Like most faculty, you were likely thrown into the ocean of technology tools to aid you in the transition to either online or remote learning due to the COVID shutdown in spring 2020. Going into fall 2020, there was the slight hope that we might move back into something closer to the old normal of teaching, but that was not to be. So, you buckled down, perhaps attended a few workshops from eSAIL or AI, and developed your online course.
Course Structure & Organization are Key –
But Don’t Forget about Social
Course structure and organization are essential parts of the online learning experience. They help students stay organized, and courses with a strong structure show higher levels of satisfaction. But there’s also a human element to learning, as highlighted by research and recent surveys about the student experience in online courses.
The one significant differentiating factor between students who took an online course in the past and those taking online courses now is agency. With the big move to online and technology-enhanced learning, students have had very little agency in selecting courses, which can affect their motivation to perform well. Additionally, students may not be prepared to manage the differentiated work planning involved in learning from home.
Improve Student Engagement and Outcomes
There are a couple of small things you can do to increase student engagement and potentially improve outcomes for your online course.
- Provide frequent assessments (formative and summative) interspersed throughout the course. Research and recent survey data show that online students need ways to keep them motivated to participate in their learning. Since they may not have had complete agency in choosing this mode of learning, providing ways for them to demonstrate their mastery can be a good motivating factor to keep them engaged1. The key to remember is to have variety in the methods you choose to help students practice and demonstrate mastery.
Some ideas might be to use various short assessments (multiple choice quizzes, match the following, hotspot quizzes, short answers) every week to let students discover mastery of their learning. Publisher databanks, while not always robust, can help in this scenario. Letting students earn badges for point levels can also be a great engagement tool2.
- Add opportunities for student-student interaction and social learning. Numerous studies have surfaced the students’ need for a high degree of instructor-student interaction as critical to online success3. But spring survey data at A&M report students missing a sense of community. In fact, another recent local research study showed students reported the loss of their ability to organize study groups and/or organic learning opportunities led to a greater underperformance in online courses than the loss of other kinds of interaction. So, integrating multiple interactions in the course will lead to great engagement and satisfaction4.
One way to increase community and interaction is to create discussion boards within the LMS for students to share casual information. Build assignments that require student-student interactions and – importantly – include ways for students to report their collaboration. Use, adopt, and encourage free or low-cost third-party tools that let students create communities. (Yammer, which is integrated into O365, is a good example.)
While planning and organization are critical to the success of online courses, adding social elements to your course humanizes learning, which is key to retention and success.
For help building new or enhancing your existing online courses, contact eSAIL at EngrLearnTech@tamu.edu.
- Hulleman, C., Schrager, S., Bodmann, S., & Harackiewicz, J. (2010). A meta-analytic review of achievement goal measures: Different labels for the same constructs or different constructs with similar labels? Psychological Bulletin, 136(3), 422. Return after #1
- Fanshawe, Melissa, Nicole Delaney, and Alwyn Powell. “Utilizing Instantaneous Feedback to Promote Self-Regulated Learning in Online Higher Education Courses: The Case for Digital Badges.” Technology-Enhanced Formative Assessment Practices in Higher Education. IGI Global, 2020. 41-59. Return after #2
- Kyei-Blankson, L., Ntuli, E. & Donnelly, H. (2019). Establishing the Importance of Interaction and Presence to Student Learning in Online Environments. Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 30(4), 539-560. Waynesville, NC: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). Retrieved September 29, 2020 from https://www.learntechlib.org/primary/p/161956/. Return after #3
- Muljana, Pauline S., and Tian Luo. “Factors contributing to student retention in online learning and recommended strategies for improvement: A systematic literature review.” Journal of Information Technology Education: Research 18 (2019) Return after #4