Instructional Strategies and Technologies for Online Learner Engagment

Silhouette of head with different objects floating overhead

How can online instructors engage their students?

Active learning engages the learner directly in the learning process through instructional activities with differing degrees of interaction, whereas passive learning occurs indirectly and without interaction. Active learning is preferred because it triggers cognitive functioning. Furthermore, active learning is a component of Ignatian pedagogy (i.e., context, experience, action, reflection, evaluation) in its goal to teach to the whole person (i.e., mind, body, and spirit). This blog covers various instructional strategies and the digital tools that instructors use to engage students online through active learning. The purpose of learner engagement through active learning is to increase student satisfaction and student achievement.

What does active learning look like online?

Active learning can take on different formats and levels of engagement. The following examples include various disciplines from undergraduate and graduate level, hybrid and fully online courses.

Set the Stage
Tell your students what you expect of them in the online course. For example, one instructor provides a PowerPoint titled, Setting the Stage, to share course requirements for the online environment and address learning values such as the growth mindset versus the fixed mindset.  Dweck (2009) defined it as those who underestimate their ability to learn may have a fixed mindset, while those who believe that they can learn by establishing attainable goals and applying effort to learn have a growth mindset. Students with a growth mindset want to be corrected; their ego is not tied to learning. Conversely, those with a fixed mindset do not pay attention to corrective feedback. They believe that learning should not take any effort because it is tied to their intelligence; their ego influences how they learn. See my post to Focus on the Process to Support the Growth Mindset of Students.

Make sure students know how to use the learning management system (LMS) tools prior to high-stakes assignments. For example, my college’s navigational template provides a Start Here folder with two orientation tasks for students: the Online Student Acknowledgement form assignment and the ‘Getting Acquainted’ discussion. Additionally, ask students to take a quiz of zero value to familiarize them with the course tools. Some instructors use a syllabus quiz to ensure students have read their syllabi. Another example is the use of the quiz feature to poll students’ practical experience on the course topic to better understand their prior knowledge on the subject and drive instruction to meet students’ needs.

Discussions
Discussions can have well thought out open-ended questions or no questions at all. For example, one instructor has had great success without providing questions in his online discussions. Instead, he tells students the purpose of discussions and that they will find suggestions for these by listening to his podcast or video lecture for that unit.

Monitor. For equity, a best practice is to create a matrix of teacher-student interactions to track your response efforts over the course of the semester. Monitoring your discussion posts will curtail various biases and ensure consistency. I usually set up a spreadsheet to do this and include personal information shared in the ‘Getting Acquainted’ discussion to provide a more personalized context to my interactions with each student.

Roles. Provide structure and student agency to discussions by assigning roles (e.g., starter, responder, and wrapper) and rotating those roles during the course; my peer, Dr. Angela Rand at the University of South Alabama did her dissertation on this. I’ve encouraged instructors at my college to incorporate this. One instructor noted a major difference in learner engagement when using this practice; without it, she had the same student posting first and everyone else waiting to reply. Student-moderated discussions provide social presence to build an online community of inquiry (COI). See my blog post how to plan for an online COI.

Media. Our LMS, Schoology, has a discussion feature for audio or video recording to share responses besides via text. This provides both teaching presence and social presence to the online COI.  Consider making some of your discussions media-based to provide variety and a different type of engagement than text-based ones. The exchange of media will close the psychological distance between you and your students.

Assignments
Monitor. Schoology has a Student Completion option to monitor students’ completion of tasks (sequential or random). Once installed, instructors select the Student Progress tab to view task completion (view readings, visit links, submit assignments, post to discussions, & take a quiz). Students will see a green checkmark next to completed items. This is a passive learner engagement activity albeit a powerful one.

Groupwork. Student-led projects provide student agency in the design of their own learning. Provide the parameters, team roles (e.g., team leader/organizer, researcher, writer, & presenter), and peer evaluation forms to ensure everyone participates fully. Include expectations for group grade such as everyone provides proofreading of assignment prior to submission. Encourage student groups to set up their own ground rules for group meetings and task sharing. Monitor group work by asking to be added to the document workspace such as a shared Google folder.

Presentations. As for hybrid courses, maximize the face-to-face meeting by asking students to present their work to each other during seminar sessions in their level one courses. This is referred to as flipped learning when you use class time for student activities instead of teacher-centered activities. For fully online courses, students can share their media presentations (e.g., narrated PowerPoints saved as MP4 files, audio/podcast, or video projects) with other students in the Schoology Media Album. This tool allows students and teachers to provide feedback, as well as tags, titles, and captions.

Interactive products. Use premium ancillary interactive multimedia such as Cengage’s WebAssign for homework or supplant instruction with computer-adapted commercial products such as Pearson’s MyITLab. Take advantage of free educational technology such as EdPuzzle to engage learners while watching a video with questions to answer before preceding to the next segment; this tool provides the instructor with learner analytics. Use PeerWise to have students create questions on the topic of study for each other to answer; it’s also free.

Assessments
How can students demonstrate mastery besides multiple-choice tests? These are still useful for testing recall. However, to engage the learner in higher order thinking skills, we should provide alternative assessments such as project-based learning, essays, portfolios, performance, products, and presentations. These do not need to be end-of-term projects. Formative assessments can be formal or informal (practice tests, digital exit tickets, & polls), which serve as comprehension checks during the course and subsequent student feedback. This is in contrast to summative assessments that test your cumulative knowledge on a topic at the end of the term. Formative assessments promote fairness by gathering evidence of students’ understanding throughout the course, which can be used to better inform/modify your instructional practices to meet students’ needs.

Mastery. Set tests for multiple attempts to help students achieve mastery. This triggers new learning and/or review of content, as student revisit content for answers.

Feedback & Guidance
Rubrics. Schoology provides blank rubrics for you to establish the criteria and scale for various tasks. For example, these can be attached to discussions and assignments. Rubrics provide consistency and speed with grading. The rubric feature on Schoology allows you to provide feedback at the criterion level and for overall performance. Additionally, you can tag your departmental student learning outcomes to these rubrics to help students understand why the task is important.

Scaffolded instructional feedback. Scaffolding instruction provides content in meaningful and manageable chunks of information. This entails providing visuals for structure, context, or direction and just-in-time definitions. For example, segment a lecture at viable points and ask reflective questions. For writing, break large tasks such as research papers into point-based phases of the writing process (e.g., outline, literature review with five citations, rough draft, & final paper). Design for tolerance for error by providing space to practice (e.g., mock interviews/comps/presentations, tutorials, & simulations).

Peer feedback. It is critical to provide guidelines and criteria for peer feedback tasks. For writing, assign a peer review of first draft papers utilizing MS Word tracked changes or Google Docs suggested edits. Access to the documents would be shared with the instructor for review. For media, use the Schoology Media Album. It will accept narrated PowerPoints if you save them as MP4 files.

Embedded librarian. Utilize the library liaisons in your course assignments. They can model the Socratic method of inquiry as a mentor. Your library liaison’s contact information should be included in the course’s Start Here folder along with pertinent information on access to the Library databases and digital literacy.

Evaluation of Course Design
Create a questionnaire to obtain course design feedback at midterm to determine any barriers and/or add additional questions to your student evaluations at the end of the term. For example, ask whether specific learning objects such as the narrated PowerPoints or audio files were helpful. Incorporate pertinent student feedback into small modifications during the term or redesign of your course for the following semester.

What are other ways to engage learners?

Learner Strategies
Based on my teaching experience, students come with vastly different skill sets. Provide students with strategies and tips on how to learn the content.  Additionally, share bad examples of study habits that do not yield results for long-term memory (e.g., cramming for a test).  Share how learning strategies build their brains’ schema on the topic and its relation to other subjects for long-term memory. See my Student Learning Organizer of Metacognitive Strategies on the Learning Strategies. It is shared with freshmen at my college.  Also, see my list of cognitive strategies to share with students. The difference between metacognitive and cognitive being meta-awareness versus concreteness respectively. Most students are likely familiar with the structurally cognitive ones such as creating a concept map but not be familiar with the others.

How do you engage your students? 

Sandra Rogers, Ph.D.

References
Bransford, J. D., Brown A. L., & Cocking R. R. (1999). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Bruning, R. H., Schraw, G. J., & Norby, M. M. (2011). Cognitive psychology and instruction. New York, NY: Pearson.

Dweck, C. (2009). Developing Growth Mindsets: How Praise Can Harm, and How To Use it Well. [Presentation]. Paper presented at the Scottish Learning Festival, Glasgow. Retrieved from http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/video/c/video_tcm4565678.asp

Ericsson, K. A. (1996). The acquisition of expert performance. In K. A. Ericsson (Ed.), The road to excellence: The acquisition of expert performance in the arts, science, sports, and games (pp. 1- 50). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Ormrod, J. E. (2012). Human learning. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Roediger, H. L. III, & Karpicke, J. D. (2006). The power of testing memory: Basic research and implications for educational practice. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1, 181-210.

Ward, J. (2010). The student’s guide to cognitive neuroscience. New York, NY: Psychological Press.

West, C.K., Farmer, J.A., & Wolff, P.M. (1991). Instructional design: Implications from cognitive science. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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Bibliography on Active Learning

Want to learn more about active learning? Check out this reading list. In preparation for my Fulbright application to Norway for an active learning research project, I prepared this bibliography last year.  It includes some Norwegian research on the topic.  I didn’t get that postdoctoral Fulbright but will try again next year for something else.  It took a lot of time preparing the application, and my references and potential hosting institution were so helpful in the process.  Special thanks to Dr. Rob Gray for serving as an intermediator in the application process!  You can read about his work below. If you have any seminal articles on active learning, please leave the citation in the comments section for inclusion. #activelearning

Bibliography

Astin, A. W., & Antonio, A. L. (2012). Assessment for excellence: The philosophy and practice of assessment (2nd ed.). New York: NY: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Baird, J-A., Hopfenbeck, T. N., Newton, P., Stobart, G., & Steen-Utheim, A. T. (2014). Assessment and learning: State of the field review, 13/4697. Oslo: Norway: Knowledge Center for Education. Retrieved from http://taloe.up.pt/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/FINALMASTER2July14Bairdetal2014AssessmentandLearning.pdf

Banta, T. W., & Palomba, C. A. (2015). Assessment essentials: Planning, implementing, and improving assessment in higher education (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Barkley, E. F., & Major, C. H. (2016). Learning assessment techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2007). Teaching for quality learning at university: What the student does (3rd ed.). Maidenhead, Berkshire: Open University Press.

Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education, 5, 7-74. doi:10.1080/0969595980050102

Brookhart, S. M. (2007). Expanding views about formative classroom assessment: A review of the literature. In J. H. McMillan (Ed.), Formative classroom assessment: Theory into practice, 43-62. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1991). Applying the seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 47. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Deci, E. & Ryan, R. M. 2014. Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. Berlin: Springer.

Dysthe, O., Englesen, K. S., Lima, I. (2007). Variations in portfolio assessment in higher education: Discussion of quality issues based on Norwegian survey across institutions and disciplines. Assessing Writing, 12(2), 129-148. doi:10.1016/j.asw.2007.10.002

Freeman, S., Eddy, S. L., McDonough, M., Smith, M. K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M. P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. PNAS, 111(23), 8410-8415. doi:10.1073/pnas.1319030111

Gagné, R. M. (1985). The conditions of learning. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

Gray, R., & Nerheim, M. S. (2017). Teaching and learning in the digital age: Online tools and assessment practices, P48. Norgesuniversitetet: University of Bergen. Retrieved from https://norgesuniversitetet.no/prosjekt/teaching-and-learning-in-the-digital-age

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of educational research77(1), 81-112. doi: 10.3102/003465430298487

Hopfenbeck, T. N., & Stobart, G. (2015). Large-scale implementation of assessment for learning. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 22(1), 1-2. doi:10.1080/0969594X.2014.1001566

Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R., & Smith, K. (2006). Active learning: Cooperation in the university classroom (3rd ed.). Edina, MN: Interaction Book Company.

Klenowski, V. (2009). Assessment for learning revisited: An Asia-Pacific perspective. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 16(3), 263-268. doi: 10.1080/09695940903319646

National Dropout Prevention Center/Network. (2009). 15 effective strategies for dropout prevention. NDPC: Clemson University. Retrieved from http://dropoutprevention.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/NDPCN15EffectiveStrategies.pdf

Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research. (2017). Quality culture in higher education, Meld. St. 16. Retrieved from https://www.regjeringen.no/no/dokumenter/meld.-st.-16-20162017/id2536007/

Nusche, D., Earl, L., Maxwell, W., & Shewbridge, C. (2011). OECD reviews of evaluation and assessment in education: Norway. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Retrieved from https://www.oecd.org/norway/48632032.pdf

Rogers, E. (2003). Diffusion of innovations (5th ed.). New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Thum, Y. M., Tarasawa, B., Hegedus, A., You, X., & Bowe, B. (2015). Keeping learning on track: A case-study of formative assessment practice and its impact on learning in Meridian School District. Portland, OR: Northwest Evaluation Association. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED567844.pdf

Wiliam, D. (2007). Keeping learning on track: Formative assessment and the regulation of learning. In F. K. Lester, Jr. (Ed.), Second handbook of mathematics teaching and learning (pp. 1053–1098). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

 

Using Google Suite for the Universal Design of Learning

Design for gardining Website interface displays tools and supplies as icons
This Google Drawing was created for a doctoral mini project on an interface design task for developing a gardening website with one of my peers in an online course. This was created prior to my understanding of accessibility issues. Notice that not all icons are labeled. This would not be accessible to all. Additionally, alternative text would need to be embedded with each image.

Google Suite,  along with the Chrome browser’s Omnibox and useful extensions, can be used to enhance the teaching of all learners with universal instructional design principles. Google Suite is the new name for these features: Google Apps (Docs, Forms, Sheets, Slides), Classroom, and Drive. This blog focuses on the use of technology to augment instruction through differentiation via scaffolding, formative assessments, and student collaboration. Google professional development opportunities and teacher resources are also addressed.

There are several efforts to design education with universal design in mind. Palmer and Caputo (2003) proposed seven principles for universal instructional design (UID): accessibility, consistency, explicitness, flexibility, accommodating learning spaces, minimization of effort, and supportive learning environments. The UID model recognizes those needs for course design. Its main premise is equal access to education and extends this to all types of learners and not just those with disabilities. For example, all learners can benefit from multi-modal lessons. Palmer and Caputo’s principles should be kept in mind as you develop differentiated instructional learning scenarios with Google Suite. See my blog post to learn more about universal design.

My College is a Google Apps for Education campus, which means we have unlimited storage on our Drive and seamless access to Google Suite through our school Gmail. Speak with your Google Suite administrator to learn about the features and functions of your access, as some institutions like my alma mater block YouTube and Google+. 

The following scenarios address possible technology solutions for teaching all learners. For instance, scaffolding supports different learners’ preferences, as well as the needs of lower performing students. Formative assessments are important to obtain ongoing feedback on student performance; use these often. They can be formal or informal (practice tests, exit tickets, polls). Formative tests promote active learning, which leads to higher retention of information learned. Use the following list to add your ideas and scenarios for differentiated lesson planning.

Scaffold Learning Google Tools & Features Formative Assessments Your Ideas & Scenarios
Provide visuals for structure, context, or direction & just-in-time definitions Google Drawings, Docs’ Explore tool, & Drive Students make their own graphic representation of a concept or complete guided tasks with the frame provided by an instructor.
Provide authentic speaking practice prior to oral test/presentation Google Docs’ Voice Typing, Chrome Browser’s Omnibox for a timer, & Drive Students work individually or in small group turn-taking voice typing their scripts/stories on Google Doc within a timed parameter on a split screen.
Check for comprehension to obtain data to drive instruction/remediation Google Forms, Sheets, Classroom, & Drive (Alternative: Google Slides new feature allows for asking questions & polling question priority live from slide.) Students take a quiz on Google Forms to demonstrate knowledge after a lesson (exit ticket) or homework. Instructors receive Form responses in a Google Sheet. Sheets has Explore tool for analyzing data for visual display for data-driven discussions among teacher cohort/supervisors. Auto import grades from Forms to Classroom gradebook.
Students use app with embedded choices to check their own grammar Free Chrome extension, Grammarly and/or app Students correct errors in their first writing drafts on the app or within online writing platforms (e.g., wiki, blog, or email). Grammarly is also available for MS Office and Windows but not for Google Docs. Use its app to check Docs or other writing formats by pasting content to New Document.
Hi/low peer collaboration and/or tutoring Google Apps, Classroom, & Drive Students share settings on project Docs, Drawings, etc. to collaborate via text comments or synchronous video chat sessions.

Resources for Digital Literacy Skill Training

  • Did you know that Google provides lesson plans for information literacy?
  • Do you need to teach your students how to refine their web searches? See Google Support.
  • Internet Safety Tip- Recommend that students use incognito browsing on Google Chrome when conducting searches to reduce their digital footprint. See Google’s YouTube playlist, Digital Citizenship and Security, and their training site for more information.

Accessibility Resources for Assistive Technology

  • ChromeVOX – Google’s screen reading extension for the Google Chrome browser and the screen reader used by Chrome Operating System (OS).
  • TalkBack – This is Google’s screen reading software that is typically included with Android devices. Due to the design of Android and its customizability by hardware manufacturers, TalkBack can vary and may not be included on some Android devices.
  • Screen Magnifier – This is the screen magnification software included with ChromeOS. The magnification function in ChromeOS doesn’t have a unique product name like other platforms.
  • Hey, Google – This is Google’s personal assistant, which is available in the Google Chrome browser, ChromeOS, and many Android devices.

Professional Development for Educators

Other

#Google #Edtech #Accessibility #UDL

References

Palmer, J., & Caputo, A. (2003). Universal instructional design: Implementation guide. Guelph, Ontario: University of Guelph.