Improving Instructor-Student Engagement Online

You may have heard of the Department of Education Inspector General’s (IG) report on Western Governor’s University (WGU). You can read about it here.

Basically, the IG recommended that WGU repay the Department of Education all Title IV (Financial Aid) funds they have received of the past few years, to the tune of about $712 Million. The main reason – lack of “regular and substantive interaction between students and faculty members.” In essence, the IG said a number of WGU’s online Competency Based Education courses are “correspondence courses” and not eligible for Financial Aid.

The “good news” is that the Department of Education is not bound by the IGs recommendation. Several blog posts and articles by experts in online education (WGET, e-LiterateInside Higher-Ed) offer various views of the report. Most indicate WGU will prevail and not lose funding. But they also indicate we, as higher education, need to do better with interactions for our online courses.

As a district we need to ensure all of our courses – grounded, hybrid, and online alike – are not correspondence courses and have regular and substantive interaction. It’s not an easy thing to do, especially online, but it’s something we need to ensure is happening.

So, what can we do? A session presented at the QM Connect conference this week offers some suggestions.

The ideas presented in the session can help, but it still requires we not only include the opportunities, but take charge and ensure we communicate with our students. Here are some ideas to help get us started:

Weekly announcements (audio, video, written – don’t forget captions)
Substantive feedback for assessments – even if you use a rubric you can add some individualized comments
Discussions – weekly discussion posts on topical items. Include a “Muddiest Point” forum where students can ask questions. Encourage everyone to help out.

What else can we do? Feel free to add a comment.

10 thoughts on “Improving Instructor-Student Engagement Online

  1. Starting this quarter, I emailed (within Canvas) each student individually. I did this the first day of class on Monday. I also made this a 2 point assignment, where students were required to reply back to me. Although I cut and pasted one common paragraph, I did try to make it individualized. At the very least, I addressed each email to the student using their first name and also put their name in the subject line. And, if I knew anything about the student, such as having received an ADS sheet or had them in another class, I wrote something about that. I asked students if there was anything that they wanted me to be aware of. I encouraged students to contact me if they ever had any questions in the course. The feedback has been very good and many students have thanked me for encouraging them to seek help when they often do not. I also think it makes a personal connection at the start of the class which can help students. I also will continue to email each individual student at the end of the course to be clear what their grade is and to thank them for taking the course. But, I thought making a more personal connection right at the start would be helpful.

    • II also include the student’s first name in most of my responses and I agree that beginning this practice with the introduction or the first assignment builds trust and lets the students know you are at least somewhat engaged. I also respond with some fact the student has included in their intro to show I have read their post. I have found it does not have to be a lengthy response, but just a small personal touch makes a difference.

  2. Enjoyed the QM session above! First, it reinforced some things I already have in place, Screencast-O-Matic. I use it and have the students use it for their own class presentations. The latest updates make captioning very easy and gradually updating the numerous videos in the online course. I really enjoy using for immediate quick feedback…you can almost see the light bulb go off with the student(s)! Second reinforced two items on my To Do list (I better get going…): use of Office Mix (sorry, I am a MS person through and through) and use of YouTube (to provide a better storage place and improve the connection for videos).

    • Thaks for the reminder about Screencast and the tip that their updates have improved captioning. I want to explore students using this with some of their responses.

  3. I have quite a bit of online student engagement in my online course. This is what I do:
    1) Have students introduce themselves by replying to specific questions (for points). I then reply to each student, commenting on their answers to these questions, sometimes starting an online conversation with them.
    2) We have about 15 assignments that students submit to me each quarter. If students do not do an assignment correctly, I offer hints and suggestions on how to correct the assignment. Students may then ask for further clarification, which I give them. They turn the corrected assignments back in for full credit. If a student does an assignment 100% correctly, I will at least make a positive comment on something specific that they wrote.
    3) If students have questions about answers on assessments, they ask and I do my best to answer.
    4) Regarding primary input, students watch lecture videos that I record, taking notes, gaining information that they can use to master the course objectives.

  4. While the suggestions in the QM session are all great, it’s worth noting perhaps that most of them wouldn’t count as “regular and substantive interaction between students and faculty members” since they’re focused on better ways to deliver content.

    • If you used the audio component in Canvas to respond/record most messages to students, don’t you think this would be “regular and substantive”? I think Renee has mentioned she uses the voice recorder to send most assignment comments to students.

  5. From reading this report (and others, like Inside High Ed’s article on the issue), it seems that WGU was dinged for two issues:
    1.) Lack of student-professor interaction
    2.) Lack of content–50 credit hours of work a quarter was not demonstrated (with some students spending 8 hours or less, for instance).

    I suspect that the majority of our online classes would not have either issue as long as E-learning or online professors could demonstrate timely and individualized feedback to students (not just computer-generated rubrics or grades, but comments), discussion forums with student-professor interaction, individualized emails to students, and 50+ hours of work being assigned (noting, of course, that time spent on Canvas does not equate with time spent in preparation–ex. reading, writing offline, etc.)

    Some other suggestions:
    * E-office hours (times when professors are available for online chat, phone, in-person, or email interactions). I use my regular office hours as E-offices hours as well, but students are able to call, email, chat, or stop by during these times as well as by appointment using the various mechanisms above.
    * Assignments that require students to comment on or respond to professor assignment comments (demonstrates interaction).

    I think the bigger question might be how to ascertain/assess said interactions and workload without placing an undue burden on professors or E-learning to demonstrate the obvious….I’d hate to write another “how I know I am doing my job” assessment report or take another vacuous quality training; however, I suppose that is a discussion for another forum.


  6. One way to ease the burden on instructors is getting students more engaged with each other. Peer to peer interaction works so well in the f2f classroom and I have not figured it out yet! However, I have found that getting students to respond to each other with more than a simple word or two is challenging. But, as more and more instructors add the requirement to respond to what other students have posted or completed, more like an assessment, a suggestion to improve, or a question for clarification, students are getting better at it and they like it. More women than men unfortunately. 🙂

  7. the use of cranium cafe would allow me to speak with, share with, and tutor my online students directly as well as interact with members of different classes at the same time. It would also allow my students from the same or different classes to interact with each other under my supervision live (in real time) just as though they were in class together.
    I could also hole live e-office hours with students and colleagues.

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