Student Engagement and Why It Matters, Part II

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johnson By Bruce A. Johnson, Ph.D., MBA

In the first blog of this series there were definitions of student engagement provided, an instructor’s role in the process of engagement was considered, and the following questions were asked: Does active involvement equal engagement? What does student engagement mean to you and to your class? This follow up blog will examine engagement from the perspective of an online classroom and provide methods for developing student engagement that any instructor can utilize.

Student Engagement in an Online Classroom

Adults that are introverts by nature find that they can easily adapt to the online classroom; whereas, adults that are extroverts and rely upon a strong, personal connection may find the process of learning through a technology-enabled platform more challenging. The online student’s engagement in the class is encouraged through the use of discussion boards and asynchronous interactions with his or her instructor. Peak engagement is demonstrated during class discussions when students are actively participating, sharing knowledge and ideas, utilizing critical thinking skills, and exceeding the minimum participation requirement.

It is also possible for students to demonstrate peak engagement with their written assignments, especially when their assignments show depth through the use of critical thinking, development of new ideas that are supported by research, and an application of course concepts to the real world. Peak engagement may also be evident when students are interested in collaborating with other students and they are communicating with their instructor about their progress, concerns, or challenges along the way.

Encouraging Student Engagement

Factors that frequently influence student engagement in any classroom environment include family and career responsibilities, along with their attitude, prior class experiences, and perceptions about the class, their instructor, and the ability of the course to meet their needs. An instructor can take a pro-active approach and encourage student engagement through the following techniques.

Develop Positive Interactions
Students who have negative interactions with their instructor or other students may retreat from the class or withdraw their active engagement from the class in retaliation for what they have experienced or how they have perceived a particular incident. As noted within the article Drivers of Persistence by the New England Literacy Resource Center, “it is human nature that when we feel welcomed, respected, and develop a sense of belonging, we are more apt to return to the setting or endeavor than when those factors are not present.” Instructors set the overall tone from the first day of class and every subsequent interaction with their students.

Make Learning Relevant
Dr. Richard Jones reminds instructors that “relevance can help create conditions and motivation necessary for students to make the personal investment required for rigorous work or optimal learning,” and that “students invest more of themselves, work harder, and learn better when the topic is interesting and connected to something that they already know.” Class discussions provide an opportunity to add relevance as an instructor can connect students to the course topics by sharing real world examples, their own experiences, and supplemental resources that bring the course topics to life.

In the third and final part of this series additional methods of encouraging student engagement will be discussed and the questions posed at the beginning of this blog series will be evaluated.

About the Mentor: Dr. Bruce Johnson has had a life-long love of learning and throughout his entire career he has been involved in many forms of adult education; including teaching, training, human resource development, coaching, and mentoring. Dr. J has completed a master’s in Business Administration and a PhD in the field of adult education, with an emphasis in adult learning within an online classroom environment. Presently Dr. J works as an online adjunct instructor, faculty developmental workshop facilitator, and faculty mentor.

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