Student to Student Engagement
Creating space where students can form relationships with each other is vital to sustaining engagement. Students need to check their learning with each other in informal ways in addition to more summative assessment activities. When students have the opportunity to connect, the level of trust that develops can improve the learning environment. When that happens, students are more willing to engage with each other and the content of the course.
Provide Clear Expectations
Students need explicit directions when collaborating for an assignment. In an asynchronous environment, this is even more important since there is less opportunity to ask questions informally. Let students know what behavior is expected, such as netiquette in online discussions or roles in groupwork. In particular, engaging controversial topics requires setting ground rules to create space for all voices to be heard.
Make Collaboration Meaningful
Students need opportunities to work together in order to make meaning from course materials, but those opportunities have to genuinely benefit from a group approach. When assigning a group project, make sure that one of your objectives for the project is to have students work collectively to reach a conclusion, present information, or debate a position. It should be something that allows a small group of students to report back to the larger class with new knowledge that they can share or a project that allows them to collectively determine a course of action or position. The activity should benefit from the multiple voices in the group. Everyone should have something to contribute, and students should be able to practice various leadership roles within the group.
Scaffold Effective Collaboration
Group Work Design
In addition to establishing clear expectations, you often need to provide supports to help students meet those expectations; students don’t arrive at your class knowing how to work together in a group. They need to have parameters for how group work should be accomplished in your class. This is a valuable life skill they can take with them to future classes and job locations, but they need to learn it first. Try a checklist of group expectations or having the group assign positions to each member, clearly outlining expectations for each position (check out our sample group scaffold activity from DIGL 101 for inspiration).
Group Work Management
In “Let’s Give Our Teaching Language a Makeover,”Jennifer Gonzalez suggests that instead of stating the obvious (that the group is having trouble), you can give students agency by “pausing” and asking the group members to articulate the problems and then brainstorm solutions (promote metacognition). In UDL terms, this supports the principles of providing multiple means of engagement and action/expression. You are providing an opportunity to improve self-regulation, self-assessment, and reflection and allowing students to use their own executive functions to monitor progress.
Clear expectations are also important for peer review activities. Students need to learn how to provide effective constructive criticism. We recommend you provide a rubric for them to use for the review so they can learn what to look for and model peer review best practices.
- Use an introductions discussion board.
- Use a general discussion board for student questions/comments.
- Create topic-based online discussion boards that truly foster discussion/collaboration.
- Create peer feedback opportunities.
- Create groupwork opportunities.
Student to Content Engagement
Students need to connect meaningfully to your content to learn. To promote this connection use multiple means of representation (UDL) and active learning strategies.
For best practices, see Create Content.
- Use use a mix of text, audio, and videos. (UDL Checkpoint 2.5)
- Insure videos are captioned (and audio is transcribed). (UDL Checkpoints 1.2 and 1.3)
- Use guiding questions for readings. (UDL Checkpoint 6.3)
- Provide templates, graphic organizers, concept maps to support note-taking. (UDL Checkpoint 3.4)
- Provide interactive content when possible, e.g. virtual models. (UDL Checkpoint 3.3)
- Keep videos under 10 minutes. (UDL Checkpoint 3.3)
Student to Teacher Engagement
Student to teacher engagement means forming a relationship built on mutual trust and shared learning goals. When teachers are responsive to student needs and flexible with options, they create a safe space for students to take risks. This encourages students to engage with content and peers in a deep and meaningful way. Check out Michelle Pacansky-Brock’s infographic for quick tips on how to be a “Present Professor.”
Set Clear Expectations
Students need clarity on what they can expect from you and what you expect from them in terms of behavior, communication, etc. These expectations can include response time to emails/questions, timeliness of assignment feedback, office hours protocol, and email etiquette.
Keep It Student-Centered
Effective student to teacher interaction should be focused on the student, with a friendly but professional tone. It’s important to be flexible whenever possible, seeing the student holistically, with external pressures that impact performance in your class. This allows for a student/teacher relationship of trust to develop.
- Send a welcome email/announcement at the beginning of the course.
- Respond to student emails promptly, and clearly state what students can expect your response time to be.
- Create regular announcements and communications.
- Hold regular office hours/synchronous appointments. Just saying office hours “by appointment” can be distancing for some students; set a designated time and make appointments as needed.
- Provide detailed and timely feedback for student work.
- Engage in online discussions; actually post and reply within them.
- Share personal experiences, as appropriate.
- Create your own content, whenever possible.
If you’d like to learn more about student engagement principles, check out our Engagement Principles Annotated Bibliography for more resources.