You have /5 articles left.
Sign up for a free account or log in.

An African American student talks with peers online wearing headphones at her desk.

Professors can help boost engagement in their online courses with strategic measures like optimizing class organization.

Drazen_/E+/Getty Images 

As overall enrollment trends decline across the nation, online enrollments are on the rise, according to a recent survey of chief online officers. Many professors and students, especially community college students, have a preference toward online or hybrid learning.

Engagement, however, continues to be a concern for students and educators. A June survey from McKinsey & Company found students do not enroll in online courses because they’re not motivating or find themselves more easily bored and distracted. Professors see the difference as well—a recent Educause survey of faculty found 90 percent of faculty believe in-person delivery leads to better class engagement.

Inside Higher Ed identified four strategies professors can consider to boost student engagement and learning to promote overall academic success.

  1. Facilitate active learning in classes.

Active learning ranks among students’ preferred teaching styles, according to a spring 2023 Student Voice survey by Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse. Some active learning strategies professors can implement on Zoom from Harvard’s Bok Center include:

  • Polling. Professors can create formal polls on Zoom offering multiple choice answers to gauge student learning, or do a more informal poll asking students to give a thumbs-up, -down or raise their hand (either on camera or using Zoom features).
  • Think-pair-share and group discussions. Breakout rooms can be used to divide students up randomly or intentionally into groups to discuss with one another. Professors can join the breakout group to facilitate conversations, as well.  
  • Minute paper or quick write. Students spend a minute writing a short answer to a prompt or question in class before submitting or sharing online.  
  • Gallery walk. In an in-person setting, professors write several questions or prompts on large pieces of paper around the classroom and students will walk around the “gallery” and respond to the prompts. Online, professors can use Canvas discussion boards and rotate through prompts in a similar fashion.  

Columbia University’s Center for Teaching and Learning suggests professors begin with “low-stakes activities” for those new at hosting online courses, minimizing barriers to participation, and also performing a trial run of each activity to make sure all features are working before class starts.

  1. Add asynchronous activities.

Some online courses are delivered mostly or entirely asynchronously, but professors can still implement solutions to encourage learning.

Digital badging can be incorporated into the learning management software to indicate student proficiency on a topic, skills acquired or provide incentives to dig into additional resources. Billi Bromer, a professor of education at Brenau University, added digital badges to her course to create opportunities for extra credit or extensions for assignments.

To earn a badge and some flexibility in their grades, learners can complete an hour or two of extra coursework, which also gives Bromer the option to toss in extra materials she didn’t have a chance to cover in class.

A chat bot can offer motivation for a student learning independently, as well. Sanghoon Park, a teaching professor at the University of South Florida, designed a chat bot to help students address their motivational issues and find solutions to get their learning back on track.

  1. Implement strategic course design.

Students learning online don’t need fancy bells or whistles to learn successfully, in fact, few students prefer high-tech or expensive features like virtual reality, simulations or sophisticated visual content, according to the McKinsey survey.

Flexibility and convenience rank high among learners, so professors should offer recorded lectures and easy access to online study materials. But online learners want the basics as well, namely timely content and a well-organized course structure with a clear path and step-by-step guide to achieving learning goals.

  1. Create community outside of class.

One reason why students in the U.S. choose not to enroll in online classes is because they feel a lack of opportunities to interact with faculty members and peers. Professors can help bridge that gap by making themselves and fellow students more accessible.

Office hours can be confusing to students, so faculty members should emphasize the role of office hours, how online students can reach them outside class and offering flexible scheduling options for students.

Creating community in an online class can be as important as student-professor connections. One way to boost engagement and academic support is to create a digital learning community in which students can engage with one another, asking questions about homework, college life or other nonacademic subjects. Fort Hays State University’s digital learning community, Tiger-2-Tiger, offers students a space to connect and interact without professors facilitating dialogue.

Do you have an academic success tip that might help others encourage student success? Tell us about it.

Next Story

Found In

More from Academic Life