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How to Effectively Facilitate Your Online Course to Drive Student Engagement


We interviewed Somerset Community College Associate Professor, Kim Toby, about building student engagement in online Student Success courses.

How would you recommend a new faculty member get started?

"Now that many folks are moving to online learning due to COVID-19, we are hearing that online teaching is hard work. There was a stigma with online learning before the pandemic that it was just a self-guided tour of the class information. Now, it is even more important that online learning is more than a self-guided tour and more engaging. Students are "shopping" for classes that allow them to put the theories in the text into a real-life context. Students want more than a self-directed tour of a subject. Now, it is very important that we engage students.

The good news is, while many folks are saying how tough online teaching is, McGraw Hill is making that transition easier. Online teaching/learning has been around for over a decade and McGraw Hill has the research and best practices in the field to help those who are new to online teaching.

For a new faculty member to engage students, there is a wealth of tools in Connect Master. Ideally, we want students to come to class having engaged or read the information. Students on the other hand don’t see a reason to read the information if it is just going to be discussed anyway. So, how can we meet in the middle? Adaptive Learning. If I were new to online teaching, one thing I would insist upon is the Adaptive Learning Assignment. The Adaptive Learning assignment allows students to choose to either read the material or start with questions. Many students feel they already know First Year Experience course material. I mean, it is common sense stuff, right? Students can choose to start with questions, and if they get the questions wrong, it’s okay. They are directed to read the material to help them understand the learning objectives. This new method is not the same questions asked over and over until you get them all right, but rather, a series of questions to make sure you understand and can apply the material.

In my opinion, students are going to choose to start with questions, rather than read the chapter. By doing this, they will get all the material in a different way than the traditional reading.  This allows the student to engage in a different way with the material that makes it come alive and its applicability becomes relevant."

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

"Keeping students engaged is important in an online environment. One way to keep students engaged with all the online learning taking place is to provide them with the skills they will need to navigate the online waters. Connect Master has created a module called ‘Preparing for Online Learning.’ This module allows the instructor to assign useful, meaningful, timely, and necessary information for students navigating online classes.

I have been teaching online for some time now, but this year has been different. With so many schools using Chromebooks and many students use iPads, it is increasingly difficult to field all the different technological questions students have. It is great that McGraw Hill has implemented this module to help students reach this standard of technology. If a student doesn’t know how to save a file and upload a file, this simple notion could become a stumbling block that leads to frustration and leaving the course. As a First-Year Experience faculty member, this is the population that we serve. So, it is fitting that we are meeting our students where they are and giving them a hand to boost them into the online environment.

Students can utilize the Adaptive Learning Assignment to understand and test their knowledge. They can choose a role-playing activity to test their technological skills, they can watch a video, and finally, they can take a test to make sure they are ready for online education. This module is one example of what McGraw Hill has to offer as far as engaging students while meeting standards.

All modules in Connect are based on Bloom’s Taxonomy and refer to the Learning Outcomes throughout the lessons. Students need several things to engage and excel in an online environment, including clear, recurring learning outcomes, an organized learning approach, small nuggets of knowledge, and instructor presence. Connect Master offers all of these engagement pieces in various formats from the Adaptive Learning Assignment, role-playing scenarios, reflective thinking assignments, surveys, and, finally, to taking the test."

What specific Connect tools would you recommend using?

"I would recommend using the Adaptive Learning Assignment. It helps students capture nuggets of information and allows them to expand upon that learning by adapting to their answers. It helps them where they need it and moves through the things they already know.

I also like the Application-Based Activities, like the self-assessments and the role-playing scenarios. The Application-Based Activities are just what it says–a way students can apply what they have learned to real-life situations or by reflecting upon how the content can fit into their lives right now."

How would you suggest using the Application-Based Activities or videos to help drive student engagement in an online Student Success course?

“Today, as we move further into the online environment, students feel a sense of aloneness. Learning can be introvertive but utilizing the Application-Based role-playing scenarios can liven up the learning process. While the role-playing is a simulation, it gives the student a chance to interact with the content in a variety of ways. That sense of experiencing the learning and interacting with concepts with others through simulation can help solidify the learning process leading to more retention of the information.

In the reading and the Adaptive Learning Assignments, there are videos sprinkled throughout the content. This gives the student another avenue to explore the content and experience the learning outcomes for the module. I find the videos short, sweet, to-the-point, and fun."

About the Author

Kim began her career at SCC in 1995 and found her true calling when she worked in the Student Support Services Program. As the Mentor Coordinator, Kim’s job was to teach students how to be successful college students and help them survive their first year of college. It was here where her passion and love for this area started. Soon she developed an online course for both GEN 100 Introduction to College and GEN 102 Foundations of Learning. Before teaching FYE105, GEN 102, and GEN 100 she taught COM 181Basic Public Speaking and COM 252 Interpersonal Communications as well as some CPU courses. Kim also served as a professional advisor before she began teaching full time in 2010. Kim has over 15 years of teaching experience here at SCC as well as a wealth of knowledge of the college.

Profile Photo of Kim Toby