some of the strategies you are after. The lack of cues about body language and tone in online is definitely something that can be difficult to deal with. I think in some people it’s easy to see their expression in how they right (like yours!) but other people write more formally and it can be harder to discern. Maybe encouraging students to record audio posts instead of written ones? I think in Wattle it is relatively easy to record audio in forums.

  10. I give a real-world current topic for student discussion which relates to the chapter covered during that week. I make it a point to keep it brief- just one paragraph, so that students don’t lose interest in reading. I ask them to express their opinions on the topic. However, I normally observe that while some students are free in expressing their opinions, there are some others who hesitate to contribute – probably because they are a bit unsure about how their peers will react to their opinion. Generally speaking, their response rate is low when they are busy with their assignments. I also use the good old quizzes which get better response as students perceive them to be useful for the exam.

    1. Hi Suneeta, that sounds like a really great activity to do with students. I wonder if what Tom suggested in an earlier comment, about scaffolding interaction from easier to a bit more complex, might be a way to help with students not feeling up to expressing their opinions? Let’s look at this more throughout the course.

    2. Hi Suneeta,
      I am going to trial and similar task in my tutorials this semester but I am going to use the ‘shut-up and write’ idea and get them to write downs their thoughts on a weekly topic based on the reading. I don’t think that I will try an online approach or quiz for this task because I really would like to give this cohort the opportunity to think and critique what they have read. Just an alternative to discussions.
      Thank you!

  11. I am a bit late in getting this comment in, due to teaching a summer intensive. Last year I ran a course requiring partnerships between students online at a cross institutional level. We tried all kinds of approaches to get the non-ANU students to engage in dialogue but were frustrated by their lack of commitment. One student stood out and sent posts that were not only highly informative but critical and though provoking. he ended up being the best participant online out of everyone. We tried to discover what the impediments were to student engagement and in hindsight, it was interesting to discover that our basic assumption was a failure of the students to be interested in the process…because we had tried everything…or had we? There was a lot of navel gazing! What transpired in the end, emerging much later after semester had ended was that my academic colleague at the other institution had ‘decoupled’ and had left her students to their own devices. On reflection she stated that the students saw no point in what they were expected to do because she had not embedded the activities into her curriculum, and had not offered them any guidance. This has made me reflect on our own responsibilities to engage, that it needs to be a compoletely reciprocal and reciprocated process. In my current course, last night one of my students responded to me having posted a short article I had found in a popular science magazine, with another, covering a very different topic, but one that provided a relevant narrative to the day’s course materials. She included the comment that she wanted to share the article because it was so interesting it had made her want to focus her studies on this area of science. I take this as an example of online engagement by becoming an equal partner in the learning teaching process. And the seed for that has to be sown early.

    1. Hi Sara, great to hear your reflections on that course. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head about one of the core issues with students not engaging – if they don’t see the value in participating, they won’t spend their time on it! Embedding the participation activities in the learning outcomes and curriculum is one key way to ensure that students see the point of participating. Looking forward to chatting more about this as the course progresses!

      Also, please don’t worry about when your comments are added – there is no official deadline. Just comment when you have time. 🙂

  12. I’m taking this course because of the clear shift toward online lecture delivery in universities worldwide. A thoughtful approach requires broad learning/reading in advance (not just a last minute eek, I’m teaching an online course – whut how huh?!)… So time to start developing this skill set. I’ve taken a bunch of online courses, and been involved in running a couple, so I hope to learn about stuff I’ve not encountered in that experience (turn some unknown unknowns into at least known unknowns, if not knowns!).

    I don’t tune out/log off, way too stubborn for that! If you switched off because of (potentially transient) lack of engagement, how can you hope to learn new stuff? More difficult or dry topics tend to be the least engaging in terms of delivery, but most gratifying when you click and understand. Though I recognise this is because I am a ridiculously pig-headed nerd. It’s been somewhat of an adjustment period to realise most people are far more sensible and strategic when it comes to boring lessons! Indeed, I’ve much to learn about how the average student might disengage (as I often lack that intuitive recognition).

    I generally consider thoughtful questions as signs of engagement. It requires bums on seats (hands on keyboards?), absorption of the material, and enough of a personal investment to synthesise the material and notice a hole, and sufficient motivation to fill that hole. It’s the same in person or online, it’s just the format of the questions (oral or via text) that shifts.

    1. Welcome Erin! As you might imagine, I totally agree with your comment about online courses requiring a bit more planning and advance thinking. It’s a bit culture shift for universities to work in this way, I think. When I was a lecturer I was always writing my presentation right up until the moment I walked into the room, but with more time needed for planning, editing, and building online courses this same approach isn’t possible anymore. Even the coffee courses are all written in advance and then just scheduled to appear at the right time!

      Looking forward to hearing more about your teaching as the course progresses!

  13. Why did you take this course? What would you like to learn from it?
    I am developing a new “blended” ourse with a very significant online component and am looking for ideas and advice. I so get the problem/ideas of “engaging” students and I was a bit disapointed last year on “engagement” of standard on-campus courses — Wattle forums for example were useful for me as a communication tool, and although may students appreciated how well I responded to questions raised there, it was clear that other students were not even reading it. I would have liked it to work to replace the mass approach at the end of lectures (I think many students only bothered to go to lectures so they could see me at the end).

    I do think that “tooling” to support online learning is very important. I just noticed the comment about wattle “Lessons” (Phil Gibbons) a very useful pointer because I would really like to develop an “engaging” style — forget the long recorded lectures, that I would enjoy making about as much as the students would enjoy watching.

    I would like to have some advice on how to deal with the asynchronous naure of the “conversations”… Just like this one!

  14. The least engaging online experience is when the speaker is not enthusiastic, unable to convey in simple language the issue at hand or just makes it a dry, monotonous lecture. I used Homer Simpson in my F2F class and probably that day was the greatest day of the semester.. But I refrain from over doing this else the attention moves away from the serious banking and finance issues at hand.. it is used mainly as a relaxing technique but Homer Simpson episode was about Homer turning into a defaulter to the shop owner !! which fitted well in my credit risk management class when I was teaching about loan defaults !!!

  15. Why did you take this course? What would you like to learn from it?
    Always trying to keep up to date with latest thinking around online learning. I am a Unit Convenor and need to design Moodle sites.
    Tell us about your least engaging online experiences. What makes you tune out or log off?
    Sites that just store resources such as articles or clips with no attempt to provide a road map, narrative or reinforce learning.
    What would you consider to be evidence of engagement in your own teaching practice? How can you tell if your students are “engaged” online?
    While we can tell if a student has looked at a resource, and for how long, we need to be inserting reflective markers or formative assessments.

  16. Hi Gregory, I agree that reflective activities not only show teachers how engaged the students are, but also in reflecting, the students automatically have to engage to some extent – although a lot depends on the design of the reflective activities.

  17. Sorry for the late reply – I am catching up on the posts from this week. I am interested in taking this coffee course to understand more about ways to engage students online. I am working as a tutor for a course that will be delivered both in person and online. Although I have taken online courses before, this is my first experience of being involved in the delivery of such a course. Since a large part of my role will be interacting with the students on discussion forums, I am interested in learning more about the best ways to do this, how to encouragement student involvement and engagement, and the best ways to both receive and deliver feedback.

  18. Why did you take this course? What would you like to learn from it?
    I’m taking this course as I am convening a face-to-face/ online course for the first time this semester. I did my Masters degree online some time ago and really enjoyed it. However, for the more challenging subjects I found myself on a bus to Sydney to meet with the tutors in person. This wouldn’t have been possible had I been living in China! I am here to get some tips and pointers to help me to engage as well as possible with the students in my course.

  19. Why did you take this course?
    I too am convening a blended unit and would like to know how much my students are really engaging in the content online? Last semester whilst students appeared to be accessing Moodle frequently, the numbers of those listening to the online lectures was not great (though much better than face-to-face attendance). Students were still coming to tutorials expecting to be ‘given the answers’ despite numerous posts about the purpose of online learning activities and face-to-face tutorials for the unit. I found I had to make a number of announcements relating to information that was in a number of places online yet not read by students. Interestingly, the results and student satisfaction feedback was the highest it has ever been, so I am trying to find how to correlate that with the mystery of online engagement!

  20. Hi Katie and all, I’ve taken this course to get some ideas for making content more engaging as well as building in small opportunities for asynchronous online engagement with others in a scholarly comms course. A challenge!
    One of the tune out moments I’ve had was in viewing video in a MOOC regarding research methodologies – too dry, too long and not at all personalised or contextualised by the presenter. I had hoped for some personal anecdotes or some real life scenarios!
    In my limited practice – mostly face to face – one indicator is the kind of questions that are asked. As for being able to tell if engagement is occurring online, I am here to learn about mechanisms for evaluating just that! 🙂

  21. After reading through people’s comments, I see that one of the common themes is sustained student engagement that doesn’t peter out. I’ll play the devil’s advocate and suggest that perhaps it is impractical for us to expect students to engage at the same level throughout semester as excitement dwindles and other commitments take over. One way to keep it up is through mandatory posts (like these coffee courses do and some of my courses which I took as a student did), but I have to admit that although this may force me to participate, it might not be ‘voluntary’ engagement (the distinction between engagement and involvement makes absolute sense to me). Perhaps, we could try to spark engagement at several points in the semester but not by purely mechanical means (required posts) but through careful planting of interesting discussion topics or problems to solve.

    1. I love this point Ksenia – it is very possible that our expectations as teachers/facilitators is one of the issues, not necessarily how much students are engaged. One of the things I like to consider is that whether engagement or discussion is one of the key learning outcomes for the course, or something we are adding to try and “force” engagement. For example, in some disciplines these types of outcomes are essential to being an effective practitioner – I used to teach communication & media studies, where the ability to participate regularly online was a key part of the requirements for the degree. In other courses where engagement is not connected to learning outcomes (and thus not connected to assessment), then participating in discussions online can seem like much more of an “add-on”. Thanks!

  22. I just lost my comment and now i am retyping it again. Reading other colleagues comments it brings home the message that engagement in student’s learning is quite critical. I am new to online learning and am currently developing an online language course. I am doing this course because i want to learn how to develop learning materials that will engage students and how teachers facilitate communication that engages students. And just wanting to see what other strategies are out there which could be useful for me to adapt. I hope that this course will give me some tips on ways i can engage students if i do teach this course.

  23. I just lost my comment and now i am retyping it again. Reading other colleagues comments it brings home the message that engagement in student’s learning is quite critical. I am new to online learning and am currently developing an online language course. I am doing this course because i want to learn how to develop learning materials that will engage students and how teachers facilitate communication that engages students. And just wanting to see what other strategies are out there which could be useful for me to adapt. I hope that this course will give me some tips on ways i can engage students if i do teach this course.

    1. Hi Jenny – sorry to hear you lost your comment! Glad you were able to contribute this one. One of the reasons I am really interested in student engagement is to bust the myth that online courses don’t need teachers – that you can just put the content up and the students will teach themselves. This is something that is seen a lot in MOOCs, for example. But it’s definitely something that is essential for effective student learning! I hope you learn some useful strategies through this course.

  24. I took this course because I’d like to learn how to engage students online and learn from others about their experience – how can you tell if your online students are engaged? What does “being engaged” look like?

    As an online student, I tune out when I don’t feel any teacher presence. I don’t need acknowledgement of all my posts but the teacher should be there to facilitate the learning and not just leave the students alone to do their thing.

    One sign of engagement is when I get questions from students that connect the lesson to their work. Most of my students are working professionals and I sometimes get questions that are a direct application of a certain topic to real-life situations. Or they connect it to a previous lesson they learned from a previous course and they ask about a disconnection or a grey area.

  25. Hi. I took this course as I, like many other educators, struggle to attract students to the classroom activities, although my evidence tells that the students who take these face-to-face activities perform a lot better than those who only study the online content. Hence, I aim to establish a vivid online learning community. I would like to learn how to do this — and only on Day 1 I learnt that I should explore more how Wattle as my chosen tech can support this even more. I use quizzes and discussions already.

  26. I find long lectures the most difficult to engage with online, even though I tend to enjoy hour long lectures in person! I have found that when lecturers break up the lecture into smaller sections (e.g. 15 minute blocks) it is easier to focus. I also really enjoy listening to podcasts, and find this easier to absorb. It is the act of passively watching a laptop screen which is the most difficult for me, so it is easier if I can factor in short breaks every 20 minutes or so.

    1. Hi Alison, I am a big podcast fan too. I listen to them regularly while driving and walking my dog. I wonder how common they are found in higher ed though? I’d love to see more of them myself.

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