How to Promote Student Interaction in Online Courses (CTL Report #5)

Photo by Compare Fibre on Unsplash

I attended the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) workshop titled Humanizing Your Online Course: Strategies to Promote Learner Interaction in Online Courses on April 19th, 2021. The description for this workshop is below:

“In online courses, creating a human connection is important to deal with the emotional distraction that prevents students from performing to their full potential (Jaggars & Xu, 2016). Collaborative work can help build a learning community that encourages critical thinking, provides cognitive support to learners, and promotes a deeper understanding of the material. This session will share research-based strategies for creating socially interactive learning in online environments. Strategies include team-based projects, collaborative work, discussion formats, and peer reviews to enhance learner-learner interaction.”

In this workshop, Ayesha Sadaf, presented on strategies to promote student interaction within online courses. With the Covid-19 pandemic, most (if not all) courses had to quickly adjust and switch to online formats. But this switch also brought about its own set of challenges. There is an importance in student engagement and collaborate learning experiences, but how could we continue to encourage this when everything is online?

The first strategy discussed was to design interaction. To do this, the following steps were given:

  1. Identify the learning objectives for both the overall course and the individual module(s);
  2. Identify the core concepts that students need to learn;
  3. Select the activities and the tools to foster interaction; and
  4. Provide detailed instructions, guidelines, and evaluation criteria.

Not only are we choosing activities and tools to help encourage interaction, but it is also so important to design the overall learning goals first. Then the interactions can be designed around those goals.

Next, various strategies were presented to help foster learner-learner interaction:

  • Have an introductory discussion. This could, for example, include some ice breaker activities to get students talking to talking.
  • Use various class activities (strategies) that require interaction. Some examples given were having case-based discussions, role-play, debates, and brainstorming.
  • Create discussion questions to encourage student responses, questions, more discussions, and reflections.
  • Encourage students to share their work. Sharing work can also be a great way to learn — students get to see other ways of working through problems while also explaining their own methods.
  • Use team-based projects or assignments.
  • Incorporate peer feedback on projects.

At the end of the discussion, it was also mentioned that the success of the activity and overall learning experience depends on both the “nature of an interaction” and “how [that] interaction is facilitated.” In online formats, these interactions would need to be facilitated through some technological medium, and so some adjustments may need to be made as compared to in-person classes. We also need to remember that the interaction “must serve an instructional purpose” – we should not get caught up in the technology and forget the initial learning goals.

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