Digital Engagement

Greg Campbell, Assistant Professor, Community College of Baltimore County and Deputy Executive Director, Community College Humanities Association

Initial Steps

Have a solid introductory area where you first introduce yourself and then the course.  The online setting isn’t really different space when compared to the physical classroom, so try to maintain that as a driving motivator when thinking about the online class.

Intro yourself with a basic video. DO NOT make it super flashy with high production value. Focus on authenticity and being yourself.  Your face-to-face intro isn’t over the top, so why would this be? The authenticity matters, especially in lower-level classes for which it may be a student’s first online class.  Knowing that you are a real person, really there, can help put them at ease as this might be out of the comfort level of many students.

Get a Google Voice number and give it to your students and let them call you or text you on it. I am only contacted this way 2–3 times per week, but the students like knowing that I am accessible and not some digital apparition.

Create an early quiz on the syllabus or something similar that is very low stakes but that also uses every kind of question type that you will use in online assessments. If you give digital quizzes that use machine or fill-in-the blank, mimic these for your syllabus quiz.  This familiarizes students with the systems you use while the stakes are low. Then, come quiz or test time, it’s nothing new and you have worked out any issues students had before the stakes are elevated.

Do the same with a discussion board, blog, or whatever tools you utilize to get low-stakes familiarity in place. 

Ongoing

Create chunks of information.  I like to do 2–3 readings, followed by a 5–7 minute video that relates to these, followed by a quiz, discussion board, or other form of lower-stakes assessment. I’ll generally have 2–4 chunks like this per week/module depending on the course. This means that students can have regular stopping points along the way and don’t need to do a week’s worth of work in a single sitting.

If you make more videos, make them human and familiar without doing anything that will make the videos unusable in the future.  If you are talking about a newspaper article that was published yesterday, do not say exactly when it was published (as in “this came out yesterday”). Instead, say things like “this is a more recent article”. If you say “yesterday” the video is out of date by tomorrow.  By saying “recent”, you’re good for at least a few semesters. So, don’t even mention the weather! “It’s hot out there today” is a glaring problem when you teach the class over winter session! Plus, videos like this can be used in face-to-face classes. My MLA-format videos are even deployed in upper-level face-to-face classes in case students need a refresher as I don’t want to use precious class time on what they should already know. Lastly, wear the same or a similar shirt in all of the videos. If you are wearing a sweater in a video in a summer class, it’s going to look weird. 

Discussion boards and quizzes should not just be created to have two components: one based on the reading and one based on the video related to the reading. You want the discussions to require making connections amongst the different readings and to get the students to incorporate student-based inquiry into these subjects to show they understand the topic while also strengthening their grasp of the topic. This keeps the students more involved as they need to complete all of the work and can’t just do one or the other. 

Remember to have some fun, too, just like you would in a face-to-face class. Online education can feel like a void and empty place, but you can prevent that by adding in some personality wherever you can.

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