Taking the Zzz’s out of Online Learning

yawnA high achieving student turned in her final project weeks before it was due.  It sat unnoticed for a little while because I normally do not look for projects that early.  I happened to see it as I was scanning the grade center to score another assignment.  One lonely little green exclamation mark called out for attention.

My optimism soon deflated as as I clicked the link to access the project and thought, “Oh, great, another Beethoven timeline.” While a timeline was one of the final project options and there were no topic restrictions, I felt that feeling that signals decay in the quality of online teaching: boredom.

Each term a new group of students accesses your course content so for them it is fresh, but what about you?  Do you dread grading the same discussion questions that you’ve been using for the last 6 terms?  Do you skim assignments rather than offer meaningful feedback?   Has content mastery given way to participation grades?  Do you ever feel like your course is on auto pilot with you just checking in occasionally to make sure all the navigation controls are still set?  Or have you ceased to be bored because you’ve just moved on to other interests?

In the earlier scenario I described, I did manage give the project the fair attention it deserved, but it did get me thinking…  a bored instructor is more likely to bore her students. 

Teaching online is a challenge.  It’s easy to feel disconnected from our students and not engage with them as well as we could, especially since our university reaches a broad audience of students through several time zones.   Asynchronosicity often is the best approach for our courses, so, if we can’t get everyone together to Collaborate , Skype, or IM what are our options?   

How can we create meaningful learning interactions and wake up sleepy courses?  

Show your face

I’ve mentioned this before in a previous article because I think it is so important to let students get a glimpse of who you are.


  • Post a picture with your introduction
  • Post an introductory video
  • Post an occasional video lecture

          Camera shy?  Create an audio lecture and post your picture with it.   Students can see your face while hearing your voice

Let students show their faces (their personalities, their creativity, etc.)


  • Ask students to post a video introducing themselves.  Aside from traditional video, students can post a composite of photos, favorite songs, an audio or video greeting… something that shows who they are.
  • Encourage students to respond to discussion questions with a video or audio response.  Ask students to post an audio or video response to discussion questions

Remember that you set the tone for the level of interactivity in your course.  To build meaningful instructor-student and student-student interactions:

  • Make sure students can reach you.  Let them know hours of availability and answer emails within 24 hours.
  • Foster peer-peer relationships.  (Introductions, wikis, blogs or discussion board, group projects)
  • Model online behavior that makes you seem more “real”:  share photos, participate in discussions, give assignment feedback.  Be personable and use humor and share personal stories when appropriate

In addition to building those online relationships that help students stay engaged, it is also important to refresh and renew your course periodically and find new tools and new ideas (such as those described in the next article) to keep your course relevant and interesting.

Jennifer Brown
Instructional Assessment Coordinator


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