What educators should know about using technology to engage students online.
The Importance of Student Engagement in Higher Education
Research shows that students who feel under-challenged by course material and under-engaged by their instructors can risk trending towards tardiness, absenteeism, and eventually, to dropping out.1 Increasingly today, many institutions are concerned about the economic impact of university and college student attrition in terms of the lost revenue from fees and tuition. But the students themselves suffer the most when we consider how much a career, a social status, or a position in one’s community can be directly tied to the possession of a degree or certificate.
Let’s take a look at five strategies and online activities that instructors can use to increase student engagement in higher education.
1. Provoke conversations and challenge students
Whether it’s university students or college students, incorporate discussion forums and post frequently! Technology like a learning management system allows for close monitoring of ongoing course work. Text or video feedback are engaging ways of communicating with learners and establishing peer collaboration networks. Providing relevant feedback early on in a course will get students acclimatized to how online learning works. Students will be more engaged and better motivated to interact with course content if their instructor is asking their opinion and generally caring about what they have to say.
2. Encourage social media usage
Social media channels are where many higher ed students are spending their time. Valuable conversations and opportunities for learning can happen in these places, just as easily as in the classroom. You can source and share relevant content directly with learners through social media. Create hashtags to help students follow online discussions on platforms like Twitter. However, caution should of course be taken to ensure that institutional policies are followed in order to deal with safety, security, and privacy concerns.
3. Be clear about how and when to get in touch
Make sure that your students are well-informed about when you’re available both for synchronous virtual office hours and asynchronous communication responses. Of course, email addresses are great for students to have a simple line of communication, but you can also encourage higher ed students to share information with each other in discussion forums and activity feeds. Build a digital community where frequently asked questions can be addressed, and where students know to consistently look for answers. Again, it’s important for instructors to moderate these discussions to ensure that the information is correct, as well as to identify students who may be doing exceptional work in this environment.
4. Use automation to monitor progress and communicate with students
Instructors can set conditions for content so that learners are required to complete certain tasks (like watching a video or submitting a quiz) before accessing additional content. They can send encouragement for exceptional work as well as advice for improvement to students who might be beginning to drift away. Technology is there to help teachers provide intervention and extension activities to increase online student engagement in a more timely and personalized manner.
5. Celebrate greatness and accomplishments
Virtual classrooms are informal locations and learning can occur anywhere. Because of this, students might feel as if their contributions or moments of learning are going unnoticed. It’s important to validate learning, no matter where it takes place (e.g., watching and responding to a TED Talk, linking to a relevant news article or YouTube video, etc.) The more involved an instructor becomes in the online activities of students, the more these students will feel validated for the learning they are demonstrating. And celebrating accomplishments is definitely one of the best ways to keep your class involved in and proud of the work that they, and their classmates, are doing.
Curious for even more strategies for engaging higher ed students online? Here’s another blog post for you, all about how D2L helps students to collaborate during times of isolation.
- Shernoff, David & Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly & Shneider, Barbara & Shernoff, Elisa. (2003). Student Engagement in High School Classrooms from the Perspective of Flow Theory. School Psychology Quarterly. 18. 158-176. 10.1521/scpq.18.104.22.16860.