In our final post, I thought I’d share some reflections on the course and the themes that emerged over the past week. First off, I wanted to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has participated and shared their experiences throughout the past week. I have really enjoyed the discussions, ideas, and reflections and the course was a great success because of all of you! We’ve already had 200+ hits on the first posts of the course, which is a new record for the coffee courses.
To end our course, here are a few of the trends I saw develop in our discussions.
Factors affecting participation
It’s not that students might find the content boring, but as Tam pointed out in Day 1, students are just as busy as the rest of us! They often make strategic decisions about what and how to engagement with a course in relation to their overall course load and work/life commitments. I thought the comments by Jill on Day 1 and Thea on Day 2 made great points about giving students choices in how to participate, creating incentive without demanding it.
Maintaining engagement throughout a course
Keeping the momentum going throughout the semester is a particular challenge. Phil and Isabelle on Day 1 both highlighted that this is something they have struggled with: things go well for a few weeks and then peter out as the semester gets busier. Hopefully, identifying this as an issue means that we can take steps to factor it into the design of our courses by not requiring participation every single week, or assigning more at certain key times to spread around the load.
Managing time and volume in online discussions
We’ve seen that sustained teacher presence is a big factor in fostering engagement, but how can teachers keep things engaging without spending all day answering and responding in forums? This is especially an issue for sessional staff and tutors who are paid hourly – how can this be managed in an effective way? There was significant discussion on this between Thea, Isabelle, Tom & Katie here on Day 3 and also Susana and Katie here on Day 3. Erin on Day 2 made a great point about the difficulties of managing discussions with a large cohort of students as well. One solution involved assigning facilitation, moderator, and other roles to the students as part of their learning process to share the burden of reading and replying to all the posts. Another suggestion from the video in Day 3 was to enforce a strict word limit to limit the volume that needs to be read each week. Courses with a substantial online discussion requirement might need to explore how teaching time is allocated or compensated to ensure that it is covered as part of the workload for teachers.
The thin line between true engagement and “ticking the box”
There was so much excellent discussion on this issue, which I feel was the core issue throughout the course. How can we foster true, sustained, passionate engagement? How do we deal with students who are just going through the motions to get the marks? This was teased out a lot in the discussion on Day 4. In particular, we all grappled with the complexity of the need to measure learning as a mark of student progress, and thus the engagement needing to be visible in some way so it can be measured. Erin summed it up nicely:
“This makes me ponder the need to explicitly disentangle engagement as a means to an end, or an end in itself, and what this means in when defining the nature of engagement specifically in an online context. The difficulty is setting an expectation without devolving into teaching to the test.” (See the full comment.)
Thea offered some great suggestions on ways to deal with this, but I highly recommend the entire discussion on Day 4.
Join us for a coffee- in person!
We’d like to invite you to have a coffee, on us, this Friday, February 17 at ANU Acton campus. We’ll be at Biginelli’s Cafe in the CBE Building 26C at 10am. Please join us to discuss the course and meet your fellow participants face-to-face. RSVPs are essential. Please email Katie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let us know what you thought.
Click here to give your feedback anonymously. Or, as always, we welcome comments on this blog post. We are particularly interested to hear your suggestions for future topics. Please note: You are not required to comment on this post to meet the participation requirement– but you are welcome to if you like!
If you are interested in investigating this topic further, we are offering a face-to-face session on ANU campus in April called Monitoring Student Engagement Online, which looks at how to use analytics, course logs, and activity tracking in Wattle (Moodle) to determine what students are looking at in your course site. It’s a nice follow-up to this course.
Our next coffee course will be a very special one. It is called Open Educational Practice, offered by guest contributors Adrian Stagg and Emma Power from the University of Southern Queensland. It looks at the open access movement, and the issues around offering educational resources for free. It is part of International Open Education Week, and will run from Monday, 27 March to Friday, 31 March 2017. As always, all participants are welcome and ANU staff can sign up on HORUS for professional development recognition.