Become an Innovative Online Nurse Educator

Fostering Engagement in Online Courses

Oct 19, 2021

So you're teaching an online course, and it's just not going as well as you hoped. Participation is low, your students are disengaged, and retention rates are dwindling. It can be hard to keep students engaged in an online course - after all, they don't have the same face-to-face interactions with you that a traditional student would have! But it IS possible to engage those online learners! In this post I'll share some of my "go-to" tips for keeping students engaged in the online class.

1- Start off the course with an engagement exercise. An engagement exercise is a fun, low-pressure assignment that allows you to get to know your students. This can be something like asking them how they found out about the course, or what their favorite class was in high school - it doesn't have to be stressful! I find it's best to keep engagement activities shorter in length so that students are not overwhelmed. Try using 20 minute engagement activities for best results! In fact, you can find tons of engaging ice-breaker activities in The Online Educator blog on the 2nd Tuesday of every month!

2- Encourage dialogue with questions posed throughout content modules. You don't just want students to listen and read, you want them to learn actively by engaging in conversation with others about the concepts. Try asking guiding questions during a lecture (i.e., "How is this concept similar or different from what we learned last week?").

3- Use engagement tools like discussion boards and groupwork. If your course uses a discussion board, make sure you monitor it and respond to students' posts. By responding directly to a student's post, other learners will see your engagement in the conversation as well. Another engagement tool I love using is groupwork because it helps build community among participants through collaboration on projects or activities that they can then share with one another via the learning management system. By incorporating group work into your course design it engages peers AND the professor in ways that one person cannot do alone.

4- Ask your students to write in once a week. Every few weeks, ask students to write in with reflections on what they've learned or how the course is going. You can also include this as the last part of an activity where students provide feedback on the assignment. Or perhaps, you can institute weekly journals where students reflect on their week and any connections they made to the content.

5- Reach out via email and connect personally with your learners! This will help keep engagement high as well as create a stronger connection between you and your students. I like to use the one-on-one meeting strategy to form strong connections with students. But you can also hold weekly or biweekly office hours using Google Hangouts, Zoom, etc.

6- Give them fun assignments that let them be creative! For example, use a learning management system like Blackboard or Moodle to allow students to create their own blog and post assignments. Students can also include videos or images as well as text! If you're looking for fun and creative assignment ideas for the online class, check out The Online Educator blog on the first Tuesday of every month for new ideas. If you want to grab actual assignments I've used in my online courses including a video overview and the detailed instructions, check out The Creative and Engaging Assignment Packet for some great ideas!

7- Be sure you are enthusiastic when teaching - if they ask questions, be sure to respond as soon as possible. I also like to add things like a "Just for Fun Forum" where I aske brain teaser questions or share other fun ideas. You can also add some of your personality into your announcements such as using emoticons or giphs.

Bonus tip: Incentivize engagement in the course by giving prizes for participation, answering questions, etc. Prizes can be small things such as picking the class theme song for the week and including it in a class announcement or picking a class quote that will be used throughout that Module.

Want more ideas for engaging online students? Check out the Innovative Online Educator Membership and get access to sample assignments, masterclasses, templates and ideas from other online educators by joining the membership today!  Learn more HERE!

I'd love to know some of the ways you keep your online students engaged. Share your ideas in The Online Educator Facebook Group!

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