Dr. Billi Bromer is a Professor of Education at Brenau University
Most students enroll in a course intending to be successful. Faculty plan their instruction with the hopes that their students will complete the course more knowledgeable and skilled than when they started. Some students, whether online or in a face-to-face environment, will accomplish course objectives, earn a grade they want, and move on to the next course easily. Yet, other students may struggle with meeting deadlines, staying motivated, or following assignment instructions. What can—or should—instructors do to better assure student success?
It may be challenging to accept some responsibility for an adult student’s success, but positive outcomes may follow if student learning is perceived as a shared responsibility held by both the instructor and the learner. Both teaching and learning at all ages and across all disciplines include one basic tenet: engagement. It is helpful for both students and instructors to view engagement in learning as a three-way process involving the student, the instructor, and the course content.
Engagement in Learning
Whether in person, online or hybrid, students need to be engaged in learning. Characteristics such as effective time management and organizational skills are important but so is active involvement in learning with others in any instructional format (Fetzner, 2013).
For a student to learn, the instructor must also be engaged in the learning process. When an instructor is involved with their students’ learning, it encourages students to become more responsible for their own success (Goyak, 2020; Jackson, 2019; Sharoff, 2019).
We learned during the pandemic that we can’t simply take a face-to-face course and all its elements and turn it instantly into an online course. We all saw vividly that what works in one class format may not work in a different format. Those providing the instruction and those receiving the instruction must all interact together with the content of the course to advance learning at every stage.
Tips to Share Responsibility for Learning with Students
- Show interest in each student as a person
- Assure your intent for each student to be successful in your course
- Include guidelines for behavior and model them
- Provide helpful feedback to each student or, when course enrollment is high, use group feedback
- Communicate often
- Use back-channel communication (e.g., texts or social media)
- Be accessible at hours when students are available (even when they may be less convenient)
- Answer questions promptly
- Offer some choices within assignments
- Provide second chances for an assignment that didn’t meet the standard on the first try
Some Practices to Avoid
- Jumping right into course work without any introductions of participants
- Instead: Include an ice-breaker activity
- Piling up too many assignments that are due at the same time
- Instead: Distribute assignments evenly throughout the course
- Brief and unclear instructions
- Instead: Use “you will” language as you explain what to do
- Strict due dates with no flexibility
- Instead: Consider a time span rather than a specific date
- Penalties for lateness with no exceptions
- Instead: Consider an amnesty period for maybe one assignment
- High-stakes assignments
- Instead: Include low-stakes or moderate stakes assignments to build students’ skills and confidence
- Assignments without an explanation of their purpose
- Instead: Provide a “why you are doing this” explanation
- Not participating in discussion boards
- Instead: Get in the discussion to model responses and connect your experience with what they are learning
Fetzner, M. (2013). What do unsuccessful online students want us to know? Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 17(1), 1-27.
Goyak. A.M. (2020, November 18). Five easy ideas to build bridges to your online learners.
Jackson, S.H. (2019). Student questions: A path to engagement and social presence in the classroom. Journal of Educators Online, 16(1)
Sharoff, L. (2019). Creative and innovative online teaching strategies: Facilitation for active participation. Journal of Educators Online, 16(2), 1-9.
You can keep your students engaged with your course by implementing active learning strategies. Check out our free eBook to learn more!