Engagement and Course Work Challenges

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See some quick tips for resolving common engagement issues that can arise during your asynchronous online course delivery.

Engagement and Inclusion

How can I be more present as a professor in an online asynchronous environment?

  • Prompt and Regular Communication: Maintain timely and consistent communication with students through announcements, feedback, and response times. Consider posting an Announcement at the beginning and end of each unit.
  • Engage in Discussion Forums: Actively participate in online discussions by asking questions, summarizing key points, and providing feedback.
  • Personalize Video Introductions: Create short videos to establish a personal connection, share enthusiasm, and explain or give examples of difficult concepts, steps, or processes.
  • Provide Individualized Support: Offer assistance through email, virtual office hours, or video conferencing to address questions and concerns. Avoid using MS Teams for formal course communications.

Review this post on What is Effective Fully Online (Asynchronous) Teaching to reflect on your ideal level of engagement should be to support learners.

How can I encourage student-student interaction to promote feeling part of a cohort?

  • Icebreaker Activities: Begin the course with a simple, non-intimidating activity where students introduce themselves or share a fun fact.
  • Discussion Forums: Create asynchronous platforms for students to engage in conversations and respond to each other’s posts.
  • Optional Meetings with Students: Offer optional virtual meetings where students can interact in real-time, ask questions, and discuss course topics.
  • Peer Feedback and Review: Include opportunities for students to be “course buddies” who review each other’s work and provide feedback before assignment submission.
  • Utilize Fun Apps: Integrate gamified quizzes or collaborative brainstorming platforms, to enhance student-student interaction and make the learning experience enjoyable.
  • Class Memories/Jokes: If something interesting, unusual, or funny happens, refer to it in Announcements or videos periodically as a way to create special class memories.

Given that these activities are not graded, you may need to provide a rationale for their value, encourage students to participate, participate yourself, and recognize that not all students feel the need to be part of a community.

What tech can I use in my courses to engage with my students?

To engage students asynchronously, faculty can use the following technology:

Faculty should avoid 3rd party apps that require students to make accounts.

How can I get my students to engage more in the discussion forum?

  • Use the Discussion Topic Statistics (in Discussion) to determine which students have been active in the discussion forum, and send a batch message to encourage those who haven’t participated.
  • Send a whole-class message to encourage discussion and responses, highlighting the value of the work and the consequences of not participating.
  • For non-graded discussion, set up a schedule for posting, such as splitting the class into two halves, and asking for posts OR responses every other week
  • Provide a sample or model response, and invite students to answer a question, identify errors, provide a counter-perspective, etc.
  • Encourage students to use pictures, hyperlinks, and other media in their posts

Review this post on Discussion Forums to learn more about how to support learners.

What about inclusion should I consider when teaching in the online asynchronous environment?

Check the Accommodate portal for any required accommodations for your students. You will receive an email when a new accommodation is available in Accommodate.

Here are some other considerations as you review and/or enhance your course shell:

  • Accessibility: Ensure all course materials that you add are accessible. Use captions for videos, alt-text for images, and choose accessible document formats.
  • Clear Communication: Use concise language, avoid jargon, and provide clear instructions.
  • Varied Learning Modalities: If content is primarily text-based, consider adding an additional multimedia resource to accommodate different preferences and styles.
  • Inclusive Language and Examples: Use inclusive language and incorporate diverse examples to promote inclusivity.
  • Collaboration and Respectful Dialogue: Review explicit guidelines for respectful communication. Model and encourage respectful and inclusive discussions.
  • Flexible Assessment Options: Provide diverse assessment methods to accommodate student needs and circumstances.

Monitoring Course Work Progress

How do I monitor and encourage students’ progress through the course?

Course Progress tools allow faculty to monitor how many pages the students have visited and how many assignments students have completed.

Review the post, Help Fully Online Learners Complete Non-Graded Course Work, for ideas to promote timely progress through the course.

How do I monitor and support students with asynchronous group work?

  • Remind students of the assignment instructions and expectations for group work
  • Set up collaboration tools using Conestoga’s licensed software (e.g., MS Teams) or using eConestoga discussion forum, and monitor group progress
  • Provide student group meeting templates, a group work agreement and timeline, and other documentation to help students stay on track
  • Check-in with groups via a survey, collaborative document or a synchronous online meeting, especially a few week or two before the assignment due date
  • Reflect on the efficacy of the group assignment in relation to the course outcomes, and offer suggestions to faculty who provide course leadership/curriculum support.

See this post for more on Group Work in Fully Online Learning.

What steps should I take if a student appears to be disengaged or at risk?

  • Reach out to the student by direct email, and offer support via an email or synchronous online meeting
  • Refer the student to a Student Success Advisor to navigate the college’s student supports
  • Provide clear expectations and feedback on the student’s progress in the course so far
  • Encourage the student to use a calendar to block multiple, short chunks of time for the course
  • Provide a list of “must-dos” to help the student get back on track
  • Encourage even small amounts of logging in and participating each week
  • Follow up with students to provide ongoing communication

Elan Paulson

Elan Paulson, PhD, has been an educator in Ontario's higher education system since 2004. Before joining Conestoga as a Teaching and Learning Consultant, Elan was on the executive team at eCampusOntario. She previously served as Program Director and as an instructor in professional education programs at Western University's Faculty of Education. With a Master's in Educational Technology, Elan specializes in technology-enabled and collaborative learning to support diverse learners. She has also conducted research on faculty participation in communities of practice for professional learning and self-care.

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