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How can we increase student participation in our online classes?

Rigor in the Online Classroom

Online education is growing at an incredible rate. The technology is new for both students and instructors. The success of online courses depends on students receiving quality instruction equal to that of face-to-face delivery. It is up to the online instructor to conduct rigorous courses that offer ample opportunity to learn.

Methods that Work

Some students and even professors have been guilty of having misconceptions of the online classroom. While the online medium is, and should be, lifestyle friendly, that does not mean that eLearning is any easier than traditional learning. In fact, online learning may be much more challenging.

The majority of online courses offered today are asynchronous, allowing both students and instructors to sign-on, read, and complete tasks at a time that best fits their schedules.

The students must adhere to guidelines set forth by the instructor, and most institutions require that students sign on a minimum of three times a week.

Set Up Areas for Free Discussion, Favorite Sites
In every online course it is helpful to set-up a Student Lounge or free area. Direct the students to use this area for any non-course related communications. This does several things; it keeps unnecessary chitchat out of the threaded discussion and it gives the student another reason to log on just to see what others are saying. By the end of the course students will utilize this feature an amazing number of times.

Another tactic to encourage students to visit the site often is setting up an area for "Interesting URLs" Gather a list of 10-12 web sites you have found on your "surfing trips" and sprinkle them in during the course. Ask the students to share sites that they have found interesting. Students appreciate this feature and the instructor may find some useful sites to visit as well.Rigor in the Classroom
The instructor has to lead by example. The instructor's connect time to the teaching platform must exceed that of the students. An effective instructor will connect six or seven days a week in order to maintain appropriate contact with the students. So, the most rigorous involvement is that of the instructor. Students will have incentive to increase their activity just because they know the instructor is so active.

Here is a list of ways to involve students:

A standard tactic is to answer a question with a question. For the purposes of a well-developed discussion this is a good way to respond. It will cause the students to deeply explore the topic rather than settle for a superficial answer. Often just a tossed-up, "Class?" works extremely well.

The concept of "praising in public and rebuking in private" is a good one. If a student is not active send a private e-mail restating the requirements of the course and encouraging participation. Some instructors may feel this is not their responsibility, however this will improve the classroom experience for all. Scheduling synchronous office hour(s) at a regular time will also encourage involvement. Keeping office-hours dialogue focused on course content will have a positive outcome.

Maintaining rigor is the responsibility of all online instructors. The success of online education depends on equal or a higher standards than can be found in face-to-face delivery. The future of online education is in your hands.

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What tactics do you use?

Dr. Flegle
Good ideas here and thanks for sharing these! I may like to quote these giving you full reference of course! I believe part of the problem is that so many teachers teaching online have not been students of online learning so have not learned any good modeling. Online teachers MUST set standards and show examples of what constitutes good discussion. We also need to teach students how to be good distance students.

Any more ideas?

I wish I had known about the online courses earlier. Maybe it would be a good idea to inform Merlot members (via email) about the upcoming courses.
I agree,however, the students should really take responsibility for their learning. The instructor should emphasize requirements in advance and discuss privately with students who don't comply. If they don't comply after this discussion, unless there is a good reason (someone is sick or there is an emergency-life happens), they should not be taking an online class.

At the same time, the instructor should be committed to teaching an online course....some instructors also have misconceptions, for example, thinking that a class that was exclusively taught face to face will immediately transfer well into an online option .
Another strategy is to figure out why some students are not participating. There are over 50 different reasons why at least one student might not participate fully in online discussion or collaboration. The Flashlight Program has developed an item bank for TLT Group subscribers to create such feedback forms, and workshop materials to help faculty learn to use them:

If your institution isn't a TLT Group subscriber yet, you could write your own questions. Important thing to remember: the reason for lack of collaboration or participation may have nothing to do with 'online.' The good news: most of those 50 barriers are easy to lower, if you know which student(s) face that barrier.
The concept of "praising in public and rebuking in private" is a good one.

I have been told that this sounds too harsh. I agree that my intent could be misunderstood. I would change the comment to, The concept of "praising in public and correcting in private" is a good one.

Well, first of all, I explain to my students that we are a learning community and that it is important that we learn from one another so each week, I assign a student to help me build the lecture for the week.

We work together on the lecture and team-teach it to the class. The student helps create discussion questions, links, materials, etc to supplement the instruction from the students' point of view.

Students are encouraged to build lecture elements by adding notes, materials, photos, videos etc. whatever they find on the "tags" for the lecture. Students contribute to the lesson by leading the learning for each other.

Each week, I write to my students as a group and privately. I also ask students to work together on various discussion questions that I post.

I have my students attend free webinars with me and then we discuss them in class. Something like going on an online fieldtrip.

The first week of class, I tell them to build an online backpack and by the end of the semester, they share this backpack with the rest of the class.


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