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Engage Students Through Online Collaboration

by Janice Florent

globe with three computer mice connected to it representing online collaboration

In a recent eLearning Industry article, Dr. Amy Thornton, Director of the Center of Online Learning at Columbus State University, listed multiple strategies to engage students online. Dr. Thornton wrote that it is important to allow students to engage with content in different ways to ensure learning transfer. The engagement strategies suggested by Dr. Thornton are:

Keep it interactive

Interaction keeps students at their computer and engaged in the content. Not being able to see your students means that you have to keep them on their toes throughout the session. A few ways you can do this are:

  • Feedback - invite students to share their comments about the content.
  • Polling - asking polling questions can initiate discussion.
  • Brainstorming - invite students to assist with brainstorming on how a particular topic can be applied or used in the “real world.”
  • Scavenger Hunt - send students on a virtual scavenger hunt to find something and come back with their findings to share with the class.
  • Graphics - use graphics to create visuals. Students could be allowed to use electronic whiteboard tools to mark up the graphics or identify parts of an image.

Use triggers

Variety is the spice of life. Providing different types of learning experiences can help engage different types of learners. This can also keep your students on their toes because they don’t know what is going to happen next. A few ways to accomplish this are:

  • Multimedia - use video and/or music clips to add something for your visual and auditory learners.
  • Polling - give students a chance to think about the content that was covered and apply it.
  • Electronic Whiteboard - get students involved by asking them to write on the electronic whiteboard.

Group work

Allowing your students to work in smaller groups can give them more opportunity to interact with each other and be part of the discussion. Managing this in an online environment can be challenging, but with some planning can add a lot of value to your session. Here are a few ways to approach group work:

  • Discussion - assign a topic and have the groups discuss and report back to the class.
  • Brainstorming - allow the class to break into groups to brainstorm ideas.
  • Project - allow time for groups to work on a group project together.
  • Case Studies - allow your students to practice their problem-solving skills.
  • Role-play - similar to case study; give students a scenario they must work through where each group member must take on a role.
  • Use authentic materials - use real materials that give students an inside look, for example, online museum exhibits, scientific simulations, and scanned manuscripts.

Give students a task

Giving students some of the responsibility in facilitating synchronous class sessions will keep them engaged and help them create their own learning experience. A few ways to do this are:

  • Give students the opportunity to facilitate an activity.
  • Appoint a note taker for each session.
  • Have students do presentations.
  • Appoint a student to lead the discussion.

For more information read Dr. Thornton’s article “Online Collaboration Strategies to Engage Your Learners.”

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