Friday, September 6, 2013

Teaching Online (Part VIII) - Engaging Students...never stops

     It's a dark cold night and you are out camping with friends. Together you have built a fire to keep you warm, roast a few dogs, and provide a little light for a late night card game.  It took some work to get it going, but the flame has served you well...until you wake up, cold, dark, and your pretty sure something is crawling in your sleeping bag.

What happened? 
Where did the fire go? 

All the work that went in to getting it going and now nothing! We all know that a fire eventually dies out if not stoked and maintained. Occasionally throwing some more wood on the pile to ensure the flame does not die is a necessity. However, a fire is not alone in that regard, your online course can often be very similar.

     You have worked to build a course community, now you must continue to stoke the fire and keep the flame lit. Work to facilitate student groups and discussions. Have them evaluate one another's work thereby taking ownership of not only their own, but each other's learning. Your presence of course is important, as will be mentioned in Part IX "Knock Knock who's there?", but continuing to design ways for students to be involved and interact with each other is an integral part of fighting the sometimes solitary feeling online learning can present.

     Hopefully students are using the student (discussion) lounge, as outlined in "Building a Course Community", but don't wait around for them if not. Actively utilize the class discussion boards to promote interaction among your students. Be creative with the board encouraging video posts, playing discussion tag, or other creative activities (Google "discussion board ideas"). Never miss an opportunity whether a video, reading, or lecture to have students post on the discussion board.

     Two quick points to remember though about discussion boards.

  • Resist the urge to always respond or answer questions, just like in a traditional face to face course sometimes a pause or a little silence is powerful. Allow students a chance to answer each other and think for themselves, with you as the instructor commenting more approval, confirmation, or posing questions/thoughts rather than actual answers.
  • Not all discussion needs to be evaluated and graded. Don't kill yourself trying to score every comment according to your discussion rubric. Think about your traditional classes, do you score every comment in class? Is every class discussion officially graded or evaluated and feedback given. Perhaps you are a "professtar"(new word), but I highly doubt you do.  Likewise, it is okay for online discussions to be the same way. Just make sure it clear in your detailed syllabus. You can either denote which discussions are scored, or simply mention that discussions will be scored randomly throughout the course for an overall discussion grade.

     Of course there are other ways to engage students besides just discussion boards. Here are a few creative ideas, please add by posting your own in the comments below.
  • Have students collaborate on a short story or book of poems using google docs or twitter
  • Create a twitter# for your course and have students tweet thoughts, resources, or articles dealing with course content or discussion.
  • Does your course deal with a topic that can be connected to something common in the real world, for example banking, Zoo animals, or Battlefields? Consider a history course about the Civil War. Not everyone lives near a Civil War battlefield as we do in Nashville, but most students probably could take a day trip to a battlefield of some kind (even if it is the hallway leading to a teenage daughters bedroom). Out west there are Indian battlefields, southwest Mexican War battlefields, northeast Revolutionary War. If your class is global, its okay, unfortunately everywhere you go there are battlefields of some sort. Engage students offline and have them come back together to interact with one another online. Think of it as the opposite of a traditional class taking a virtual field trip, the virtual class takes a real field trip...just to different places. That will lead to great sharing and discussion opportunities.
Be creative, engage students, and watch them learn. Next blog post we will talk about the importance of you, as the instructor, having an online presence. Until then have a great weekend and enjoy some football!