During this week’s ONL scenario, we were given the time to think about student engagement in the online classroom.
I used to think somewhat naively that engaging a student online could not be all that different than engaging a student in the classroom. This way of thinking, I realized quickly, is part of the problem. In “Cultural diversity online: student engagement with learning technologies,” John Hannon and Brian D’Netto “did not find any differences in satisfaction levels based on gender, age or education level” (428), but they do suggest that some of the issues that online courses are struggling with come from institutions making “very few changes to their traditional methods of course design” when they move the course online.
What kind of changes might a student need? And who exactly is “a student”?
The biggest challenge, as I see it, is the way that Swedish universities (this is the context I know, so I cannot speak for other contexts) sometimes use online courses in addition to on campus courses with the main goal of increasing student numbers. This can sometimes mean that the levels of interest of the different students varies grately. Marcia D.Dixson’s article “Creating effective student engagement in online courses: What do students find engaging?” highlights the extreme differences in students’ goals when taking an online class. It is much simpler to sign up for an online course and then only participate sporadically then it is to sign up to an on campus course and do the same. Maybe this is because of a different kind of accountability and responsibility one feels toward individuals that one has “met”?
One way of solving this particular issue might then be to ensure that there is dialogue in the online classroom from very early on. J Lynn McBrien, Phyllis Jones, and Rui Cheng discuss dialogue as a vital tool in online participation in their article “Virtual Spaces: Employing a Synchronous Online Classroom to Facilitate Student Engagement in Online Learning”. They focus specifically on convenience, technical issues, and pedagogical preferences but also try to find ways of “reducing the ‘distance’” (1). Dialogue emerges as a really important element. According to their results, students like to have a virtual classroom where this element from on campus teaching can be mirrored (13).
It seems that some elements from on campus teaching can be useful to move into the virtual space; however, not all elements are effective. At times, different solutions need to be found.
How do you engage your students online? I would love to hear about this in the comments.