Active Learning Online – Part 2

The first post about active learning looked at how to include active learning in an online course. You heard about how a history professor used an interactive timeline. Each student added images, facts, and descriptions to the timeline, and the result was a visually-rich historical review. Students had fun while learning about facts and events. This is an example of collaboration and active learning at its best. The second example focused on interactive textbooks as an alternative to printed books. The Top Hat product combined words, images, video, and engaging activities to improve learning and make it more active.

In today’s post we look at two new active learning ideas: mind mapping and annotated reading. Although these two technologies are different from each other, they offer similar benefits. Mind mapping requires the student to visually depict a concept, process, or system. Students label relevant parts or steps, show how these are connected, and identify key relationships. Annotated reading, on the other hand, allows students to enter short comments to passages of text, which encourages peer-to-peer interaction and sharing. While reading, students identify confusing sections, ask (or answer) questions, and interact with others. Both methods actively engage students in the learning process and support them to apply and analyze course concepts.

A Picture is Worth…

You know the famous quip about pictures, so let’s consider how using a visually-based tool for active-learning can support online learners. Wikipedia defines mind mapping as “a diagram used to visually organize information.” Similar tools are concept maps and information maps.

Why are images important for learning? Mind maps help students understand concepts, ideas, and relationships. According to Wikipedia, a meta-study found that “concept mapping is more effective than ‘reading text passages, attending lectures, and participating in class discussions.'” One reason is because mind maps mimic how our brain works. They help us see the “big picture” and make important connections. Not only are mind maps visually appealing, they are also fun to create! Students can work alone or in teams.  This mind map about tennis is colorful and stimulating.

If you want to try mind mapping yourself, here’s a free tool called MindMup. There are many others available, some free and others with modest fees. The Ecampus team created an active learning resources mind map, made with MindMeister. Take a look. There are a lot of great ideas listed. Try a few!

Close Encounters

College student with an open textbookMost classes assign reading to students. Yet reading is a solo activity, so it offers a lower level of active learning. But there are ways to raise reading’s active learning value, with or without technology.

Using a technique called close reading, students get more active learning benefits. Close reading is a unique way to read, usually done with short sections of text. With careful focus, close reading helps students reach a deeper understanding of the author’s ideas, meaning and message.

Three students pointing to laptop screenIf you want to add technology, you can make reading even more active! Using an app called Perusall, reading becomes a collaborative activity. Perusall lets students add comments to the reading and see what others are saying. Students can post questions or respond. Instructors set guidelines for the number of entries and discover which content is most confusing. Originally built for the face-to-face classroom, Perusall is also an effective tool for online learning. Perusall is like social networking in the textbook. It helps students engage with materials and be more prepared to apply the concepts and principles to later assignments. Perusall can be used with or without the close reading technique. 

Want to Try?

Let us know if you have questions or want to try an idea. We are here to help! If you are already working with an Ecampus instructional designer, contact them to ask about these active learning technologies. Or send an email to me,, and I’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.



Susan Fein, Ecampus Instructional Designer,

Are you looking for ways to bring active learning into your online classroom? Some might suggest that active learning is more difficult online, but we offer examples of Ecampus courses that do a great job of increasing student engagement, boosting interactive participation, and improving outcomes through implementation of active learning strategies.

This blog focuses on tools, techniques, and approaches originally designed for the face-to-face classroom that have been successfully adapted into Oregon State University Ecampus classes. Feel free to steal!

Telling Time

Marking events in time or identifying the chronology of significant milestones is important in many disciplines, but especially vital in history classes. An American History professor felt that merely listing events sequentially was not particularly interesting or creative, even for his in-person class. When asked to develop an Ecampus course, he wanted to stimulate and inspire students. The solution? Timeline JS, a free tool from Knight Lab, developed at Northwestern University. Timeline JS allows students to build an image-rich chronology, add descriptive text, and work collaboratively. The result? A highly interactive, hands-on activity where students more easily formed connections, identified important patterns, and analyzed relationships. The instructor reported that Timeline JS helped his students to “understand the interrelation of topics and events more deeply.”

Sticker Shock

As noted in an infographic by Top Hat, print textbook “prices have spiraled out of control.” Since 1977, textbook prices have increased more than 1,000%, and a whopping 65% of students skip buying textbooks due to cost. The number of print books sold in the U.S. during the past 11 years has declined by 125 million! Clearly, students are looking for less expensive options. Enter the interactive digital textbook. And saving money isn’t the only benefit. An interactive textbook changes a dry, passive task into a media-rich, engaging, and appealing experience. Filled with visual elements and engrossing practice, the digital textbook goes well beyond being a mere repository of information to offering a complete, immersive experience. The Geography department at the University of Oregon embraced Top Hat, with tremendous success. Hear what they have to say about increased student engagement and learning outcomes. Visit the Top Hat website to learn more.

We will bring you more examples of active learning online in future blog posts. In the meantime, if you have questions or ideas, please post your thoughts in the comments section, or reach out to Oregon State University Ecampus directly. We’re happy to help!

Susan Fein, Ecampus Instructional Designer,

OSU Ecampus, ranked top 10 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

What is QM?

You may know that OSU is a subscribing member of Quality Matters (QM), a nationally-recognized program focused on online learning course design. Its mission is to measure and guarantee the quality of an online course. QM uses research findings to recommend best practices in online course design.

As an instructional designer (ID), I use and apply the QM rubric and quality assurance principles when working with faculty to design Ecampus courses. About a year ago, I took the first QM workshop, called Applying the QM Rubric or APPQMR.

By the way, this excellent training is offered through Ecampus each quarter. If you haven’t yet participated, take advantage of it. For more information, contact Karen Watte.

Not Just for Beginners

I had nearly nine years experience as an ID at another PAC 12 land-grant university, so I considered myself quite knowledgeable. Frankly, I didn’t expect many significant insights from this entry-level training. Boy, was I wrong!

A few months ago, in September, I presented at the annual QM conference in Fort Worth, Texas. I presented what they call a “Quality Talk,” which is a five-minute structured slide show, where each screen automatically advances every 15 seconds, so precise timing was essential. The title is “An Ode to QA: Teaching an ‘Old’ ID New Tricks.” Meant to be lighthearted and lyrical, I hoped the audience would not mind my non-traditional presentation using a rhyming poem.

The content is my reflection of how QM principles improve online learning. The poem bases each stanza on the letters from the phrase, QA Collaboration Works.

Enjoy the Show

Before you watch, these points about QM are important to know:

• QM principles are called “general standards” and each has a number, such as 2.1 or 4.0.
• Each general standard includes detailed notes and examples called “annotations.”
• The primary principle behind QM is that course content and activities must align with the learning objectives.
• Instructors who want their course certified by QM go through a rigorous peer-review process.

I refer to these and other ideas in the poem, so if you’re not familiar with QM you might not recognize all the connections.

And now, for your viewing and listening pleasure, here’s “An Ode to QA” (cue the drum roll).

Susan Fein, Ecampus Instructional Designer

Want to add an engaging “wow!!” factor to your teaching, on-campus or online? Try using augmented reality (AR). It’s simple, easy, and there is a wide range of educational apps for iOS and Android devices, many for free. Best of all, AR taps into the eager desire many young people express to use technology in innovative ways, including as part of their learning experience.

Per a recent survey from Adobe Education, 93 percent of Gen Z students said that technology in the classroom was essential for their career preparedness, as reported in a 2016 EdTech article. The survey found that “Gen Z students see technology and creativity as important and intersecting aspects of their identities.”



Remember the headlines for Pokemon GO? Maybe you, too, got hooked. If so, you were one of about 21 million users who were playing every day! This is the compelling aspect of AR–it’s fun, engaging, innovative and for some, nearly addictive. The astonishingly realistic and detailed displays of many AR apps, such as those for physiology, add an exciting and engaging dimension to learning. And with AR instantly available in the palm of your student’s hand, there’s no reason not to explore this creative and exciting technology.

(Image by Paintimpact pokemon go)

But AR isn’t just for fun or entertainment. It got serious and life-saving applications as well. AR, and related technologies like virtual reality (VR), are being used in medicine with extraordinary outcomes. In 2015, a baby in Florida was born with only half a heart. Surgeons used a cell phone, 3D imaging software, and a $20 Google Cardboard VR viewer to “peer into the baby’s heart.” The surgeon, Dr. Redmond Burke, said, “I could see the whole heart. I could see the chest wall. I could see all the things I was worried about in creating an operation,” as recounted in How Virtual Reality Could Change the Way Students Experience Education.

Though many AR apps are geared towards a K-12 audience, there are still plenty of ways to effectively include AR in the college classroom. Nearly every discipline has AR apps, including anatomy and physiology, physics, geography, American history, language translation, astronomy, science, geometry, chemistry, marketing and advertising, mechanics and engineering, interior design, architecture, and more! Check out the 32 Augmented Reality Apps for the Classroom from edshelf, or simply do your own internet search for “augmented reality education” and explore.

You might be wondering how to employ AR technology in the online classroom. For apps that make AR targets available online (many do), just provide the URL and have students download and print. Some apps use the natural world as a target; for example, Star Chart uses GPS to calculate the current location of every star, planet, and moon visible from Earth – day or night – and will tell the viewer what they are looking at.

The possibilities are endless! Give it a try yourself. I am willing to bet that you will exclaim, “Wow, that’s so cool!”