We all know engagement in our online classes is important as instructors. But how can we engage more ? And how do we know if we need to?
Engaging Online with “Small Teaching” actions
I love the ideas of “Small Teaching” by James Lang (2016) and the follow-up written by Flower Darby (2019) called “Small Teaching Online.” The concept in both is that we can make small, evidence-based changes in our teaching that make a positive difference. In this most recent book, in the chapter titled “Guiding Learning through Engagement,” Darby suggests several important approaches. One suggestion is to scour the class interactions for cues and respond to those cues. We do this all the time when teaching in person: scan the faces to see if they are engaged, “getting it,” or dozing off, and then we change our actions as needed. This is much more difficult in the online class, but monitoring engagement is still essential and possible.
Here are a few bullet point suggestions (my links are for technical helps in Canvas LMS, but this could be applied to others as well):
- Check analytics – when was the last time a student logged in?
- Check discussion board speed grader – how many times did they respond?
- Check assignments in the Gradebook – Are they late? Missing? Low grades? (there is an easy way to e-mail students under a “threshold” )
- What questions are you getting via e-mail? Have you welcomed questions and made yourself available? Use the announcements to answer these questions for others as well.
- Are you dipping into the discussion forums yourself? These are “signals” to students that you are still engaged in the class. In a meta-analysis of 41 online discussion research papers, Zhou (2015) suggests that students value instructor interaction in the forums and these interactions can help peer-to-peer connections.
Small, frequent actions can increase engagement without it feeling like an enormous burden for the teacher. What small teaching are you doing to engage your class?
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Darby, F., & Lang, J. M. (2019). Small teaching online: Applying learning science in online classes. John Wiley & Sons.
Lang, J. M. (2016). Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning. John Wiley & Sons.
Zhou, H. (2015). A Systematic Review of Empirical Studies on Participants’ Interactions in Internet-Mediated Discussion Boards as a Course Component in Formal Higher Education Settings. Online Learning, 19(3).