This guide will help you to design teaching strategies using Learning Space and MS Teams that will enable you to foster strong student engagement and learning with a large online cohort. Taking inspiration from MOOC teaching methods and connectivist pedagogy, the guide’s focus will be on designing networked learning that will keep large cohorts of students motivated and enthused about their subject throughout your module.
Networked learning is a process of developing and maintaining connections with people and information, and communicating in such a way so as to support one another's learning. The central term in this definition is connections. It takes a relational stance in which learning takes place both in relation to others and in relation to learning resources.
There are three sections to this guide:
- How to design the right module environment to engage large online cohorts by developing a community of practice needed to make all students feel welcome on the module.
- How to design and deliver educational experiences for optimal engagement with a large online cohort.
- How you can mitigate some of the most common obstacles to engagement you may encounter when working with large cohorts online.
- How to set up a strong social module environment
- How to design the learning for large cohorts
- Module engagement barriers
- Further Support
How to set up a strong social module environment
Student perceptions of the academic can be particularly challenging to deal with given that in large classes, it is more difficult to have meaningful exchanges with every student. It’s important to build a community online and cultivate a sense of belonging to the module as engagement increases when students feel like they are ‘part of something’ with like-minded people. Researchers found that when an online course included an online community component, it really enhances the learning experience. Students should have opportunities to connect with academics and peers, discuss coursework, help each other through struggles, share ideas, and, most importantly, become more engaged in the community.
Be present (but not omnipresent). Regular communications from you as the academic, and constant encouragement to engage with peers in the student cohort will make your online course a lively and engaging place to be. And keep your students coming back for more.
Get to know your students. Ask them about their interests at the beginning of the study block using the questionnaire tool in Learning Space. Think about how you can incorporate this information into your sessions or talk about how the course will help them achieve their goals.
Make first contact before the course begins. Introduce yourself and provide instructions on how to get started. Add a personal touch by including a short video message relaying the same information so students can get a sense of your personality.
Create an introductory activity. Connect your students with each other and make them feel like they’re part of a community. Create a simple Learning Space discussion forum for introductions. You can also ask students to upload a picture to their Teams profile.
Encourage social integration (The water cooler factor). Provide a space for students to chat to each other and engage with the course material informally using a discussion tool or forum. An online environment must actively provide engagement opportunities to aid a student’s sense of belonging and student retention. Opportunities for engagement with peers and lecturers should be maximised in the online learning environment, and one of your key roles as an academic is to facilitate those spaces with precision, passion and flair. Use Teams.
Actively encourage students to have their cameras on for tutorials as a way to build familiarity and community in the virtual tutorial spaces and ask each student who speaks to identify themselves.
Provide timely and useful feedbackTimely responses to discussion posts and email questions can help keep students on track for the next assignment or activity.
Be patient and affirmative with students in class and out. These behaviours can bolster student confidence, and more confident students are much more likely to participate in class.
Ask for feedback.Check in with large student cohorts using a questionnaire to gauge the temperature of the module content and ask how the course is going, if they feel engaged, or what changes they might suggest increasing engagement.
- If you are holding synchronous sessions, consider opening or closing the meeting by asking students to share how their week has been in the chat.
- Ask them to share a high and a low from the course content or activities so you get a sense of where they are in the moment.
- If holding asynchronous sessions, you can implement similar approaches in a discussion board forum create your own anonymous survey.
How to design the learning for large cohorts
Academic to student interaction
Adopt an asynchronous approach to the delivery of module content. Where possible, always offer asynchronous activities in a flipped classroom model as these are more flexible for large groups of students to access and work through.
- Lecture materials should now all be delivered via pre-recorded presentation and should be accompanied with the resources and/or transcript of the spoken word.
- Try to keep supporting resources to a minimum, to not overwhelm students with lots of text to digest while speaking.
Check what they know. If holding synchronous sessions, consider polls to prompt students’ concept retrieval using a tool such as Mentimeter. If you’re conducting class asynchronously with recorded lectures or videos, consider making those lectures interactive and posing questions on Learning Space.
Online formative and summative quizzes allow a more flexible, student centred approach that fosters student engagement, reinforces essential learning and reduces the resources and time required to run an assessment.
Student to student interaction
Provide opportunities for learner interaction and get Students Collaborating. Offering your students opportunities to discuss course content creates an interactive social learning environment for shared exploration and meaning-making. Build opportunities for social learning into an online course’s design. “The social context in which we learn is usually what supplies relevance—a critical element for adult learning, or andragogy—and it is by wrestling with ideas and information in a social context that we make sense of them, modify them, and make them our own.” 2
- The Learning Space discussion forums are great ways to promote student interaction. Students can share thoughts and information with the group.
- Once the discussion is going, you may want to comment on student posts, add your own thoughts, ask a thought-provoking question to further the discussion, or share how you personally connect with the topic.
- Ask Students to create content by finding real-world examples that reflect the content and then have them create a video, post in a discussion forum, or database in Learning Space for your course to share with the rest of the class.
- Create online study groups where students meet in MS Teams. The first study group could be guided by instructor-created questions and then you could challenge students to come up with future questions or further the discussion.
- In Teams based tutorial groups, students could use Wiki pages to collaboratively report back to the larger group
- Create breakout rooms (coming to MS teams Autumn 2020), in which students will work together on a task, a scenario-based problem, or developing a response to a thought-provoking discussion prompt.
- Invite students to predict what will happen next in a story, or what they think will be the result if a specific choice is made.
Vary how students interact when responding to a spark or a task activity throughout the module for enhanced engagement.
Student to course content interaction
Provide active learning opportunities – Getting students to apply what they have learnt through a task activity is a great way to engage with course content. The sooner students act on new information they have acquired, through a spark or lecture content the more likely it will stick in their long-term memory.
- Ask open-ended questions that require a higher level of reflection and thinking. Ask students to refer-back to the content in their answers—another opportunity to revisit the material.
- Synchronous activities such as discussions, debates or presentations in Teams followed up with a forum post or Learning Space activity is a pedagogically sound method to provide active learning opportunities and extend the types of learning opportunities.
- Providing examples or scenarios in a case studies through solving a problem.
- Writing a short essay or opinion piece.
- Reviewing what they’ve learned in notes or journaling or ask students silently reflect on their thoughts before anyone shares to the broader class.
- Get students explaining what they are learning to others in the class.
Add self-assessment opportunities
Provide opportunities for self-assessment, allowing students to take more responsibility for their own learning. Grading their own discussion posts, or providing input for their own grade for course participation can be a motivating experience.
- A course-based eportfolio can be used to encourage students to build their own learning journey. Students could share responses and provide feedback on each other’s work to get used to assessment practices using the Learning Space workshop feature.
Module Engagement Barriers
It is helpful to understand the factors that discourage engagement and how you might plan for unexpected scenarios.
- When delivering synchronous sessions have plans B, C and D ready to go in case technology issues occur and you cannot teach your session as planned.
- It takes longer to work through material in the online space so make sure the volume of the activity expected in each session is appropriate. For large cohorts you may need to streamline the shifts between activities and think about what is needed as a synchronous activity and what can be done asynchronously.
- Offer optional consultation times or an asynchronous forum to field questions from students about asynchronous material.
- To help you identify your students’ unique needs, check in with your students individually or consider sending them a survey to find out what is doable for them (especially Year 1).
- Students may not necessarily know how to successfully interact with others in the online learning environment since it is quite different from in-person interactions. Allow the discussions to flow among students. If active engagement is lacking, consider sending a reminder to students encouraging them to participate.
- Dirckinck-Holmfeld, L., Jones, C., and Lindström, B. (2009) Analysing Networked Learning Practices in Higher Education and Continuing Professional Development. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, BV.
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