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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.”


Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Classes

One decision to be made when developing an online course is the method of delivery. The method of delivery can be synchronous or asynchronous. Synchronous learning takes place in a real-time environment, while asynchronous learning takes place at the convenience of the learner.

In a recent Architela blog post, the author wrote,

It seems like a logical progression to turn traditional classroom learning into online learning by simply replicating the experience through the use of an online classroom. However reliance on synchronous delivery has advantages but also many limitations and disadvantages.

The author went on to list advantages and disadvantages of both synchronous and asynchronous course delivery and concluded with,

Choosing which mode of delivery to use should be based on the most efficacious activities for promoting learning, which in turn depend on the learning goals and objectives.

Ideally, online courses should include both synchronous and asynchronous learning activities. This allows students to benefit from the different delivery formats regardless of their schedules or preferred learning methods. This approach provides students with access to immediate help if needed, while still giving them the ability to learn at their own pace.

You can read more in the Synchronous versus Asynchronous Learning blog post at

Additionally, if you are interested in offering virtual classes and/or virtual office hours, consider attending these upcoming Blackboard Collaborate workshops:

Blackboard Collaborate: Web Conferencing Basics
Tuesday, May 26, 1:00 - 2:30 pm
Blackboard Collaborate: Beyond the Basics
Friday, May 29, 10:00 - 11:30 am

Click on the links for more information about the workshops (including where to RSVP).

by Janice Florent

word cloud shaped like question mark

Dr. Robin M. Smith, Director of eLearning at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, is typically asked the same questions each time a new instructor begins teaching online. Some of the questions first-time online instructors ask Dr. Smith are:

  • How do I know it’s the learner doing the work?
  • How do I know it’s the learner taking the test?
  • How do I know they aren’t looking at their books during the test?
  • How do I balance effort and points?
  • How do I see the lightbulb turning on or the blank stare?
  • How can I teach online and still have a balanced life?

Dr. Smith’s book, “Conquering the Content: A Blueprint for Online Course Design and Development, Second Edition” is a practical guide to creating online courses. In it she answers these questions.

The publisher’s description of the book states,

Time is of the essence in getting a course online, but it's important that pedagogy not get lost in the crush of new content. Course design is just as critical as course content when it comes to distance learning outcomes, and Conquering the Content provides a holistic and practical approach to effective online course development.

If you are new to teaching online you may find this book a great resource to help you with your online course. Even if you have taught online before you may find some useful information in this book.

We have this book in our CAT library. Contact Ms. Carla Simmons, if you are interested in borrowing this book or any other book in the CAT library.

If my blog post has piqued your interest and you want to know how Dr. Smith answers these questions, read an excerpt from Conquering the Content to find out.

updated: 5/2/2019


by Janice Florent

image of student giving thumbs up

Many online courses still rely heavily on text-based information and lack the rich visual context and warm human interactions that the social web offers.

In a Faculty Focus article, Rob Kelly states,

Taking an online course can be an isolating experience, but it doesn’t have to be. There are several key techniques you can employ to humanize your online courses and thus improve the learning experience as well as success and retention rates.

Rob suggests the following as ways to humanize your online courses:

  • Create an inviting space
  • Include your personality
  • Personalize the discussion forum
  • Provide ways for students to make the course their own

You can read more in his “Tips for Humanizing Your Online Course” article. Also, checkout this excellent infographic on How to Humanize Your Online Class.

by Janice Florent

image of keyboard with teach online key

Are you thinking about moving a face-to-face course to online? A recent Faculty Focus article suggests five steps to quickly transition your in-person curriculum into a creative and successful online course. Those steps are:

Start by Chunking: Simplify your content by breaking it up into smaller, more manageable pieces.
Decide on Overall Structure: Course design is a critical element to any course. A consistent and clear structure allows students to successfully engage with the material and meet expectations.
Select your tools: Face-to-face content can easily transition to the online classroom if you select the right tools.
Trades and Edits: Another colleague may have developed content that they are willing to share with you. Additionally, have another pair of eyes look at your online course. Feedback about your online course can prove to be invaluable.
Stay Current and Journal: Keep a journal as the class progresses. Journaling can help you to see where changes need to be made. For example, if there are a lot of student questions on the same topic or assignment, your directions probably need to be expanded or redefined.

An online course with clear structure and considered content will go a long way to support your students.

You can read more on these suggestions for moving your courses from face-to-face to online in the article, “Taking the Leap: Moving from In-Person to Online Courses.”

by Janice Florent

image of an apple with teaching online written on it

Faculty readiness to teach online and student readiness to take online courses are key to success in online education. In a Campus Technology article, Paul Beaudoin writes,

Teaching in the blended or online learning environment is not a direct transfer of the traditional face-to-face class. The challenges of online learning often require a different set of skills that may not come easily to brick-and-mortar instructors.

Paul suggests six things instructors can do to be better online teachers. They are:

  1. Maximize your digital savvy
  2. Be an active and engaged participant
  3. Reinvent your wheel
  4. Include your learners in the learning process
  5. Reassess assessment
  6. Realize it's okay to fail

To find out more about his suggestions for being a better online teacher, read Paul's article "6 Ways to Be a Better Online Teacher."

I had planned to submit my blog post while at the conference but I was so busy learning and networking that I'm back in the office now.  So here's a quick summary of my experiences.  The Quality Matters organization is comprised of many dedicated professionals and the member institutions are equally concerned with developing and teaching quality online or hybrid courses (QM uses "blended"; we at Xavier use "hybrid") in order to have positive student outcomes. They're also big on "takeaways" so I have literally hundreds of resources now, and will be posting several key ones to CAT's Online Faculty Resource Center (debuting soon). For your information, here are a number of the actual presentations that were posted as well.

My takeaways from the conference are

  1. we can offer workshops for faculty on actually teaching online, which is entirely separate from developing the course
  2. we need to do more to make our courses accessible from the beginning rather than create accommodations after the fact (I also learned that numbers are better than bullets for screen readers so I'll be using numbers from now on)
  3. we don't need to reinvent the wheel--we can partner with other institutions to offer more for our students
  4. size does matter, especially in online language courses
  5. faculty preparation and skills are necessary components for SACS approval of online and hybrid courses/programs

and I could continue, but I think having begun and ended with faculty concerns really shows how important they are to student success and therefore why CAT is dedicated to assisting our faculty in developing and teaching online and hybrid courses for our students at Xavier.