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From Lurking to Learning: 5 Keys to Student Engagement Online

June 6, 2018

As someone who relies (maybe too much) on charisma, improvisation and high-levels of student engagement...this probably will be painful.  


I and my colleagues are developing a new online graduate certificate in Business Sustainability Strategy (launching Spring 2019). Having never taught online before, I am working closely with Smeal's excellent eLDIG office, our instructional design team.


My teaching philosophy is that knowledge is made not received. I am told this is in the constructivist camp of learning theory (see graphic).  Whatever we call it, I expect a real challenge ahead for myself. I rely heavily on student feedback and nonverbal cues and rapport. I prefer and believe in personal interaction. 


I am interested in business models that create a better world.  So part of what we look for are outcomes that improve the quality of life of marginalized people through improved access to, for example, education and healthcare. So I am compelled by the potential to increase access to education and close achievement gaps provided by online education. Unfortunately, this may not be what is least not yet. Research suggests online education does not necessarily close achievement gaps and could make them worse:


"If technologies can draw in otherwise disenfranchised students through the personalization of material to a student’s interest or through gaming technology, they can benefit poor students and reduce achievement gaps. Alternatively, however, if the technologies increase reliance on students’ internal motivation or require the oversight of adults, they may exacerbate achievement gaps." (Jacob et al, 2016)


The paper has some good tips which I won't go into hear. Bottom line is that we can do online education in a way that serves the "bottom of the pyramid." And the base of the pyramid is a quickly growing market.


In 2017, the global market for online education reached an $255 billion and continues to expand rapidly (World Economic Forum).


"Last year $172 milion was made off of just online coding bootcamps... that’s just one segment of the online education market that made $172 million. It’s a boom time for teachers right now." (


So I am jumping in. I have ordered a couple books and found some good tips to share with the TBL community. 


What Works - Tips from Instructors (WVU)

We have collected the following tips from discussions and interactions with instructors who teach online:

  • peer review of work provides authentic audience and valuable feedback

  • assigned discussion questions focuses the discussion and requires student participation

  • frequent quizzes and short answer essays keeps students engaged and reduces procrastination

  • success is in the details (provide lots of directions and be very explicit)

  • student partners (allow students to guide direction of some course elements)

  • control pace (close units after allotted time, make quizzes available/unavailable, require completion of one unit before going on to t