Initial Publication Date: May 25, 2017

Jennifer Sliko, Pennsylvania State University-Penn St. Harrisburg

How do you manage student engagement and assessment in your online courses?

Keeping students engaged with the instructor, each other, and the course materials can be a challenging aspect of teaching an online course, but that engagement is a critical component to creating a meaningful learning space for students. Creating short videos that include an image of the instructor is a meaningful way for the students to connect with the instructor in an asynchronous course. These videos can be created as part of the learning materials for the class and only need to be updated periodically. Additionally, weekly communication (typically through email) can include a brief comment about any current events relevant to the learning material in addition to tips about upcoming lessons. Prompt responses to individual student emails are crucial in any online class. Finally, a series of mandatory individual student-instructor meetings (at the start of the semester and mid-way through the semester) is a valuable tool in not only keeping the students engaged with the class but as mid-year student progress report and a chance for self-reflection on how the student is performing in the class.
Keeping the students engaged with each other in an online class can be extremely challenging, especially in undergraduate level courses. Group discussions, while sometimes beneficial, can be problematic if not all group members participate in the activity. Another method that keeps students engaged with each other is a "drop-in chat room" experience. The chat rooms event typically starts with an instructor-organized event (office hours, exam review, homework help, etc.). However, if the chat room is left open after the instructor leaves, the students have the opportunity to working together.
Student assessment is a means to keep students engaged with the course materials in an online course. Similar to responding to student emails, prompt and detailed feedback is important in online assessment. Numerous, low-stakes assessments (such as weekly activities, blogs, or quizzes) are beneficial in keeping students motivated to stay engaged with the course materials throughout the semesters. These assessments can utilize the features of most course management systems (such as automatic grading of multiple choice or numerical questions) to assist with student feedback. Likewise, many course management systems include features to minimize the possibility of cheating in an online class. Keeping students engaged, through instructor interactions, online synchronous events, and formative assessments, is a fundamental component of student success in an online class.