Making Your Online Instruction as Active & Dynamic as it was Face-to-Face

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Course DesignOnline LearningStudent Success

Article Summary

  • Online courses that promote active learning should be easy to navigate.|Videos and collaboration techniques encourage more participation.|Relationship building among students can be achieved in online learning environments.
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Parnella Baul is an Associate Professor of Accounting at Monroe County Community College


Creating online instruction that is as active and dynamic as a face-to-face course involves three key elements: course design, faculty presence and student interaction. This can be achieved with a set of best practices that drive student engagement—even as they learn it from the comfort of home.

Designing an Online Course for Active Learning

Your course should be easy to navigate with appropriate technical support tools and varying types of activities that enable students to engage faculty and peers. To accomplish this, aim to:

  • Be consistently present in the course to provide students with a sense of connection.
  • Maintain open communication with discussion forums and virtual meeting rooms.
  • Incorporate videos and other interactive activities to address various learning styles and engender peer communication and collaboration.
  • Appropriately pace and evenly distribute course activities across learning modules to keep students engaged and motivated.
  • Encourage the use of LMS apps to help students stay on schedule with course notifications and reminders.
  • Offer a balance between synchronous and asynchronous activities to generate a more interactive and dynamic online learning experience for students.

Bringing Content to Life with Videos and Collaboration

Finding interactive ways to deliver course content and facilitate communication can make the difference between attending an online class and participating in one. You can create this environment when you:

  • Start with a Welcome/Course Introduction video to provide navigation assistance and set course expectations and provide orientation videos for any integrated digital platform.
  • During the first week of class hold an optional virtual Welcome and Q&A session to meet with students and answer questions. This will get students off to a good start.
  • Schedule and record virtual lectures to provide immediate feedback and support. Throughout lectures use polling or present questions and ask students to respond via chat. This will ensure that students are present and actively participating.
  • Share PowerPoint slides and use a whiteboard for illustration purposes. If you do not have a whiteboard feature, use (share) a Word or Excel document as a whiteboard.
  • Meet your students on social media (e.g. live stream to Facebook). Faculty can create a private Facebook page and live stream discussions.
  • When grading assignments, consider more personalized feedback with a quick video note or schedule a brief virtual meeting with individual students to discuss their progress.
  • Create a video library (section) in the course for all pre-recorded lectures and other meetings that students can view at their convenience.
  • Schedule virtual office hours or set up a private chat room.

Inspiring Student Communication and Collaboration

One element of the in-person classroom that is often lost in online instruction is relationship building among peers. This is an essential aspect of learning which can be achieved in the following ways:

  • Have students introduce themselves and reply to their peers with a video clip. Videos can easily be created and inserted in a discussion forum.
  • Create breakout rooms during virtual lectures for group activities (e.g. brief case study analysis or another small group activity).
  • Enable group discussion forums for student collaboration on larger projects. If the project requires a presentation, have students create a video presentation for peer review. Or, have students present virtually and incorporate peer review through polling or chat.
  • Set up a student lounge with FAQs and links to other resources. Also, include a virtual meeting room that will be available to students throughout the semester.
  • Require periodic student reflections so that students can share their learning experiences and receive feedback from their peers. Encourage students to include challenges, helpful tips and learning resources for each other.
  • Establish a Q&A discussion forum so that students can ask assignment-specific questions, collaborate on problem-solving and receive assistance from faculty and peers. Award points for participation.

Your course design and activities will vary based on available technology. However, a course with a variety of learning activities and consistent faculty-to-student and student-to-student interaction will keep learners engaged and motivated, and enhance their overall online learning experience.

To learn how Oral Exams offer an active, dynamic way to assess students online, watch the recording of our recent webinar “Oral Exams: The Secret to Assessing Students During COVID.”