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How to Effectively Facilitate Your Online Course to Drive Student Engagement | Ginger Fisher

We interviewed Associate Professor of the University of Northern Colorado, Ginger Fisher, about driving student engagement within an online course.

How would you recommend a new faculty member get started?

“When thinking about engagement in an online course, it is important to consider the student perspective. Why are they taking the course? What are their goals? For many students in introductory biology, they are taking the course as a prerequisite and most are concerned about earning a strong grade in the course. However, many are also interested in the topic and want to learn more. Therefore, it is important to think about creating activities that are relevant to real-world situations and creating activities that have a grade attached. You then need to ensure that those activities align with the course objectives. For example, if you want students to learn how to construct and interpret graphs, you could assign a Data and Graphing Interactive within McGraw Hill Connect® related to the viruses and human health and then assign questions that are part of the course grade. This addresses the student goals of strong grades and learning about relevant topics, while also aligning with your course objectives.”

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

"One important standard is accessibility. It is important to use software that all students would have access to and to ensure that you are not requiring students to purchase more expensive tools.

Another important standard is the alignment with the course objectives. It can be tempting to try activities that appear fun and novel, but if they are not related to the specific course objectives, students will seem them as busywork and become frustrated.

Yet another critical standard for engagement in an online course is communication. It is important for the instructor to provide clear communication channels for students to use and to be clear on which types of communications work best in each format. For example, what types of questions are better to ask via email, and which would be beneficial to be posted in a discussion board? Giving students multiple ways to communicate with the instructor, and having the instructor also communicate in different formats, will help keep students engaged."

What specific Connect tools would you recommend using?

“For engagement, I would recommend the Data and Graphing Interactives within Connect. There are many different topics that align with course materials, and they also include relevant, real-world data. They allow students to change variables to determine different outcomes and the graphics are interactive. In addition, they address both scientific skills and content knowledge that will align with most instructor course objectives.”

What are your favorite tools to use to drive course engagement?

“My favorite tools in Connect are the Active Learning activities located in the instructor resources. These include clicker questions, minute papers, concept maps, and guided collaborative activities. The data clearly show that active learning is beneficial for students but creating effective active learning activities can be a challenge. Having a set of these already created and linked with each chapter is a great asset. While it can require a bit more creativity, it is not too difficult to use many of these in the online format as well, and therefore can help with student engagement.”