Distance learning courses conducted through online platforms such as UTC Learn can be an extremely valuable asset to universities looking to expand their student reach. Online learning allows students to complete courses from any location and use technology sometimes not available in a traditional classroom setting. However, advantages of distance learning courses do come at a cost.
One of the greatest disadvantages is a lack of student engagement and feeling of community. Courses held in an exclusively online environment may foster a sense of anonymity and lead to student withdrawal and minimal participation. The “type” of student enrolled in a distance-learning course may play a factor as well: some students might enroll in these courses because course participation is more flexible and they believe it will require less work than a face-to-face course. Thus, disengagement may be a threat from the very beginning.
There are many ways that instructors can combat this disengagement and create a collaborative, cooperative learning community. First and foremost, course design plays a large role. Use the “Teaching Styles” function in UTC Learn to create a welcoming course environment in not only appearance, but course navigation as well. There are many options to choose from, but keep in mind your course should be easy to read and accessible. Engaging courses are easy to navigate, have a variety of assessments, and integrate multiple forms of media such as pictures, documents, and videos.
Possibly one of the biggest factors in engagement is communication, both student-to-student and instructor-to-student. Research shows a strong correlation between using multiple channels of communication and higher engagement (Crumpacker, 2001). UTC Learn offers a variety of tools to foster interaction within a course. Some tools to keep in mind include:
- Discussion Boards
- Creation of Groups
Though using these tools through UTC Learn is a great place to start, they are only as good as the work that has been put into them. Instructors can make the most of the tools by leading discussions, asking open-ended questions, providing guidance and feedback, and setting clear expectations of performance. The goal should be to facilitate self-efficacy among students and encourage enthusiasm for the course.
Online Teaching Strategies for Engagement (Blackboard): https://en-us.help.blackboard.com/Learn/9.1_Older_Versions/9.1_SP_10_and_SP_11/Instructor/010_Blackboard_Learn_Environment/Online_Teaching_Strategies
Crumpacker (2001) Faculty pedagogical approach, skill, and motivation in today’s distance education milieu. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration 4:4.