Top Takeaways:

  • Meaningful and relevant learning activities inspire curiosity and increase engagement.
  • Instructors can take advantage of the internet’s affordances to support student engagement.
  • Student motivation and engagement are driven by, involvement, investment, choice, flexibility, and ownership.

Timeline:

Redesign an individual activity or assessment in an hour or two.

When educators can think of the internet as an extension of the classroom, the possibilities are endless. Below we share strategic approaches to activity design that emphasize the learning possibilities of the internet to increase student engagement in both online and face-to-face learning environments.

Asking how to inhabit digital spaces by engaging in and contributing to those spaces shifts our engagement from consumptive and numbing to thriving and generative. Hashtags, collaborative mind-mapping, social annotation and digital field trips are just a few designs strategies that help shift the way we think about engaging online.

Another way to increase engagement in online courses is to be thoughtful in creating regular and meaningful touchpoints for students to interact with each other. For example, have students complete one large individual assignment that has components due every other week of the term. Then have them share each component with their peers in an online discussion forum to get feedback and give feedback each step of the way. This strengthens the community of learners in the course and creates a spiral of action steps that has built-in feedback loops for students to create an exemplar project. Be sure to give clear prompts for the kinds of feedback you expect students to give. Also share clear expectations that the forums are designed to create a community of learners. This is done best when posts offer new perspectives, encourage further discussion demonstrate critical thinking and/or model self-reflection.

Start Designing

To further inspire your design process, explore the following questions to help you place students at the center of their learning.

  1. How can this activity help students co-create knowledge?
  2. How can what the students produce in the course activities and assessments be part of the content of the course?
  3. How can I bring the students into the design of this activity early enough so the work becomes about students’ goals instead of exclusively the course outcomes?
  4. How can this activity or assessment connect to student’s personal experience and expertise, becoming meaningful and relevant to themselves or their professional practice?

By inviting students to become collaborators in the design process of the course, educators can increase student motivation, foster discovery, and create environments for emergent learning. Lifelong learning develops by engaging students in the process of thinking meaningfully and deliberately, and then co-creating their learning experiences.

Sample Activities

The following is a curated list of some of our favorite activity designs. The underlying ideas of most activities can be adapted for both online and face to face courses. Of course, this is but a small sample of a wealth of possible activities to support student engagement. You can find many more by speaking with your colleagues, exploring online teaching forums and repositories, and chatting with OAI. As you consider implementing activities, remember to consider your learning outcomes, your own expertise with web technologies, and the questions outlined above.

Student-Designed Assignments

Educators can provide assignment choices or ask students to collaboratively come up with course assignments that feel relevant and motivating. By asking students to examine the course outcomes that interest them the most, they can craft a set of assignments and activities to meet that outcome as an assignment in itself.

Jigsaw the Content

There are many components to the jigsaw method. At base level, students form groups, and each student in the group is assigned a different task or area of study. Students then find ways to obtain the needed expertise. Next, they break out into temporary expert groups with students from the other teams who have been assigned the same role or purpose. At that point, students study, learn, rehearse, question, negotiate, and share content with other members of their expert group. At some point, students move back to their home or jigsaw groups and share their new knowledge. There could be an ending quiz, presentation, game, or some other type of capstone event to summarize what was learned.

Build a Portfolio

Create an assignment that is durable enough to be portfolio-worthy and appropriate to the field of study.

  • Ask students to create a professional Twitter account, which can help them grow their personal learning and professional network.
  • Interview a celebrity in their field or research current trends and build a curated digital newsfeed.
  • Write a blog of their learning process in the course. What concepts and have direct application to their current practice, personal commitments, relevant interests or professional pursuits?

Curate Course Content

After week 5, can students be assigned the task of finding relevant scholarly articles to review and share as homework for the rest of the class? Or write portions of an emerging textbook for the class? Perhaps write the introductions to an anthology of classic works or curate a set of scientific articles and write introductions to them?

  • Assign students the task of finding one article, website, or interactive media relevant to the course content to assign for reading or viewing and lead a discussion surrounding it.
  • Interactive online exhibits
  • Have students study a media news feed for a particular topic, population and content area. Analyze trends, understand relevancy.

Collaboratively Annotate

Invite your students to annotate in specific ways. For example.

  • Annotation as questioning: Have students highlight, tag, and annotate words or passages that are confusing to them in their readings.
  • Annotation as close reading: Have students identify formal textual elements and broader social and historical contexts at work in specific passages.
  • Annotation as gloss: Have students look up difficult words or unknown allusions in a text and share their research as annotations.
  • Annotation as rhetorical analysis: Have students mark and explain the use of rhetorical strategies in online articles or essays.
  • Annotation as opinion: Have students share their personal opinions on a controversial topic as discussed by an article.
  • Annotation as multimedia writing: Have students annotate with images and video or integrate images and video into other types of annotations.
  • Annotation as independent study: Have students explore the Internet on their own with some limited direction (find an article from a respectable source on a topic important to you personally), exercising traditional literacy skills (define difficult words, identify persuasive strategies, etc.).
  • Annotation as bibliography: Have students research a topic or theme and tag and annotate relevant texts across the Internet.

Hypothes.is is a social annotation software you might use to support classroom annotation such as those outlined above. (See Hypothes.is help.)

Digital Storytelling

Invite students to create a multimedia-rich, digital narrative to enhance or extend course concepts.

  • Word-cloud interactions: use to crowdsource student interest, preference or understanding. In addition, a word cloud can highlight key themes and common vocabulary used in the course or some section of it. The words represented in the cloud that are not familiar to the learners can be looked up prior to fully participating in the course. A word cloud can also introduce new and important terms prior to a class assignment or lecture.
  • A day in the life of a scientist, scholar or celebrity: research a celebrity in your field and write a story of their typical day by examining their digital identity. Take on their role in a online discussion.
  • Micro-blogging course discussions: create a course hashtag and conduct discussion beyond the LMS using Twitter. 140 characters forces students to think and connect in different ways.
  • Visualize course concepts: Turn a paper into an infographic, storyboard, timeline or mini-videos.

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