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Adding engagement to your online course

Posted at 10:10 a.m. March 4, 2015, by in IDT Blog: Teaching & Tech Tips, Teaching Online

Engaging with students can pose a challenge in an online course, but it is perhaps the most important factor in ensuring student success. Our students report high levels of satisfaction in courses in which they feel “heard” by the professor and a part of a community with their fellow students. For undergraduates especially, feelings of isolation can lead to lowered motivation and even withdrawal from the class. We can help you create a rich learning community online!

Below are some simple steps you can take to increase student engagement in your online course. Some of these methods are best prepared before the semester starts; others are steps you can take while the class is running. Click on each method below to expand its description.

Before the semester begins:

  1. Create a course tour
    Use a screencasting application such as Screencast-o-matic to record a “course tour” of your Sakai or eCollege site.  In this tour, explain how students are expected to navigate the site, how each tool will be used in the site, and where students can find contact information. It might be helpful to show students how to do basic tasks, such as posting in discussion forums or uploading homework assignments.
  2. Create a syllabus quiz
    Create a syllabus quiz which the students will be required to take on the first day or two of class. The questions on this quiz should not be difficult, and it should only be worth a couple of points, but having the quiz will serve a few purposes. It will ensure students log into the class and get started right away and show you any students who haven’t done so. It will force students to review the syllabus and give them low-stakes practice using the quizzing feature in Sakai/eCollege, which is helpful if they have not used the tool before.
  3. Create an introductions discussion
    Create a discussion board for introductions, which students should complete in the first week. Ask students to introduce themselves (perhaps give a brief background on their family, academic major, where they are from) and what interests them about the class. Serve as an active participant in the discussion as it is running.
  4. Set communication guidelines in the syllabus
    In your syllabus, clearly set communication guidelines for the student. Encourage students to post any general questions to the “General Questions/Comments” discussion board in the course, and to answer their classmates’ questions. You should also monitor this forum, but pointing students to this resource will encourage interaction among students. Specify that any private matters should be handled over email. Inform students the timeframe during which they can expect a reply (usually between 24 and 48 hours).

During the semester:

  1. Send a welcome announcement/email
    On the first day of the semester (or perhaps even shortly before the semester begins), send out a welcome email to students informing them when the class begins and what their first steps should be. Inform them of how they can log into the course and by when their first assignment should be completed.
  2. Communicate with students multiple times a week (perhaps sometimes using video)
    Send the students frequent updates using the Announcements tool in Sakai, or a combination of the announcements and email tool in eCollege. These announcements should be sent 2-3 times per week, and could include generalized feedback on assignments (“It looks like many students struggled on this week’s quiz, make sure you are completing the reading…”), reminders (“Your discussion posts are due tonight at 5pm”), or connect course content to current events. On your Sakai/eCollege site, you could also post a video message to the class occasionally to add a personal touch to this feedback. If your computer has a built in webcam, applications such as make it easy to record short videos, save them, and post them to your course site
  3. Provide opportunities for live interaction
    Using Adobe Connect (Sakai) or ClassLive (eCollege), provide students with optional occasions for live interaction. You could host online office hours or a review session before an upcoming exam. Both Sakai & eCollege also have a text chat feature, which can be used for a lower-tech version of live interaction.
  4. Participate in course discussions
    It’s important to participate in course discussions, as it will help students feel that their contributions have meaning. Try to respond to a handful of students each week by giving thoughtful, personalized feedback to their discussion posts. Keeping up with discussion posts in this way will also make grading discussions go faster, as you’ll be familiar with the posts from reading them throughout the week.
  5. Provide individualized assignment feedback
    Outside of discussion posts, any larger assessments (essays, exams with open-ended questions, presentations) should contain individualized feedback for students. This should be done in a timely manner. Once the assessment is graded, inform the students using announcements that the assignment feedback is available. Explain where they can access the feedback.


Not sure how to carry out the suggestions above? Want more tips on how to add interactivity or engagement to your online course? Don’t hesitate to contact our office at or at (856) 225-6090. We can set up an individualized consultation to assist you in developing your plans.

Adapted from Faculty Workshop’s 10 Ways to Increase Student Engagement Online

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