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This guide offers some suggestions, based on a review of the scholarly literature on online engagement by a group of Australian academics (Redmond, Heffernan, Abawi, Brown and Henderson, 2018).

In the review by Redmond et al. (2018), the authors found that online engagement can be categorised under five headings: emotional, social, collaborative, cognitive and behavioural engagement. It’s worth noting that there is opportunity lurking in the crisis, in that there can be some real benefits to students to learning online, for example:

  • Online learning is flexible in terms of time and place. 
  • Online learning can be more inclusive. Since there are a variety of alternative ways to participate, the students who tend to speak the most in class might be less dominant online, and the quiet learners might contribute more ideas in writing. 
  • Written records can be kept of the learning, for example in discussion forums, which students can refer back to later. 
  • Students will learn new ways of communicating and managing relationships online, which may be useful in other situations, such as in employment. 

The ideas suggested below all make the most of these advantages, while at the same time aiming to enable each of the different kinds of online engagement.

 


Emotional Engagement

Your students may be feeling a sense of isolation, as well as some anxiety about learning online. You can help by setting a welcoming, inclusive tone in all your communication, and by keeping students informed about where to find things online and what to expect. You can do this by making regular (at least weekly) announcements in Brightspace, we would suggest making these more regular during the first two weeks of moving online.

To be more engaging, you could use the newly released 'Activity Feed', this works like an announcement, but allows students to respond, creating an additional area for discussion and engagement.

You could also set up a discussion forum in Brightspace for queries about the course. Let students know when you will be checking the forum (for example, from 10am to 11am daily on weekdays), so that they know when to expect your replies. Also, look for ways to tap into students’ motivations to learn and their interest in the subject area. One way to do this is by inviting personal responses in discussion forum activities, being careful not to put pressure on students to self-disclose if they don’t want to.  


Support for Brightspace activities

Brightspace Announcements

Brightspace Activity Feed

 

 

Social Engagement

Social engagement is extremely important in online learning – most students want to feel a sense of belonging to a community. Opportunities for building social relationships online are therefore critical. To facilitate this, you could set up a discussion forum and invite students to introduce themselves to one another, or if they know each other already, to share something about their lives beyond the university, or their reasons for choosing to study this subject. Sometimes, students will also set up their own social media-based groups outside of Brightspace. Don’t worry if they don’t ask you to join these groups – in fact, it’s generally better for staff not to go into students’ social spaces. However, you could encourage them to be inclusive and to invite all their peers if they do talk about setting up such groups.

Support for Brightspace activities

Brightspace Discussions

Brightspace Discussion (Youtube Playlist - 11 videos)

 

Collaborative Engagement

Collaborative engagement goes beyond social engagement in that it is more focused on learning with and from other people. You can set up discussion forums that encourage students to share their understanding and to respond to one another, or ask students to research a topic in pairs and give a joint mini-presentation in a Virtual Classroom session. Collaborative engagement is also about students connecting to institutional resources and opportunities, and so you might want to signpost students to library, wellbeing and employability resources. These materials may become more important for students while learning online, as they may have more time to explore and reflect on the opportunities available to them.

Support for Brightspace activities

Brightspace Discussions

Brightspace Discussion (Youtube Playlist - 11 videos)

Brightspace Virtual Classroom

Additional Resources
 

Cognitive Engagement

Cognitive engagement is a key aspect of every student’s success, and involves skills that we usually refer to as study skills and academic writing skills. Hopefully your module assessment focuses on these skills, one way to encourage cognitive engagement is to keep the final assessment in mind in the design of any online activities you create. You can set up quizzes in Brightspace, these are a good way for students to self-assess and receive instant feedback. Discussion forums and virtual classroom sessions can be used for students to practise developing arguments, integrating ideas, and justifying decisions. Cognitive engagement is integrally interwoven with the other kinds of engagement, and so by thinking about engagement holistically, you will increase the chances of your students engaging deeply with their learning.

Support for Brightspace activities

Brightspace Quizzes

Brightspace Discussions

Brightspace Discussion (Youtube Playlist - 11 videos)

Brightspace Virtual Classroom

 

Behavioral Engagement

In some ways, behavioural engagement may be more visible online than face-to-face. For example, you can see whether students are viewing lecture recordings or clicking on resources in Brightspace. Brightspace analytics can show you engagement with content and activities, but you may want to set up other engagement opportunities. Some ideas follow.

Lecture recordings do not have to be based on the format of your usual hour-long classroom lecture. If you’re recording lectures at home, you might want to experiment with different formats, such as shorter summary lectures followed by other activities (see below). These recordings will no doubt find their way back into your teaching when you’re back on campus. 

Quizzes can help students to know whether they are on track. They can be time-consuming to set up, but once created, can also be reused, even when normal, classroom-based teaching resumes.

We've recommended the use of discussion forums on other pages for all the different kinds of engagement. Discussion forums tend to be inclusive, as they allow for flexible participation, and they generally don’t require much bandwidth. If you’ve not used discussion forums before, here are some tips: 

  • Avoid completely unstructured discussion forums – these are unlikely to engage learners.
  • Structure discussion forum activity by asking questions that are related to the course assessment, so that students see value in participating.
  • Ask open-ended questions, so that all students can contribute something original. 
  • Encourage students to respond to others, and not just to ‘broadcast’ their own views. 
  • Don’t set word limits – this will stifle the discussion.
  • Give each discussion forum a time frame. Topic-specific forums generally work well when run over one or two weeks. This also helps to pace students through the syllabus.
  • You don’t need to read and reply to every comment yourself – instead you could write a general response to everyone at the end of each weekly/ fortnightly discussion period.

Virtual Classroom sessions are another good way to get online engagement. If you can divide your cohort into small groups (fewer than 30 students), then you can invite students to speak using their microphones. Students can also type in the chat box during the session, and this mode of communication appeals to some students. Remember though, that not all students will be able to participate in these sessions, especially if they don’t all have good connectivity. If you think this is the case in your cohort, it is advisable to avoid virtual classroom sessions altogether and just use discussion forums.  It is possible to use the Brightspace 'Video Note' tool, as both academic and student.  This allows short video clips to be recorded direct from mobile devices and/or webcams on computer, these can be posted rather than typed messages.

 

Support for Brightspace activities

Brightspace Quizzes

Brightspace Discussions

Brightspace Discussion (Youtube Playlist - 11 videos)

Brightspace Virtual Classroom

Reference

Redmond, P., Heffernan, A., Abawi, L., Brown, A., & Henderson, R. (2018). An Online Engagement Framework for Higher Education. Online Learning, 22(1), 183–204. https://doi.org/10.24059/olj.v22i1.1175 [CC-BY]