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How to Effectively Facilitate Your Online Course to Drive Student Engagement | Cheri L. Kittrell


We interviewed State College of Florida instructor, Cheri L. Kittrell, about building student engagement in online courses.

William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

How would you recommend a new faculty member get started?

“Most faculty would probably agree that engagement is important to receiving a high-quality experience in a course, and they could probably easily articulate what they consider the “lit fire” of student engagement to look like in a face-to-face classroom—the student who is actively involved in discussions, raising their hand, paying attention during lecture, and asking questions about the reading. But what do we mean when we say ‘student engagement’ in an online course? If we never see students during a lecture and they don’t have an opportunity to “ask questions” during asynchronous class time, how are they demonstrating their engagement with the course material? One definition of student engagement that I particularly like is ‘the amount, type, and intensity of investment students make in their educational experiences.’”

What are some of the standards you need to keep in mind?

“New faculty may wish to consider the types of investment that students bring to class and how they could facilitate them. I have found in over 25 years of teaching that students tend to be more invested when two factors are in play:

  1. Students clearly understand the parameters of course assignments.
  2. Students see a connection between course assignments and their own personal world.

So, for example, when I have made assignments that had open-ended requirements (such as asking students to write a paper, but no page limit was given, or I gave an open-ended paper topic: “5 pages on any topic related to pregnancy”), students performed more poorly than when I gave them very specific directions such as, “This is a 5-page paper where you will discuss the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional impact of pregnancy on adolescents.” Students perform even better if, instead of being assigned a research paper, I ask students to personalize it—to their family, their field of study, their belief system, and so on—as well as have them conduct an interview, prepare a one-page brochure with all of the relevant information and citations that they might give to a pregnant teen on the issue, and also record a short video walking the class through their brochure, telling us any important bits from their interview or research that helped to develop their thought.”

What specific McGraw Hill Connect® tools would you recommend using?

“There are many tools in McGraw Hill Connect® that can assist faculty in ensuring higher levels of student engagement—from improving communication with students to making learning social to providing timely and useful feedback. One of my favorite quick tools is the At-Risk Reports. These reports allow me to see which students are not investing their time and attention in their work and are at risk of failing the course. With just a few clicks, I can check student grades and send follow-up emails to keep students from “falling through the cracks” in class. While a traditional course may only meet one or two days per week, online instructors will frequently log in to their learning management system and look at grades, check for email, send announcements, and perform other activities. Involved instructors will personalize their courses in a way that makes learners feel welcome, ensure students understand what is expected of them, and make students at ease with participating. At-Risk Reports are just one more way to deliver encouragement and engagement, particularly to struggling online learners. If you are looking for more ways to improve your online teaching and increase engagement, I recommend this article from The Chronicle of Higher Education for more great ideas:”