Engaging students online – Conclusion

Final Thoughts

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

A dog lays with its head on a pile of books.
Photo by MGStanton.

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 3Erin 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!

A cup of tea sits in a saucer.
Photo by Allison Giguere.

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 katharina.freund@anu.edu.au.

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!

What’s next?

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.

Thank you for participating, and we hope to see you again soon!

17 thoughts on “Engaging students online – Conclusion

  1. Thanks Katie, and thanks to all of those who added some fascinating discussion topics & some awesome tips and tricks which I will shamelessly borrow and re-use in the future! This format, coffee courses, is ideal. I like that there is a trace that can be saved for future use of all discussions, which never happens in f2f training. I also like that I can dial in when I hit a lull (its so much healthier to post a comment than to go and buy a muffin, which tends to be the default option when my focus wanes!!). Its simple but genius. Its also a very neat illustration of the topic of the course… while you’re thinking about engagement online, you realise that you are being drawn into online engagement, like a self-piloted social experiment. Very neat. I’ll be on the look-out for the next coffee course, for sure.

    1. Thank you so much for this lovely comment Thea – it means a lot! We have been experimenting with formats for professional development for a while now, and I’m glad this format works well for you. I’m glad you noticed the “learn about it by doing it” strategy for this course. I like to try and model whatever strategy we are learning about in the delivery. Looking forward to catching up in person on Friday for coffee. 🙂

  2. Thanks Katie and other participants for sharing your ideas, several of which I am definitely adopting in my courses. As with Thea, I think you have found a sweet spot Katie in terms of time and effort that is required to engage in the course. In fact, I found the course a pleasant way to have a break between tasks and could envisage doing training using this medium almost continuously!

    1. I can’t recall the last time a professional development course was called “pleasant” so I might put that in the ad for the next course! Thanks for your great comments and participation!

  3. Thanks Katie for the week. Good for me to hear about areas I have had little experience with and hopefully ones that I can be involved with in the future.

  4. Like all the comments so far from the other participants, I would like first to thank you very much Katie for this great way of making us reflect, engage and share our feelings about how we are trying, would like to or will (in a not too far future hopefully!) foster our student’s engagement within our courses. The course’s design is indeed perfect and enjoyable, it’s a format that should be used more broadly as, even if we didn’t have to spend too much time on it each day, we still learnt a lot.
    See you on Friday.

    1. Isabelle, thanks so much for that feedback. I’m really glad that the model has hit that balance for you. At the moment we are aiming to have a monthly coffee course on a variety of topics – lots more to come!

  5. A quick thank you from me as well – i am afraid that a few days it took slightly longer than the advertised 15 min but it was worth it. I came out with increased knowledge and tips to do a better job this semester but also assured and confident that we are already in the right track. Thanks to Russell Waldron who has been working with us on getting our course on to wattle. Enjoy coffee on friday, i am afraid i cant make it.

    1. No worries Susana – thanks for joining us! Thanks for letting me know about the time it took you. It can be a bit difficult to measure how long it will take but I might aim to reduce the number of words slightly for the future. I’ll pass your kind words on to Russell!

  6. Very helpful resources and well organised course. Congratulations to Katie and the team. As always, I learned a lot from the participants’ comments too. Looking forward to participating in other Coffee Courses.

  7. Thank you! I found this last reflection to be a great example of how to connect students’ feedback and online comments as the educator’s post.

  8. This was a very stimulating course – thank you Katie. Also, I think today’s post provides a good model of how we can curate student comments to highlight the value of participation and peer learning in our own courses! While creating a summary like this for each discussion topic might be quite a time burden for a single tutor, it could be a good role to assign to a student on a rotating basis. I would be interested to hear if anyone has tried implementing this in their online forums and how it went.

    1. Hi Alison, so glad to hear that you found it helpful! This was certainly one of my favourite courses. The summarising of the themes of a discussion is really useful for bringing together a discussion at the end of each topic. I’d also love to hear how anyone else found this strategy.

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