With over 70 learning styles, approaches and traits developed by educational scholars reach on-line learners in an environment that can sometimes be considered isolated? This can be achieved by engaging the learner. “Personal interaction is crucial to the success of all forms of teaching and learning.” (p. 255) Computer-supported learning allows for the kinds of interaction, but technology itself does not promote interaction. “Technology requires human intervention in design and instruction to assure strong student engagement in networked settings.” (p. 255)
Setting the stage, or the course, starts right at the very beginning. For example, most courses are designed to include an ice breaker. “The icebreaker activity was a comfortable way to quickly get involved in the course. It was an authentic way to get us actively engaged from the get-go.” (p. 258) This allows students to give a brief introduction about themselves. I have been in courses where some of the icebreaker included questions that were directly related to the course, questions about previous experience or knowledge in the topic/content area, and even a top 5 list that included a little bit of both. Having the icebreaker allows the instructor to find out about the learners, and the learners to find out about their peers. It built an immediate sense of community within the course. Often there is a commonality in likes and interests that can enhance exchanges.
In two of my previous courses, I used Wimba and VoiceThreads for my Italian class and Digital Photography class here at ESC. In Italian, the use of Wimba was essential in the course (or other platforms with the same abilities). Being able to write in another language is one thing, but being able to speak it requires a lot more practice. Here we had immediate feedback from our professor on our pronunciation. But do I think this medium would work in all course scenarios? Not really. I do believe that Wimba, “helped create a personal dimension in dialogue with the instructor.” (p. 261) It also led to a bit of personal connection with others in the course because we would typically “meet” about 10 minutes before the course, and then possibly chat a little after the course. The use of VoiceThreads was a little different. We were to create a multimedia presentation that included text, audio and visual. It was not a live interaction, but taped. This was an interesting site to use because depending on the project, individuals can post audio responses to a weekly discussion or to a project. I can see this being useful in a photography course where people can add their weekly critiques in audio.
According to Henri (1991) if one wishes to know what students think about something, find different, safe ways to ask them about that particular thing. In addition to questioning students, the authors outline several possibilities to assess engagement in online learning.
Transcript analysis: Using transcript analysis, one that is assessing decides on what information is desired. They could be looking for evidence of collective construction of knowledge, evidence of critical thinking, social engagement, depth of dialogue or substantive analysis of course content. What matters is that the assessor knows what they are looking for so they can develop a coding system which will accurately produce the answers geared to informational categories.
Third-party interview: A means to seek “richer, thicker” insights into student perceptions about particular instructional purposes. The interview can be conducted with an unbiased faculty colleague, a teaching assistant or peer student. One that understands the course and it intentions, but doesn’t have a vested interest in the responses or identity of those making the responses.
LMS “log counts”: Offer unqualified counts. They do not indicate anything about content, relevance, scholarship or responsiveness to instructional purpose of the student postings.
Outside the formal assessment box: For ethical reasons, private student emails and private chat rooms/virtual cafes should not be viewed by the instructor. Keep to third-party interviews or anonymous surveys.
Ethics: Elements of trust (confidentiality, anonymity and intellectual honesty) is interpreting the information extracted from the sources. No information should be directly related to a student.
LeBaron, J. & Bennett, C. Practical Strategies for Assessing the Quality of Collaborative Learner Engagement. E-Learning Technologies and Evidence-Based Assessment Approaches. Information Science Reference.(254 – 267)