Teaching & Learning

Enlivening Techniques and Fostering Interaction

Engagement techniques

Learning activities to foster interaction

The course communications design should allow the instructor to be present, active, and engaged with the students. Students should know that the instructor is approachable and will regularly interact with them.

Online courses should include interaction between the instructor and the students, student to student, and between the students and the content. The degree and type of student-to-student interaction may vary with the discipline and the level of the course.

Examples of learning activities that foster the following types of interaction:

  • Instructor-student (consider for ALL courses): Self-introduction; discussion postings and responses; feedback on project assignments; evidence of one-to-one e-mail communication, etc.
  • Student-content (consider for ALL courses): Essays, term papers, group projects, etc. based on readings, videos, and other course content; self-assessment exercises; group work products, etc.
  • Student-student (if appropriate): Self-introduction exercise; group discussion postings; group projects; peer critiques, etc.

Enlivening techniques

Ice breakers

Ice breakers serve many purposes, including creating an open and pleasant environment, fostering group familiarity, and encouraging involvement. Examples of online ice breakers may range from posting reasons for enrolling in the course, writing brief bios, responding to other students' posts, to discovering interests about classmates, introducing a partner, finding commonalities, and coming up with self-portraits.

Engagement questions

Engagement questions are used to introduce a topic and/or to stimulate thought and discussion. An engagement question may take the form of a short video clip, an intriguing photograph, a case study scenario, or a class opinion poll.

Treasure hunt

A list of questions for students can jump start the student's exploration of the site or a topic. A treasure hunt can cover key information in the syllabus, technology requirements, subject matter and can even help enrich the course content if you have the students collect external resources.

Embedded questions

As you might during a lecture, you can intersperse course content with periodic questions to test their understanding and remind them of the key points. These can be practice questions to have students quickly apply what they have just learned or simple surveys of points covered so far. These short questions keep the students on track by prompting them to reflect on what they have learned, attempt to answer the question, and then receive immediate feedback.

Case studies

Case studies are most applicable to seminar style courses, where the interaction between students and faculty in and out of groups is essential. Mini case studies can be used in a course unit to better illustrate a concept or mental model, and a larger case study used as a unit in itself. Case studies, therefore, can be as short as 5 minutes or as long as a 3-4 week unit.

Research has suggested that using a case study format online may exceed the benefits of one in the classroom in that the information sources are more easily accessible online, and the flexibility of time given to background research and writing helps bring out well articulated thoughts, improved quality of information and comprehension, and facilitate group work. Case studies have also been shown to increase student involvement in using the Web as a resource for their profession, due to their need to find and investigate information as they look for answers and justifications for their decisions.

Games and simulations

Laboratory experiment, role play and long-term scenario simulations enable students to formulate hypotheses, vary parameters and observe outcomes. Well formulated games teach facts, skills, behaviors, conceptual ideas and theoretical frameworks while making the learning process fun and challenging for the students. As they are usually comprised of complex models and steps with their custom design and user interface, they take a long time to develop. Plan early -preferrably half a year to a year in advance.

Student contribution

The inclusion of student contribution in the class can be translated to online approaches in various ways. They can gather sites and articles to build an online resource center, share news and current events, discuss the topics and links, talk about how the material applies to their lives, and collaborate in teams to research and present summaries of the subject matter.

There are many different ways for instructors to gather student opinions to generate discussion topics. LMSs have options including polls, surveys and discussion forums. Polls can be used to stimulate discussion, assess student attitudes and reflect the makeup of your class. It is possible to generate statistics from a survey or poll, and then share the results with the class.

Many times these contributions can help enrich the content for subsequent semesters. If you decide to use them, remember to seek permission from the students and 'curate' the links (verify that they are live and write a short comment on their use).

Role play or debate

If you are looking for a different use for discussion forums, consider holding a debate or role play exercise. When using forums for a debate you will often find that a structured excercise is easier to participate in and follow than a free-form debate. For example, give each side a time period in which to construct and post a polished argument. Then give each side a time period in which to construct and post a rebuttal. After one or two rounds of rebuttals you can open up the forum for more free-form responses. Using forums for role play exercises can be an effective way of getting your students to view a situation or concept from a different perspective.

Image credit: RLHyde, "Ever the Optimist"