Modeling Engagement to Encourage Engagement

--Originally published at Flipped Learning

I am often asked by faculty on our campus how to better support engagement in an online class. While many know the question has multiple layers, it is often easiest answered by asking faculty what they are doing to model engagement? If we pretend students will engage themselves in content I provide as an instructor, we are sadly mistaken. Engagement takes intentional action by an instructor, and modeling, so that students feel safe and welcome to share thoughts, ideas, questions, and concerns. What does this mean for an instructor? Honestly, it means more work than a traditional in-person class, as well as risk-taking in the form of putting yourself out there as an instructor.

Like any class, the tone you set from day 1 goes a long way in establishing your class norms. Why not start an online class with a self-made video that shares who you are, why you teach, and what you are passionate about. Putting a face to the instructor of the class helps to open the door for engagement to begin. The more you are willing to model engagement as an instructor, the more likely students are willing to step out of their own comfort zone. And as students begin to explore the class content with you, the level of engagement will increase, allowing you to use student voice as an assessment tool.

Interactive tools, such as Flipgrid, have changed the way classroom discussions and student engagement can be shared and assessed. In an effort to replace dry, text based discussions, Flipgrid is giving students the opportunity to share their reflections and questions via VIDEO! Instructors provide question prompts, web resources, video links, and more for the students to react to. Students create 90 second - 5 minute video reflections. Advanced features allow students to respond, react, and create video responses to classmates' posts. In an online class where students rarely 'see' each other, Flipgrid has provided the opportunity for an online class to come to life.

Instructors can assess student responses, engagement time, and content by reviewing videos as well. The once in-class discussion can now take place in the online environment with all students participating. Mix in an instructor response or funny video clip and students begin to feel like they belong to a community of learning. Mix in the ease of use and Flipgrid brings engagement and assessment to a whole new level for online learning.

While there are numerous tools that exist for video discussion and engagement (VoiceThread is another excellent example!), the responsibility of engagement falls at the feet of every instructor. We cannot expect students to continue to learn and be engaged using the same resources we have for the last 10-15 years. We must be willing to explore, adapt, and listen to what our students are saying. We must be willing to model the way, encourage our students throughout the process, and empower them to understand that learning is not always about knowing an answer - it's about knowing what to do when they don't know the answer!

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