Increasing interaction in my online courses is one of those topics that I keep thinking about. On one hand, I want my online and remote students engaged in the course because otherwise, they drop out or under-perform, but on the other hand, I also want to minimize the amount of interaction I have to put in, to make the course feasible in my schedule.
Hodges et al (2020) brought up three different modes of interaction that are relevant in all teaching, but especially in online: student-content, student-student and student-teacher. They bring out the thought that it is important to support different kinds of interaction, not just student-teacher. All of these interactions can aid in the students social and cognitive learning process, it is not just a matter of more teacher-time.
In my online teaching today I think a lot about the student-teacher interaction and how little of that we have and if it is feasible to have more. If I look at my course in Team leadership, the student-teacher interaction has gone down. When the course was given five or seven years ago, it included a voluntary, live feedback session on a group project and a live final seminar about this project. Looking at how the course is structured, both these student-teacher interaction events have been removed, mainly because of lacking participation and negative student feedback. I recognize that there is little value in holding feedback sessions that no one attends, or seminars where students show up unprepared and unwilling to discuss. I do however wonder if it would make a difference if we held these seminars or feedback sessions at the beginning of the 20-week long course, instead of at the very end. By the end of the course, the students are set in their communities and in their practices for the course and it is difficult to change them. Maybe setting up live sessions in the beginning where the students can ask questions would be an option.
When it comes to student-student interaction, this has to be facilited by me as a teacher. I do this by requiring the students to work together. In the courses I give online, most are asynchronous, and the expectation going into the course is often that the student can complete it without interaction with others, or with minial interaction. Instead, inline with communtities of practice and collaborating online (Wenger, 2014), I have the students form relatively big groups (5 people) and do several assignments together throughout the semester. So far it seems to have worked well, I did it the first time in 2022 and even though the total drop-out rate is about the same as similar courses at my university (about 50%) the students overall performed better than in other online courses and there were fewer issues. In another course the students work in pairs, which I believe is to small a group. As soon as the student collaboration encounter a problem, the pair constellations are quick to try and desolve the collaboration and seek help from me as a teacher to do so. In comparison the groups of five seem more inclined to resolve conflicts and then inform me on how they want to move forward. This indicates that working in groups not only improves the overall performance of the students, but that it also lets them practice their inter-personal skills (Kay & Hunter, 2022), which allows for deeper learning.
The last form of interaction, student-content, is the one where I see most improvement possibility when it comes to my existing courses. At the moment the interaction format differs very little between a synchronous on-site course and an asynchronous, online course. I provide students with reading material and they are tasked with working up content in groups and individually, but I have very little insight into their processes. I have tried to include tools where students can comment and ask questions directly in pdf:s, but these have not been used at all. Here I would say that I could improve in my current practices; integrate interaction with the content in better ways. For example the students do “retention-quizzes” in one of my online courses, as a way of checking that they have grasped the basic concepts in each part. This could probably be developed into more of a quiz, combined with a discussion on those topics that are less well understood. Or if I had the opportunity and the LMS permitting, to include more gamified elements into the courses, as a way of interacting specifically with the content.
I think that in our group work for topic 4 the focus became largely on MOOCs. Since that is currently not within the scope of my teaching ability or possibility, I have focused on reflecting on how I can improve interaction in my asynchronous online courses – given that interaction is central to students learning the content of the courses, as well as them learning necessary skills to collaborate online and be creative (Kay & Hunter, 2022).
Hodges, C. et.al (2020). The Difference Between Emergency Remote Teaching and Online Learning. EDUCAUSE review.
Kay, R., H. & Hunter, W. J. (Eds.). (2022). Thriving online: A guide for busy educators. Ontario TechUniversity
Wenger, E. (2010). Communities of practice and social learning systems: the career of a concept. In Social learning systems and communities of practice (pp. 179-198). Springer London.
One response to “Increasing interaction in online learning”
You start off this topic by raising the difficult balance between interaction and teacher time. This makes me wonder if you somehow can use the students as resources here. Do you need to be “everywhere”? This is also what you point out through Hodges. You then find a possible way by designing more interaction earlier in the course. And could I ask; Would it be a good thing to build in student interaction between groups more continuously in the course? And: Do you need to be there as a teacher all these times?
Then you tell the story on how you have tried working with students in groups and that this may have really contributed to the students’ learning. This sounds great and I’d love to hear also what the students are thinking.
In the student-content interaction you make some suggestions for improvement, but here you are discussion this as an individual ride: Do you want it to be? Or is the content also a group process?