Course design for engagement
By getting to know your students, taking into account their workload and social situation, you can increase their engagement. Similarly, the design of the course and the way you choose to communicate with students can influence engagement in the course.
Below, you can find tips that can make your work easier by:
- Understanding and getting to know your students
- Course design (constructive alignment, learning activities, student work load)
- Participation and communication
- Creating a sense of belonging
- Choosing between synchronous and asynchronous communication
By reflecting on and getting to know your current student group when planning your course, you can choose communication channels and learning activities that suit them. One way to do this is through personas, and you can use the personas below as inspiration.
Nathalie avslutade ett gymnasieskolan högskoleförberedande i juni och börjar sina studier vid högskolan samma år. Hon är singel och flyttar till Jönköping för sina studier, eftersom hon vill ta del av studentlivet. Hennes föräldrar har båda studerat vid universitet och har hjälpt henne att förbereda sig för potentiella nya utmaningar som studentlivet kan innebära.
Tarek kommer från ett land utanför EU och har flyttat till Jönköping, eftersom kandidatprogrammet han valt inte finns i sitt hemland. Han är mycket motiverad och vill få ut det mesta av sina studier men tycker att det svenska sättet att undervisa är lite förvirrande och annorlunda mot vad han är van vid.
Jonas är den första i sin familj och bland sina vänner som studerar vid universitetet. Han har en mer yrkesinriktad gymnasieexamen med kurser som gör honom behörig till det kandidatprogram som han valt. Han är 23 år och bor med sin flickvän i 6 mil från Jönköping och har bestämt sig för att pendla till sina studier.
Lisa är en 40-årig kvinna som bor i villa med sin familj (man och två aktiva, yngre barn). Lisa har en kandidatexamen och har arbetat inom sitt yrke i 15 år. Nu har hon beslutat att kombinera med sitt arbete med studier på ett masterprogram som ges på distans och med 50% studietakt. Hon kämpar för att balansera arbete, studier och familjeliv.
Nelly är ett Masterstudent i ett web-baserat program. Hon bor kvar i sitt hemland (6 timmar tidsskillnad till Sverige) men studerar vid Jönköping University. Hon har en kandidatexamen från ett erkänt universitet, men den är mer yrkesmässig och tillämpad än akademisk. Nu kombinerar hon 50% studier med arbete.
Anders har ingen tidigare högskoleutbildning och har arbetat i samma bransch i mer än 20 år. Han har nu förlorat sitt jobb vid 47 års ålder och bestämde sig för att starta en heltidsutbildning mot en ny karriär inom ett nytt yrke.
Ann-Kristin är 65+, efter sin pensionering bestämde hon sig för att använda lite av sin extra tid för personlig utveckling genom att delta i några valfria kurser utifrån eget intresse.
John har ett neuro-psykiatriskt funktionshinder och har kämpat med dyslexi sedan han började i grundskolan. Koordinator för pedagogiskt stöd har godkänt stöd från en mentor och alternativa examinationsformer för honom.
The term constructive alignment is often used to describe the close relationship between learning outcomes, assessment methods and learning activities. Constructive alignment is important regardless of how the course is offered because it means that the link between the course learning outcomes, learning activities and assessments/examinations is clearly communicated to students, who can then understand the logic of the course, feel confident and engaged. However, this may be particularly important in digital education, as there is a higher risk that students' engagement will be reduced, for example if they do not understand why they are required to complete certain modules or examinations. It may be easier for students if the course has a clear structure, for example a similar structure every week or every two weeks.
In the assessment, students show that they have reached the intended learning outcomes, and they are provided training through the learning activities chosen by the teacher.
Intended learning outcome
The student shall display knowledge and understanding of basic concepts of programming like variables, data types, iterations, conditional statements and functions
Part A in written exam
The student shall display knowledge of core concepts of object-orientation
Part B in written exam
Part C in written exam
Lecture 1-4 + Discussion
The student shall demonstrate the ability to troubleshoot and identify basic programming errors
When you have decided upon what type of learning activities should be included in your course, the next step is to plan how these can be delivered digitally. The following points can be important to consider in terms of the course’ design:
How can you avoid that student (and teachers) fall into “Zoom-fatigue”?
- Consider how many lectures and/or seminars you need to divide each learning activity into. Generally speaking, more shorter sessions are better than a few long sessions, as students will be sitting concentrated in front of the screen.
- Consider the total workload for students when you select learning activities and design the examination. If the students study several courses in parallel, could you plan the activities, deadlines and compulsory session with the teachers in other courses? This can help to limit the time spans in which students are in front of the screen as inactive participants.
How can you support the students’ engagement in the course?
- Think through when you will release different elements and pieces of information to the students, and when you will set deadlines, throughout the course. By portioning information, materials and deadlines, you can help the students to maintain engagement in the course.
- Consider when and how you should use interactive elements to support the students’ learning and engagement. There is evidence to suggest that the likelihood of students to maintain commitment and complete online courses increases if they are regularly active in the course. Thus, to demand some form of interaction or activity from students at regular basis can be important (read more about alternatives under Asynchronous and synchronous communication and Designing learning activities). Remember to plan these elements so that you as a teacher also have time to provide feedback on the students’ activities.
An example of structure and use of Canvas: PED Talk Canvas in distance education from Higher Vocational Education (starting at 9:09).
Providing a feeling of presence and communication are important aspects in online and blended education. How this can happen at the beginning of the course and during the course is described below.
At the beginning of the course
To show students how to get started straight away, you can:
- Present the study guide, the learning activities and asssesements
- Present the digital resources
- Describe how interaction takes place
To develop a mutual understanding between teachers and students on how the course occupies time and space, the following issues may be relevant to address:
- Clarify learning activities, assessments and deadlines (link to Canvas weekly overview and calendar)
- whether or not students need to collaborate with others and thus negotiate time and structure for group work
- real-time events part of the course etc.
Communicating via video as an alternative to text may increase the feeling of presence. An example of recorded announcement with positive language is available in this PED Talk from Higher Vocational Education (starting at 24:54).
During the course
There are several ways to support presence during the course, see if any of the following suit your course.
- Weekly and short announcements about what will happen in the coming week. You can try out the video format as an alternative to text to enhance the feeling of human presence.
- Resource seminars to allow students to ask questions
- "Virtual office hour" to allow students to ask questions. Schedule Zoom or Teams meetings, share link with students and add it as an optional session in the course schedule.
Consider what information is needed, as well as where, when and how it should be posted to make it clear what is relevant right now and avoid information overload.
Students need to feel safe to be able to engage and participate througout the course. Helping them getting to know one another at the start of the course and facilitating student-student interaction are two ways of making this happen.
Helping students getting to know one another
- Ask all students to write a short description of themselves and place it in Canvas prior to the course start.
- At the start of the course, divide the students into smaller groups/breakout rooms and, for instance:
- Ask the groups to identify three things the participants have in common, or
- Ask the students in the groups to tell about something they are good at.
Facilitating student-student interaction
- Set up a collaborative team for the course in Microsoft Teams for the students. In this way, students don't have to look up their own communication channel and their work and communiation stay within Canvas, close to other parts of the course. Create and post a link to the Team's page in Canvas so that all students can find it and enter directly.
- "Coffee breaks". If you use streamed seminars in Zoom, you can invite students to stay in Zoom during a break. In this way, students can engage in informal discussions.
Synchronous communication implies that there is interaction with students in real time. Choose synchronous communication for instance to
- Allow students to ask and respond to questions,
- Allow the teacher to make adjustment of the session in accordance with questions and response from the students (see Designing learning activities)
Asynchronous communication implies that there is no real time interaction, but instead you communicate in a way that students can chose when to receive your message. Choose asynchronous communication for instance to
- Allow students to obtain the information at any time (e.g. facilitating students in different time zones),
- Allow students to review the information repeatedly,
- Engage in collaborative learning: use a forum/discussion board, asking students to engage in online conversation, share their reflections and comment on each other’s input.
Choose a combination of the two:
- Offer a live session to share important information about the course in general, or guidelines for an upcoming examination and record the live session and make it available afterwards
- Flipped classroom: first ask students to review some uploaded material (e.g. recorded lectures or instructions) and then – at a given time – ask students to join an interactive session where they can collaborate and approach you.