Recently, I’ve been working with a few different colleges to help them develop online classes for their graduate programs. In a conference call last week, one of the faculty members asked about ways that online students could interact and engage with content in her class. With online classes, instructors can often fall into a cycle where students are reading text-based content then posting text-based responses to discussion forums. This type of class can become really boring for students (and instructors). I offered some ideas at the time but realized it would be a great topic for a blog post. So, here are ten ways to get your online students to engage with content differently.
1. Build a class glossary. Dedicate a discussion forum where students are assigned different terms or topics to define for the class. The student-built glossary will serve as study guide for students as they progress through the class and the change in focus of the discussion forum will give them a sense of ownership over the collaboratively created document.
2. Jigsaw the content. Online students often feel like that they’re jumping through hoops by participating in discussion forums, especially when the entire class is answering the same prompts. By breaking the class up into different content groups, the students could be asked to read different material. Each group would discuss their assigned content and then a selected group leader would present a synopsis to a whole class discussion forum. This helps to build positive interdependence between members of the class and increases the value of the discussion forums.
3. Ask different questions. While there are a variety of ways to structure discussion forums, a few years ago I wrote about a four question strategy for building more critical thinking in online discussions. While the questioning strategy can become monotonous if overused, it provides a good scaffolding system for discussing challenging content.
4. Use case studies. Students respond positively when they feel like they’re engaging with authentic problems. While they can be a little challenging to create initially, case studies are an ideal way to incorporate problem-based learning in online classes.
5. Post to Twitter. Some instructors choose to move their class outside of the learning management system and have their students use Twitter to discuss content. Instructors can create a unique hashtag for their class and then ask students to post reactions to content using the hashtag.
6. Role play. Assign your students different roles to adopt as they discuss content. For instance, what would a historical figure think about an assigned reading? How would a stakeholder react to a reading? By changing the point of view, students would need to conduct additional outside research to fully examine and evaluate the content.
7. Debate the issue. Many issues in our classes are ripe with controversy. These topics provide great opportunities for creating classroom debates. This can be structured in many ways. I’ve had individual students take both sides of an issue and create short videos and online cartoons outlining opposing position on a topic. This could also be structured in a synchronous environment where students are assigned position teams and debate their positions on Skype, Google Hangouts or Blackboard Collaborate.
8. Mix it up. Rather than just assigning text-based content, have students feast on the multimedia available online. Assign podcasts or simulations to help them build their understanding on content. Check out the options for Open Educational Resources online.
9. Present to the class. Building on the jigsaw concept, students can be assigned different topics to research. In a chemistry class, for instance, students could be assigned different elements to research. In a human sexuality class, students could be assigned different diseases. Students could present their research in synchronous environments or screencast short presentations to give to the group. To close the assessment loop, the whole class would be assessed on the content shared in the individual presentations.
10. Write exam questions. A few years ago, I wrote about the research on a site called Peerwise where students participated in online communities to create exam questions for one another. Participating in the site positively impacted student learning and their motivation to learn.