Promoting Participation and Interaction
that offer opportunities for student participation and interaction are
rated higher both in quality of learning and overall student
satisfaction with the online experience. In planning your course, focus
on finding the right balance between individual and collaborative
learning. Peters and Armstrong (1998) propose three types of teaching
and learning in their article “Collaborative Learning: People
Laboring Together to Construct Knowledge.” All three can be
carried out online to provide a mix of content and interaction:
- Teach by transmission, learn by reception
This is generally carried out in a lecture or reading activity.
- Teach by transmission, learn by sharing
This is accomplished by students sharing their views together in activities such as discussions.
- Learner to learner, learner to group, group to learner
this type the teacher is a participant in the learning experience.
Everyone in the group has knowledge to share and takes responsibility
for what happens in the teaching-learning experience.
The level and quality of participation and interaction in your online course will depend primarily on two factors:
- Course design – a course structured for active learning can draw in all students, even those who are shy and reluctant.
- Student dynamics – group dynamics differs from class to class.
Other factors that affect the amount of participation in an online course are:
- Class size – the larger the class, the more difficult it is to provide opportunities for interaction.
- Balance between student-centered and instructor-led activities – a course delivered from a “sage on the stage” perspective will limit opportunities for participation.
- Clear guidelines for student participation – spell out your expectations for quality and quantity of participation.
- Evaluation criteria – make participation required and graded.
How can you promote participation and interaction in your online course? Consider the following strategies from Blackboard:
a technical help page that includes things like hardware requirements,
where to get an email account, support numbers, etc.
- Set clear expectations for the learners of the course in terms of participation, assignments, readings, and out-of-class work.
- Establish clear norms for participation and procedures for grading online work; give credit for good participation.
- Set rules and standards for good "netiquette" within the discussion forums.
- Encourage communication among the participants of the class about the online learning experience.
all students are comfortable with technology. Therefore, it becomes
necessary to create assignments early in the course that will help
facilitate a student’s comfort level. For example, have learners
edit their homepage, scan a photo and insert it into their homepage,
send an email, post to a discussion forum, participate in a chat, etc.
Get them actively involved in using the technology.
- Create a
discussion forum that allows students to openly discuss topics of
interest to them. For example, encourage them to discuss things like
popular music or movies online. Allow them the freedom to participate
and encourage them to do so. This has two side effects: one, it
necessitates that they use the computer to participate and two; it
encourages them to meet one another online.
- Be an active
facilitator of the discussion forum. Plan on adding one new topic to
the discussion board each week. To achieve maximum participation,
present topics that require responses from students that are concise,
critical, and substantiated by facts. Monitor and respond to student
threads and encourage students to do the same.
assignments, activities, or projects that permit students to "actively
construct" knowledge when interacting with the information from the
course. Create discussion threads that incorporate hypothetical
scenarios, case studies, or theoretical conflicts to fuel discussions.
you choose to hold "Virtual Office Hours," be sure to be online and
available at the announced time. Not showing up for "Virtual Office
Hours" is no different than not showing up for established office hours
- Develop a timeline for adding content to the
course. You want to engage learners with one chapter at a time. If too
much information is available, the students will not focus on the
chapter, unit, or module at hand.
- When using a computer to
learn, learning itself becomes an active process of seeking out
information and constructing that information into an internal
representation of that information/knowledge. Try and balance the
amount of guidance provided while permitting students the flexibility
to explore and navigate your materials freely to construct their own
- Evaluation is an extremely important
component of the development and delivery of any online course. It is
important that you take the time to prepare thorough surveys or
questionnaires to gauge students’ reaction to learning in an
online environment. Descriptions of their experiences will help you
shape the next online course that you create.
responsive to questions posted online. Especially at the beginning of
an online course or activity, ensure that every comment has a response
in a discussion forum or virtual chat. If no one else replies, either
respond by message or by mentioning the author's comment in one of
- For the discussion forum component of the course, send
email messages to those who are falling behind, or who are reading but
- When students log into their online course they
can't help but see the Announcements you post. Use the Announcements
section of Blackboard to notify them of changes to the content,
timelines, deadlines, etc.
- Encourage meta-communication about
the process of online discussions and offer suggestions for improving
the experience for all the participants.
course that is easy to navigate and provide easy access to
- Provide students with
thorough information and training on the communication tools they will
be required to use.
- Provide simple rules for
- Use Blackboard
Announcement area to post regular weekly communication and special
changes and updates, to clarify the syllabus and schedules, to remind
students about due dates and special events, to note computer access
problems. Be redundant by using email and discussion board to
distribute important news.
- Set rules for email to
prevent a deluge of messages – There is no need to respond to
the same question over and over. Students should use email for personal
and confidential communication only; other messages should be posted to
the common classroom space.
- Set up a separate
discussion forum for asking questions about the class – Ask
students to wait 24 hours before following up with email.
a separate forum for peer support and networking activities.
class discussion forums by topic or week and consider limiting time
students can add comments to the forum.
- Use chat
for online office hours or a question and answer session.
students to use the digital drop box to submit assignments.
privacy of student work, discussion comments and grades is protected by
law. Remember to ensure both your students' and your own privacy online.
- Password protect communications areas.
- Do not distribute students’ work outside of the classroom without permission.
- Be alert because your own contributions can be distributed outside of the classroom by students.
- Do not give out home phone numbers.
Print this page