We interviewed University of Nebraska instructor, Laurie Miller, about driving student engagement within an online course.
How would you recommend a new faculty member get started?
"Student engagement can be challenging in an online course. I like to structure a plan detailing the ways I will try to engage with students during an online course (This is just a sample of things to try... there are so many others).
The first thing I do is send a welcome email with the course syllabus a few days before the course starts. This allows students to review the syllabus and ask questions before the semester starts.
Second, I create an introductory activity. I usually do this in a discussion platform that I have synced with my LMS. I start with an introduction of myself and then ask the students to follow.
Third, I do a weekly check-in. This check-in provides a place to share what is coming up that week, review for problem areas from the week prior, and sometimes just random information.
Fourth, I send reminders. I was against this at first because they are “adult” learners, and they should know, but I find this helps establish a clear line of communication.
Fifth, I keep a consistent pattern in assignment deadlines. This creates a structure for the students, so there are no surprises.
Sixth, encourage discussion between students. I am not a huge fan of the post once and comment twice pattern of most discussion boards, but I do think that in an online setting discussion boards help create engagement between learners in the course (see my suggestion below for how to use McGraw Hill Connect® tools to do this)."
What are some of the standards you need to keep in mind?
"Accessibility is something to keep in mind. I post many of my weekly check-ins as videos. Be sure to enable closed captioning. I also make sure to mix it up a bit because a video of me each week can be monotonous.
Consistency with communication and expectations are important to keep in mind. Students have many courses they are trying to juggle at the same time. If our course is not designed in an organized manner, this can be very distracting for students. If deadlines are constantly moving or new assignments are randomly showing up, students will get frustrated."
What specific Connect tools would you recommend using?
“I love the Connect assignments – videos, LearnSmart, and the exercises. These I use on a consistent basis for general knowledge acquisition and some higher-order Bloom’s thinking. But I think we can increase engagement by using other types of assignments, such as interactive graphs or Application-Based Activities as a way to mix up the weekly assignments. This means I do not regularly assign these. I usually assign these as a way for students to apply what they are learning in the weekly assignments. I tend to assign these the week before a major assessment.”
What is your favorite tool in Connect to drive student engagement?
"I like using articles from EconEveryDay Blog to drive discussion. I use a discussion platform that is synced with my LMS. I teach a large course (over 350 students), so I divide the students up into smaller groups within the discussion platform. I use the posts on EconEveryDay to spur discussion of current topics. Students then discuss the topic within their smaller groups. Students are required to actively engage weekly, but I do not post each week. Students can curate their own articles or videos related to the topics being covered.
I love reading how students are experiencing or seeing economics "in the real world.” Encouraging students to share their experiences is more important now more than ever. Also, encouraging students to have tough dialogue around how economics plays out "in the real world" is how we are going to learn and grow as humans."