Thursday, 19 April 2012 21:40

Design for Active Engagement

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designing your course for active student engagement Person kayaking © 2012 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.


If you’re thinking about designing a course, you may be asking yourself “What will be engaging and effective for both my students and myself?” If you’re instructing an established course with set content, you may be asking yourself how much latitude you have as an instructor: “Where does my effort make the most sense?” Asking yourself these crucial questions is the first step to creating a more engaging course.

Active Expectations

Student contexts are different now than they were even a few years ago due technological and pedagogical changes within the classroom. Many students now expect a high degree of activity within their classes instead of relying on lecture-based instruction, opting for more interaction and participation. Where is the balance between actively engaging your students and delivering crucial information? Encouraging students to participate in their own learning addresses the concern of active participation when content is delivered engagingly.

Picking and Choosing

In today’s classroom, students actively select the method of instructional delivery they prefer: face-to-face, blended, or online. Flexibility in delivery will provoke you to become more responsive. Students generally know other options are available; however, students have likely selected your course (face-to-face, blended, or online) for a reason. Knowing why students generally choose a specific delivery method will help you understand their expectations and how to design the course to enhance their learning experience.

Students’ reasons for picking asynchronous (online) delivery:

  • Allows greater flexibility
  • Provides time to reflect
  • Permits the student to learn anywhere
  • Greater cost benefits (Beyth-Marom, Sopota & Caspi, 2005)

Student reasons for picking synchronous (face-to-face or blended) delivery:

  • Maintains motivation
  • Feels like the instructor and others real people are there, similar to a face-to-face classroom (telepresence)
  • Allows for constructive feedback
  • Establishes pacing for the student (Beyth-Marom, et al., 2005)

Technology that is Practical

Students expect the use of technology to make sense. A PowerPoint presentation should make material easier to understand and engage with, not harder. Online discussions should help students explore content and allow them to grasp and engage with what they are learning, not just display that they’ve read a lesson. Contemporarily, technology is expected to feel as natural as possible for the task at hand. As you explore the potential of online learning, think about what is possible in this medium that isn’t possible in a traditional classroom. The Education Enhancement Team’s Instructional Designers are a great resource. For instance, did you know students to put much deeper thought into online comments than face-to-face comments? How can you take advantage of this well-documented tendency?

Good Teaching is Good Teaching

One criterion that hasn’t changed for students regardless of learning context is the value of a good instructor, especially one who supports the learning process. As an instructor who is designing online instruction or planning how to deliver an existing course, think about how much instructor presence is needed to guide learning. Chances are, even the most tech-savvy student still needs to feel the instructor guiding their learning and maintaining a presence in the course.

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EET Staff

Over the years we have compiled articles from different members of the EET team. Sometimes they were written collaboratively and other times the staff author wasn’t written down. These articles were too good not to share, so we’ve labeled them as EET Staff.