Create Opportunities for Online Students to Engage with You to Enhance Their Learning

Quality Review Showcase

The Quality and High Quality online course reviews explore components proven to be best practices in online course design. This post showcases Quality item, “The course offers opportunities for students to actively engage with the instructor to enhance learning.”

It may be tempting to think of an online course as being composed of individual students each working independently with their computers and mobile devices, with the instructor occasionally popping in to grade assignments. However, an element of quality online course design is the formation of a community of learners, of which the teacher is an important member.

Teaching presence is the degree to which the instructor designs learning experiences, facilitates those experiences, and contributes expert knowledge when needed (Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, & Archer, 2001). Research suggests that teaching presence is associated with students’ sense of learning community in online courses (Shea, Li, & Pickett, 2006). An instructor is extremely likely to be perceived as “excellent” in end-of-course student evaluations if they are effective at (a) helping students achieve course objectives, (b) creating an environment that helps students learn, and (c) communicating ideas and information (Dziuban, Graham, Moskal, Norberg, & Sicilia (2018). Farah (2020) shares, “Giving feedback will make distance learning more personal in an impersonal setting.”

What are Some Ways your Online Course can be Designed to Meet this Standard?

  • Use the Message Students Who feature to contact students that submitted an assignment which was below expectations, and invite them to interact.
  • Try different kinds of interactive questioning methods to facilitate online discussions.
  • Facilitate a synchronous session using a webconferencing platform like Conferences or Zoom. In addition to explaining a difficult concept, also allow students to ask questions or ask for clarification. You can also facilitate a discussion or hold office hours.
  • Interact with students by providing assignment feedback in the Gradebook. Consider audio and/or video feedback for enhanced teaching presence. If the class is large, consider creating some template messages in text that will typically be used, and then personalize your message from there.
  • Use the Announcements tool to summarize the previous week, synthesize or respond about an online discussion, and provide feedback on a class level. Allow students to reply with comments, to increase the interactive element.

What Does this Look Like in a Real Online Course?

Example 1. Message Students Who, Carolyn Massiah, MAR3023 (Marketing).

Massiah, a lecturer at UCF, detailed some of the intervention messages she’s used in her very large online classes in an entry from the Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository entitled “Intervention Messages” (Thompson, Raible, & Howard, 2015). Using the Message Students Who feature, she describes it as “so simplistic but it is absolutely amazing.” The Intervention Messages entry includes artifacts such as the set of template messages she has created to interact with students of varying performances. Massiah notes that using the Message Students Who feature ensures that each student is contacted by the instructor, which is often challenging in a large class.

Example 2. Group Project Paper Chat, Denise Lowe, COM3801 (Relational Conflict Communication).

“I use the Conferences tool as an aid to the group project. The purpose of the conference is to refine and narrow the group’s topic selection for a group paper based on interpersonal conflict that utilizes course concepts. Since the paper requires research, we also review potential scholarly resources. The group members come to the meeting with a list of questions and possible topics they are considering. We discuss the paper, project process, and scholarly requirements in advance of the due date for the assignment. This helps them to clarify the nature of the topic, broaden or shrink the topic base, and identify resources that can be used.”

Example 3. Teacher Feedback, Sandy Galura, NGR5720 (Organizational Dynamics).

Dr. Galura provides feedback in the form of annotated comments in the Grades area (figure below). Providing comments within a written assignment allows the faculty member to address specific areas of the paper and provide recommendations for improvement.

Example 3. Teacher Feedback, Sandy Galura, NGR5720 (Organizational Dynamics).

 Example 4. Course Announcement, Amanda Groff, ANT2511 (Human Species).

“We found that students were not often reading their feedback, and if they were, felt they were the only ones doing things wrong. I like these kinds of holistic ways of providing feedback to students because it helps to erase that “I’m the only one who doesn’t get it” mentality some students can develop in online classes.”

Hi Everyone!

This assignment had a slightly lower average. Considering this, we wanted to provide feedback as usual, but PLEASE read this in its entirety. 
1.     Read the question and review the rubric. Then, read it again. And finally, read it one more time. Many of you lost points for not following directions or directly answering the question. This includes not answering all parts of the question.
2.     Let’s talk about citations and plagiarism. Again. You MUST cite your sources. This includes when you paraphrase an idea. On this point, please do not use rely on quotes to answer a question. This does not show us that you understand the material.
3.     Make sure to provide sufficient detail without including information that does not relate to the question.
4.     Please use normal fonts and font colors! It is very difficult to read text that has been highlighted or is in a color other than black.
5.     On the extra credit, you only received half a point if you did not include a photo or you did not include a description of why you thought it was interesting. 

Example 5. Discussion Prompt, David Perdian, Introductory STEM.

An entry from the Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository entitled “An Alternative Strategy for Using Online Discussions for Learning Course Content in STEM Courses” details a strategy used by instructor David Peridan (2018). This strategy asks students to both answer a question as well as create a new question for the next student. While the students take the main lead in facilitating the discussion (which promotes their own teaching presence), the teacher injects expert knowledge and guides the problem solving when needed. Therefore, this is a strategy that allows the teacher to direct the discussion in a more efficient and skilled manner and also creates a more active environment for learners. Note that this approach could be adapted to subjects outside of STEM.


Anderson, T., Rourke, L., Garrison, D.R., & Archer, W. (2001). Assessing teaching presence in a computer conferencing context, Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 5(2).

Dziuban, C., Graham, C.R., Moskal, P.D., Norberg, A., & Sicilia, N. (2018). Blended learning: The new normal and emerging technologies. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 15(3).

@Kareemfarah23. (2020, April 5). Feedback is the backbone of quality instruction. Its one of the few aspects of your pedagogy that can remain firmly intact through distance learning. If possible, focus on giving feedback on student work. It will make distance learning more personal in highly impersonal setting. [Tweet]. Retrieved from 

Perdian, D. (2018). An alternative strategy for using online discussions for learning course content in stem courses. In Chen, B., deNoyelles, A., & Thompson, K. (Eds.), Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository. Orlando, FL: University of Central Florida Center for Distributed Learning. Retrieved April 7, 2020 from 

Shea, P., Li, C.S., & Pickett, A. (2006). A study of teaching presence and student sense of learning community in fully online and web-enhanced college courses. The Internet and Higher Education, 9(3), 175-190.

Thompson, K., Raible, J., & Howard, W. (2015). Intervention messages. In Chen, B., deNoyelles, A., & Thompson, K. (Eds.), Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository. Orlando, FL: University of Central Florida Center for Distributed Learning. Retrieved April 7, 2020 from

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