In the June 2010 issue of the Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, Marcia D. Dixson investigates “Creating Effective Student Engagement in Online Courses: What do Students Find Engaging?”
Her results are encouraging in terms of the traditional types of assignments that students note as engaging:
Students reported a number of types of activities as engaging. These included application activities (having to apply the concepts to case studies or problem solving); discussion forums about the concepts, labs and group projects, research papers, and current events assignments. (5)
Though we often think of some of the technologies we faculty use online as engaging, it turns out that while we may be engaged as we create videos, PowerPoints and such, watching them is a passive activity for students. But do not despair, yet; the study found that “no significant difference in student engagement levels between those reporting active vs. passive activities indicates that a myriad of content activities can be used to engage students in online courses” (7).
So, what lights that spark of engagement? I’m not surprised that communication and interaction (student-content, student-student, and student-instructor) is the key. Your course may look dazzling or dull to the outside observer, but to students, it’s the communication that holds interest. Should we be surprised in an age where online social networking has caught such deep engagement in our everyday lives?