Author: Shawn Orr, Director of the Center for Innovation & Teaching Excellence; Faculty in Communication Studies, Ashland University

As a college faculty member for more than 25 years, I’ve taught thousands of undergraduate students in a traditional classroom setting, utilizing active learning strategies to engage and involve students in the learning process.

Changing charts, card flip, expert groups, clearest/muddiest point, group projects, polling, augmented reality and case studies—all tools of the trade I know, love and use every semester.

Then Came Online Classes

I taught my first completely online course 15 years ago. I’ll be the first to admit it was a poor counterpart to the engaging face-to-face version of the same course. It was a lot of reading, several tests and papers, a few poorly managed discussion board posts and a lot of students that felt as isolated as I did as the professor.

But thank goodness that, with continued learning and support, my online courses have improved exponentially (some might even say they are better than my face-to-face courses).

My online courses now include:

  • engaging readings with point-of-context discussion questions
  • group projects
  • short lecture-cast videos with built-in assessment quizzing
  • interactive discussion boards with video
  • audio recordings and asynchronous guest speakers

As I learned about teaching best practices in this modality over the last 15 years, my greatest learning curve was figuring out how to use active learning strategies that connect students with each other in the online environment. What I learned is that with a little creativity, many active learning activities can be modified for the online environment. Here are a few of my favorites:

Strategy 1: Bingo

This is one of my favorite games to play in class, including name card bingo, key term bingo or case study bingo. When it comes to my online classes, I call it “office hour bingo.” During one of my virtual office hours, I send each student a custom bingo card with key terms from the chapter.  I invite them to attend, with their bingo card in hand, (they do this by logging into our LMS and clicking on the office hours link) and we play. I share a case study that covers the week’s content, and as we discuss the case, students use the terms on their bingo card to answer questions. If they, or another student, uses the term they check it off on their bingo card.

The first several students to get a bingo win a prize (usually a holiday pencil or candy, which I mail to them). I’ll do the same bingo game for several synchronous office hours during the week, so students can attend at different times, and I always record the session so students who can’t attend can still play on their own. This is also a great way for students to utilize your office hours.

Strategy 2: Lectures

I provide direct instruction via video lectures in my online classes. Some ways I use active learning in my lectures are through tools like Kaltura quizzing which stops the lecture every 5 to 8 minutes to ask a quick assessment question, or by using “lecture log” worksheets, which are related to the lectures.

Students fill them out as they are listening to the lecture (think study guide) and then answer several reflection/analysis questions at the end. I’ll often use these as a prompt for the discussion board post that week, so students are both actively learning the material and sharing with their peers what they’ve learned and how they’re applying. I’ve learned the more engaged I am on the discussion board (providing direction, coaching, encouragement or new ideas), the more engaged my students will be.

Strategy 3: Presentations Using Bongo

Students give a lot of presentations in my class and I wanted a tool where online students could give presentations, peers could view and evaluate and students could get immediate feedback—just like we would do in class. Bongo, which comes free inside my Cengage MindTap course, does all this and more. Students either record their presentations right in Bongo or they upload a presentation they recorded on their computer or on their phone into the Bongo app. As their peers watch the presentation, they provide written feedback (I can also upload a rubric for them to use).

When the presenter goes in to review the feedback, it pops up as they are watching the presentation, at the point of context. I can also leave my feedback in the same way. I then have students reflect on what they learned by re-watching their presentation, with the peer feedback. Another great feature of Bongo is if you have group projects in your course, you can set the Bongo assignment up so students enter their availability to work on a project and the computer matches students to groups based on when they’re free. It’ll also record all of their online group meetings so you can go in and review their work and record the group project within the same tool.

I hope this gave you some new ideas for engaging students in your online courses.

Want to hear more from Shawn Orr? Check out her post on managing challenging student behaviors.