Announcements are among the most basic yet effective ways to communicate with students, whether in person or online. In our Ecampus asynchronous online courses, announcements are often the primary way instructors pass on important information to students and can be a formidable tool for fostering instructor presence. They can be used to welcome and orient students, summarize and reiterate key concepts, and remind students about upcoming assignments, projects, and exams. Some instructors send out weekly announcements that reflect on the prior week and provide general feedback on student performance, while others only use announcements for course related logistics such as schedule changes or instructor unavailability. No matter how you use announcements, the following suggestions can help ensure you are leveraging the power of the announcements feature in Canvas.
Keep announcements concise. Students have a limited amount of cognitive capacity and lengthy announcements may not be read in full.
Consider your purpose before composing and resist the urge to rehash what you have written elsewhere.
If you need to remind students of an assignment, consider linking to the instructions rather than rehashing them in the body of the announcement.
Send announcements on a regular schedule. If you plan to send weekly announcements, do so on the same day of the week and general time if possible.
Sending out a recap of the prior week and preview of what to expect in the upcoming week is most valuable if sent at the beginning of the week. If you start your course week on Monday, send your announcements on Monday mornings.
Give announcements meaningful titles to reflect the content of the announcement. Labeling announcements as “week X update”, “Important date change for assignment X”, or another such descriptive title will help students find the correct announcement if they need to revisit it.
Delete old announcements from imported course content. Old announcements from previous courses or instructors copy over when a Canvas course is copied and are visible to students in the announcements tab unless deleted, including your own prior term announcements or those from a previous instructor. This could be very confusing for students as some instructors provide the class with quiz or test answers or information about exams in announcements that may be disadvantageous for current term students to read.
Schedule out your announcements in advance using ‘delay posting’ (see image below). If you do want to reuse announcements imported from a previous term, be sure to open each message, edit the content for the current term, and choose when you would like to post each one. New announcements can also be scheduled to post on whatever day and time you choose.
You can set up your homepage to show recent announcements at the top of the page, ensuring students see them when logging into the course (see below). Go to the main Settings menu item at the bottom left course menu. From there, scroll down and click the “more options” link at the bottom. You’ll then see further course options- click the box next to “Show recent announcements…” and then choose how many to display. Don’t forget to save your choices by clicking “Update Course Details”.
The idea that students learn best when they have the opportunity to apply what they are learning to real-world contexts is the basis of Experiential Learning Theory (ELT). Learning by doing is at its core, and as a high-impact practice, there is increasingly more emphasis on experiential learning in higher education. There is plenty of evidence that supports the benefits of this type of learning. It affords students an opportunity to connect knowledge to authentic situations and increases learner autonomy, motivation, and overall satisfaction (Kolb and Kolb, 2018). Many OSU Ecampus Courses feature such experiences. In fact, OSU’s Honor College requires all courses to include experiential learning components, and this is increasingly the case across disciplines at OSU.
What does experiential learning look like?
Many of us may think of community engagement, project-based learning, or practicums when we consider what constitutes an experiential learning experience. While these are solid examples of ELT in practice, experiential learning can take many forms across learning environments. David Kolb describes experiential learning as a four-stage process in his cycle of learning (Kolb and Kolb, 2018). According to Kolb, learning is a process where knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Students can engage with the cycle at any point in the experience as long as they engage with all four stages. The flexibility of hybrid and online learning presents rich possibilities for incorporating this process. The four stages of Kolb’s experiential learning process include:
Concrete learning: engage in a new experience or critically interpret a past experience.
Reflective observation: use experience and background knowledge to understand the relevance or meaning of the experience.
Abstract conceptualization: gain a new understanding of the experience by adjusting thinking based on reflection.
Active experimentation: engage experimentally by applying new insights to the situation in a practical way.
Kolb’s theory is not without limitations in that it does not provide clear answers about how collaboration between learners affects reflection, and it doesn’t account for learning that occurs without reflection (Psychology, 2022). While his model isn’t the final word on all of the ways learners make sense of the world, it does provide a good starting point for understanding and designing effective real-world learning opportunities.
What makes a good experiential learning experience?
Regardless of the activity, both the experience and the learning are fundamental in experiential learning scenarios, and the ongoing engagement of both the instructor and the student is critical. In experiential environments, students take ownership of their learning process by taking a more active role such as in posing questions, experimenting, and constructing meaning through their persistent participation in the experience. The role of the instructor, on the other hand, is to ensure that the experience is of high quality and in alignment with the stated learning outcomes while also supporting the learner to develop autonomy in using the principles of experiential learning as defined by The National Society of Experiential Education (NSEE).
Eight Principles of Good Practice for All Experiential Learning Activities
Intention: the activity is structured around a formal process and the purpose and rationale for why the activity was chosen is transparent and clear to students.
Preparedness and planning: students understand expectations for engaging in the learning experience and have the necessary background knowledge and preparation to participate in the planned learning with support throughout the process.
Authenticity: the learning experience is relevant and designed in response to an authentic context or situation in collaboration with those affected by it.
Reflection: the experience is transformative and allows for knowledge discovery through a process of making and testing decisions around expected or observed outcomes and through consideration of assumptions and implications related to prior and present learning.
Orientation and training: learner support and guidance include sufficient background preparation needed for successful achievement of learning outcomes.
Monitoring and continuous improvement: students receive continuous feedback and support to enhance the learning experience and ensure achievement of learning outcomes.
Assessment and evaluation: students receive helpful and timely feedback from the instructor and any external facilitators, and monitoring and adjustments to process are made as appropriate to ensure achievement of outcomes.
Acknowledgement: All students and external stakeholders or facilitators are recognized for their work, progress, and contribution to the experience.
Experiential Learning in OSU Ecampus Courses
The following examples illustrate a small selection of the many creative experiential learning opportunities OSU faculty developers have incorporated into their online and hybrid courses in collaboration with Ecampus instructional designers.
Build a community of writers online. Students read, critique, write, edit, revise, and share original pieces of creative writing. An activity modeled after the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and implemented in a creative writing course.
Discover and Promote well-being in an Online Community. Students in a philosophy class engage in activities in their local community and online to talk about topics around well-being. They then reflect on those experiences and dialogue before compiling a “happiness toolkit” and sharing it with peers.
Explore health and fitness assessment techniques used to measure cardiovascular health. Through a series of hands-on labs, students monitor volunteers’ exercise regimes and calculate cardiovascular fitness values to make recommendations based on the data collected.
Collaborate in a team to study and analyze management case studies. Students work through complex and ambiguous problems to solve a workplace challenge and find solutions before participating in an authentic human resources simulation.
Write and perform music. Students in a performance-based music course write and perform original pieces of music.
Examine poverty and its effect on students’ local communities. Students complete a public health scavenger hunt guided by specific questions, reflection, and peer collaboration. They then create a guide describing public health issues and potential solutions.
Investigate the necessary conditions for designing effective teams and work groups, including best practices and processes needed for maximum productivity, strategies to resolve common issues in teams, and methods to evaluate team performance. Students then apply their learning by leading a team in real life.
Analyze and conduct research on a local public health issue. Students partner with community organizations in their area to identify needs and apply principles of public health to authentic contexts.
The list is far from exhaustive. New courses featuring experiential learning are currently in development across disciplines. Faculty interested in learning more about how to get started learning by doing in hybrid and online courses can learn more by checking out the Ecampus experiential learning resources page.
As a new term begins, we are often thinking about the logistics of our courses, the Syllabus and course schedule, and ensuring everything is working properly. For our students, these early weeks set the tone for what they might expect from their courses and from their instructors. Your first announcement, the language and tone in the Syllabus, how you greet incoming students – these small actions all help to create a welcoming environment for your course. When students feel included in a positive course climate, they are more motivated and engaged in learning.
In the weeks ahead, some students will likely reach out to you with concerns or information about major events going on in their lives. Faculty are often the first to hear of health issues, death in the family, deployment, financial matters, and a variety of mental health concerns and needs. In prior surveys, Ecampus students have shared that the most important relationship in their college career is with their instructor(s), rated higher than their advisors or other student support professionals around campus. When life happens, you are often the first person a student thinks to reach out to for support and direction. Last year, Ecampus put forth the Online Teaching Principles, derived from research-based best practices. The principle “Reach Out and Refer” directly relates to what we can do when our students need some additional support.
When students reach out, your care, concern for their well-being, and support is sometimes enough to help the student. That may look like an assignment extension, acknowledgement of their circumstances, setting up a time to speak, or a variety of other measures. At other times, there are situations when making a referral to the appropriate resource or department is the best course of action. In these instances, it is important to remain calm and formulate a plan.
There are situations when making a referral is the best option for both you and the student. For example:
You know that you can’t handle the request or the behavior. There are limits to the kinds of help a faculty or staff member can provide.
You believe that personality differences will interfere with your ability to help.
You know the student personally and believe that you could not be objective.
You feel overwhelmed, pressed for time, or stressed.
The student acknowledges a problem but is reluctant to discuss it with you.
After working with the student for some time, you realize that you don’t know how to proceed.
The student’s problems are better handled through services such as CAPS, Financial Aid, the Registrar’s Office, Affirmative Action, or Legal Advising.
How to Make a Referral
Some people accept a referral for professional help more easily than others do. Here are some tips for making a successful referral.
Let the student know that it is not necessary to know exactly what is wrong in order to seek assistance.
Assure the student that seeking help does not necessarily mean that their problems are unusual or extremely serious.
Be frank with students about your own limits of time, energy, training, objectivity, and willingness to help.
If appropriate, suggest that the student consider talking with family members, friends, clergy, community agencies, and campus offices.
CAPS provides consultations to faculty and staff who have urgent concerns about a student. If you have an immediate need, please call 541-737-2131. Phone counselors are available after hours. If you or a person of concern are experiencing an emergency, please call 911 off campus or 541-737-7000 on campus.
The Student Care Team has compiled a chart (pictured below) of Resources For Consultation and Referral for AY 22 that can be referenced via their Box folder.
Resources for instructors
There are a wide variety of concerns that a student may bring to you. It can be time-consuming to identify the available resources and get students to the right area. There are a few main webpages you can bookmark that outline the resources available to our Ecampus students.
Student Resources For Ecampus Students – This page on the Ecampus website maintains a comprehensive list of all resources available to Ecampus students. It includes academic resources, emergency food and housing, disability access services, mental health, technical support, and more. This is a great page to bookmark and/or print the PDF version that is linked at the bottom of the webpage.
Student Care Team – This Box folder contains resources for faculty including a referral and consultation chart and tips for working with distressed students.
In Crisis Support For Students (CAPS) – 24/7 support for students in crisis. Includes contact information for CAPS, Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, and more.
Ecampus Student Services – If your student is not in crisis, but you are unsure where to start, directing them to our student services representatives is a great option. They assist students with navigating OSU resources and are the first point of contact for student inquiries. Phone:800-667-1465 (select option 1) or Email:firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ecampus Student Success Coaching – If you feel that your student(s) could benefit from individualized, strengths-based academic counseling, you can refer them to the success coaching team. This group works with all undergraduate Ecampus students.
Are you passionate for what you do? I do. I enjoy, treasure, relish what I do as an instructional designer. But I also realize that not everyone is able to work on something they are passionate about. As an educator, I believe we ought to stir up passion and values in the learners we serve. So, I started searching for ways to motivate, to stir up and help people find their passion. And I found these resources: books and podcast by Todd Henry on passion, and book and podcast by Liz Forkin Bohannon.
Todd Henry shared his recipe for finding the power to keep your passion firing for a lifetime by starting with a few simple questions.
What is something that you are willing to suffer on behalf of it?
What makes you angry?
What moves you emotionally?
What gives you hope?
Quotes from Todd Henry, author and experts on creativity, productivity, and passion for work. Goal of life is not comfort, but conquest! The love of comfort is often the enemy of greatness. The seeds of tomorrow’s greatness is planted in today’s activities. If you are intentional, and if you live by design, not by default, someday, in the distant future, when you lay your head down for the last time you can point to a delta, a body of work and you can say “yes, that represents me.”
Beginner’s Pluck is a 2019 book by Liz Forkin Bohannon (Podcast host, and co-founder of Sseko Designs). In this book, Liz teaches us that passion is not discovered, as we were told for so long, but rather passion is built step by step! And the first step is to find an interesting problem. And to have a posture of curiosity over criticism. The good news is the world is full of interesting problems!
This is a totally new perspective to me: passion is built and the first step to build passion is to find interesting problems. And this new perspective leads me to think how I could and should plan my instructional design work to provide room and opportunities in any course for asking questions that guide learners to build their passion. It could be in the syllabus, in each module’s content page, before or after learners work on the readings and lecture videos, or at the end of the module as a self-assessment. There are many different ways and places we can incorporate the building of passion into course design!
Conclusion: Build your Passion starting with questions and interesting problems. My questions for you, dear educator, “is there room in your teaching to ask an inspiring question that points your learners towards building their passion for life?” Or if you are reading this for your own benefit, consider what problems are interesting to you and start working on solving the problems, little by little. If you need to someone to brainstorm design ideas for infusing questions into your teaching, feel free to contact me at email@example.com
Bohannon, L.F. (2019). Beginner’s Pluck. Baker books.
Henry, T. (2013). Die Empty. Penguin Publishing Group
Research and strategies for implementing gratitude interventions in higher-education.
Every November for the past few years, my family takes a small uncarved pumpkin (leftover from Halloween), and we use it as a canvas. Every night after dinner we each write a word or phrase naming something we are thankful for that day. We have only one rule; you cannot repeat something already on the list. On Thanksgiving, we go back and read aloud all the things we have been grateful for throughout November, making us laugh, reminisce, and feel full emotionally (on top of our full bellies). This practice of gratitude is simple, yet I find that as the list on the pumpkin grows each night, I feel a little happier and a little more content with my life. In reflecting on what we are grateful for, saying it out loud, and writing it down, we are allowing it to take up presence in our consciousness. By creating this space in our day for gratitude to flourish, we are exemplifying an important life practice. And as the word “practice” indicates, gratitude is a skill we can learn, hone, and grow. There is mounting scientific evidence that gratitude can serve as a major contributor to mental health, and there is a growing body of research related specifically to gratitude interventions in higher-ed.
Whether we are faculty, staff, students, administrators, or leaders in the world of higher-ed, we are pulled in many different directions, wear many different hats, and have many competing demands. It is no wonder we often forget to pause and take stock of all the manythings for which we are grateful. How can we bring the practice of gratitude into our classes (regardless of the modality)? And further, why does it matter? What does the research have to say about gratitude and our health? What place does gratitude have in higher-ed? Let’s dive in and explore this topic through an evidence-based lens and then end with some easy ways to embody and enact gratitude in our higher-ed courses.
It may be helpful to define gratitude scientifically. A recent meta-analysis of gratitude and health characterizes gratitude as both a state and a trait. A state of gratitude is an emotional experience where we find value in something and realize that it has a positive outcome from outside of ourselves. Gratitude as a trait can be seen as a broader worldview, where one is more likely to observe and appreciate the good things in life. People who display trait gratitude tend to feel more fulfilled and have a greater ability to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. In either case, those who exhibit and experience gratitude often are more likely to show pro-social behavior and act with reciprocity. Researchers theorize that these behaviors help explain why gratitude is beneficial to both our physical and mental health. While the evidence that gratitude changes physical health is sparse in the literature, many studies demonstrate that gratitude (and specifically gratitude interventions) are associated with improved emotional well-being. Not surprisingly and likely linked, higher gratitude practice also facilitates social well-being. (Jans-Beken et al.,2019)
For those who wonder why gratitude is such a powerful tool emotionally and socially, Algoe (2012) posits that gratitude promotes opportunities to (1) establish new interpersonal connections, (2) remember extant social ties, and (3) maintain existing social relationships. It is no surprise that in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, learners are more likely to experience stress and anxiety at higher rates. The pandemic interrupted our lives and our ability to be regularly social. College students have expressed increased rates of stress, anxiety, and depression, even as we have moved out of isolation (Jiang et al. 2022). Thus, it is important to note that dozens of research studies from the past ten years have correlated gratitude interventions with positive effects on our emotions, specifically helping to reduce stress and anxiety. Gratitude interventions could be a game-changer in higher-ed, as it stands to reason that learners who are less anxious and stressed will likely experience better learning outcomes (Hysenbegasi et al., 2005).
Many of the studies specific to gratitude interventions in college classes have shown that learners not only perform better in the course but also leave the course with more positive emotions, which can spill over into other aspects of the learners’ lives (Datu & Bernardo, 2020; Datu et al., 2022; Gleason, 2022, Grier & Morris, 2022). So what does it mean to have a gratitude intervention? In most cases, it was as simple as the researchers/instructors offering a weekly gratitude journal assignment. These low-stakes opportunities allowed learners to reflect on their lives and simply list a few (usually five) things/events/people for which they were grateful. Other interventions included writing letters of gratitude or attending one-time gratitude workshops. While these kinds of assignments might not be a fit for every class, there can certainly be a place for such interventions on occasion. Student success teams could encourage these practices outside of class time, or provide gratitude workshops. Faculty could demonstrate and allow time for such practices in their high-stress courses. Online course designers could conclude modules or weeks with simple gratitude surveys. If we can help our learners to reflect on their lives with a gratitude lens, we might all benefit.
So, it turns out that my family’s little Thankful Pumpkin was onto something. My feelings of contentment after each night of adding gratitude to our gourd stems from something more profound. This little pumpkin is my family’s gratitude intervention, and now I want to figure out how to keep us all practicing and honing this skill all year long. So, if you have made it to the end of this blog post, I want to say thanks. Thanks for reading, and thanks for considering this blog post worthy of your precious time. I am grateful that you are here. I hope that you are grateful for this message and will consider how you can carry it forward in your life and your work.
Cownie, F. (2016) Gratitude: does it have a place within media-practice education?, Journal of Media Practice, 17(2-3), 168-185, DOI: 10.1080/14682753.2016.1248192
Datu, J. A. D., & Bernardo, A. B. I. (2020). The Blessings of Social-Oriented Virtues: Interpersonal Character Strengths Are Linked to Increased Life Satisfaction and Academic Success Among Filipino High School Students. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 11(7), 983–990. https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550620906294
Datu, J. A. D., Valdez, J. P. M., McInerney, D. M., & Cayubit, R. F. (2022). The effects of gratitude and kindness on life satisfaction, positive emotions, negative emotions, and COVID-19 anxiety: An online pilot experimental study. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 14(2), 347– 361. https://doi.org/10.1111/aphw.12306
Ge, J. S., Berger, E. J., & Major, J. C., & Froiland, J. M. (2019, June), Teaching Undergraduate Engineering Students Gratitude, Meaning, and Mindfulness Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2—33358
Geier, M. T., & Morris, J. (2022). The impact of a gratitude intervention on mental well-being during COVID-19: A quasi-experimental study of university students. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 14(3), 937– 948. https://doi.org/10.1111/aphw.12359
Henry D. Mason (2019) Gratitude, well-being and psychological distress among South African university students, Journal of Psychology in Africa, 29(4), 354-360, DOI: 10.1080/14330237.2019.1647492
Hysenbegasi, A., Hass, S. L., & Rowland, C. R. (2005). The impact of depression on the academic productivity of university students. The Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics, 8(3), 145–151.
Jans-Beken, L., Jacobs, N., Janssens, M., Peeters, S., Reijnders, J., Lechner, L., & Lataster, J. (2020) Gratitude and health: An updated review, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 15(6), 743-782, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2019.1651888
Jiang, Z., Jia, X., Tao, R., & Dördüncü, H. (2022). COVID-19: A Source of Stress and Depression Among University Students and Poor Academic Performance. Frontiers in public health, 10, 898556. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2022.898556
Nicole T. Gabana, Jesse Steinfeldt, Y. Joel Wong, Y. Barry Chung & Dubravka Svetina (2019) Attitude of Gratitude: Exploring the Implementation of a Gratitude Intervention with College Athletes, Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 31:3, 273-284, DOI: 10.1080/10413200.2018.1498956
Yoshida, M.(2022) Network analysis of gratitude messages in the learning community. Int J Educ Technol High Educ 19(47). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41239-022-00352-8
If you design or teach online courses, and the term Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) is unfamiliar to you, not to worry. It’s likely that you’ve already implemented some degree of RSI in your online courses. RSI is the US Department of Education (DoE) requirement for institutions receiving federal funds to “ensure that there is regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors” in their online courses. It was intended as a quality assurance and consumer protection measure, but it is also a key component of high-quality online learning. Simply put, student-teacher interactions must be consistent and meaningful throughout the delivery of an online course. There is a mountain of research supporting this idea by now, and we have long known that this type of interaction is an essential component of learning and has a deep impact on student experience and satisfaction with online learning.
Characteristics of RSI
You may be thinking that you already have plenty of quality interaction in your course. If you’re familiar with the Ecampus Essentials standards for course development (based on the Quality Matters course design rubric) or the Ecampus Online Teaching Principles, you know that teacher-student interaction is a basic component of effective online course design and delivery. You may also be thinking that “interaction” is a vague term. After all, interactions can occur synchronously or asynchronously via many different platforms. They can occur in response to student progress in a particular course or be an intentional aspect of the instructor’s course delivery plan. So, what exactly does quality interaction in the context of RSI entail? The DOE guidelines outline the main characteristics of regular and substantive interaction as follows:
Instructor-student interaction should be an intentional component of the course design and delivery. While students should also be encouraged to reach out to the instructor as needed, interactions should be required and initiated by the instructor to be considered RSI. For example, ad hoc office hours and auto-graded objective quizzes would not be considered RSI, but requested office visits, individualized feedback on assignments or open-ended quizzes, and instructor-facilitated online discussion forums would qualify as regular and sustained interactions. Likewise, announcements tailored to the course content during the term of the delivery would also meet the guidelines for RSI.
Frequent and consistent
Simply put, frequent and consistent interaction means that you are present in your course in an intentional manner regularly throughout the term. Instructor presence in online courses deeply impacts student learning, satisfaction, and motivation, so this is probably not a new idea for those who have taught online. Many online instructors maintain instructor presence through regular announcements or videos providing updates on student progress or feedback, adding to ideas presented in student discussions or other submissions, offering clarifications to questions regarding content or assignments, etc. There are many ways for instructors to be present in a course so that students feel that they are part of a community of learners. To meet the standards for RSI, the instructor presence should also be planned and occur regularly throughout the term.
Focused on the course subject
Interactions should be related to the academic content and help students to achieve the course outcomes. Assignments should provide a space for instructors to assess student learning through substantive feedback. Non-specific feedback (Good job!) or a grade entered without comments related to work on the assignment at hand would not count as RSI. However, communications providing reading guidance, posting examples with explanations, sending an announcement clarifying concepts students may have missed in a discussion are all good examples of interactions focused on the course subject. That’s not to say that sending a message of encouragement or celebration to students (Go Beavs!) would not be an important component of social presence in a course.
Faculty member meets accreditation standards
This requirement presents a little bit of a murky area, and each institution will need to decide who would be considered a qualified subject matter expert based on their accrediting body standards. For example, Teaching Assistants (TAs) may or may not be considered qualified subject matter experts depending on where they are in their postgraduate journey. However, regardless of the level of expertise, the role of any TA or other course mentor can never be in lieu of the instructor interaction in a course.
Increasing RSI in your course
Meaningful interaction may already be an integral part of your course design and delivery, or you may have some work to do in that area. Whatever your current level of RSI, there are many ways to increase or vary the interaction in your course. Some practitioners note that what constitutes “meaningful interaction” for the purposes of RSI compliance can be difficult to measure. In response, the DoE updated their definition of Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) in 2021 to further clarify the issue for practitioners. To be considered regular and substantive, interaction, “…must engage students in teaching, learning, and assessment, as well as two of these five actions:
providing direct instruction;
assessing or providing feedback on a student’s course work;
providing information or responding to questions about the content of a course or competency;
facilitating a group discussion regarding the content of a course or competency;
or other instructional activities approved by the institution’s or program’s accrediting agency.”
The good news is that the DoE definition is broad enough to include a huge range of activities giving course developers and instructors many options for choosing how and when interaction occurs in a course. While not an exhaustive list, a few recommendations to boost RSI in your course include:
Make your plan for interaction clear to students, and include them in setting expectations for both the instructor and the students. Your communication policy stating the response time students can expect from you on emails and assignment feedback should be stated in the syllabus and posted in the course. You should also tell learners how to communicate with you. Make participation expectations clear through discussion guidelines and rubrics for participation. You might also create an introductory activity in which students and the instructor make their expectations explicit through a negotiated process.
Provide timely and individualized feedback
There are many methods for delivering feedback (written, video, audio, conferences, etc). In fact, using a combination of methods is good practice for incorporating elements of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Regardless of how you deliver feedback, it should add to or extend students’ understanding, make concrete suggestions for improvement, highlight what they are doing well, or provide models.
Send regular announcements
Announcements are handy for sending reminders about due dates and other housekeeping items. As an RSI strategy, announcements present a useful vehicle for digging into course content and helping students to synthesize important information. You might use announcements to extend concepts from the previous week’s activities, contextualize content students will see in the coming week, or to identify sticky points or patterns seen in student work. While announcements can be used for on the fly reminders or clarifications, it is a good idea to establish a pattern for sending substantive announcements whether that be on Sunday evenings or at other intervals so that students know when to expect them.
Incorporate tools for meaningful interaction
VoiceThread, Padlet, and Perusall are just a few examples of platforms that instructors can use to facilitate interaction. While it may be tempting to incorporate several tools to boost engagement, a more effective approach would be to avoid using technology for the sake of using technology. Instead, try incorporating one or two tools and create meaningful tasks around them. Use each two or more times during the term so that students spend their time engaging with each other and the content via the tool rather than learning how to use it.
Conduct surveys and evaluations
Midterm surveys on students’ experience in the course are helpful for second-half tweaks to stay on track toward the goals you set out to accomplish. They can also be useful for making adjustments for the next time you deliver the course. Ask students how they feel about the interactions with other students and the instructor. Ask how they could be improved, and encourage them to reflect on their own contributions. If there is group work involved, solicit opinions about how it is going and how you can support their collaborations. In doing so, you give learners the opportunity to ask for help where they need it, and you gain information to give you ideas for how to structure interactions for the next iteration of the course. A trusted colleague or an instructor designer can also be helpful in evaluating the level of RSI in your course. When you feel you have reached your goals around interaction and other markers of high-quality course design, consider asking for a formal review of your course to become Quality Matters certified.
Hold regular office hours
In order to qualify as RSI, office hours must be predictable, scheduled, and required rather than an optional feature of the course. While synchronous sessions should be kept to a minimum to allow for student flexibility, you can also facilitate meaningful interaction via a virtual meetings. If you give mini-lectures or provide models for specific lessons, for example, you might consider recording your explanations so all students, including those who cannot attend a particular session, benefit from the extra guidance.
Poulin, R. (2016) Interpreting what is Required for “Regular and Substantive Interaction”. WCET Frontiers. Retrieved from https://wcet.wiche.edu/frontiers/2016/09/30/interpreting-regular-and-substantive-interaction/
Regular & Substantive Interaction (RSI) in Online Learning. Chemeketa Center for Academic Innovation. Retrieved from https://facultyhub.chemeketa.edu/instruction/rsi/
How to Increase Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) in Online and Distance Learning. OLC Webinar 2021. Retrieved from https://onlinelearningconsortium.org/webinar/how-to-increase-regular-and-substantive-interaction-rsi-in-online-and-distance-learning/
Quality Online Practices: Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI). University of Tennessee Knoxville. Retrieved from https://onlinelearning.utk.edu/online-teaching-learning-resources/quality-online-practices/rsi/
I was recently assigned to be the Instructional Designer for an introductory programming course here at OSU. While working with the instructor, I was happy to see his inventiveness in assessment design. As one example, the instructor created an assignment to introduce loops, a block of code in a computer program that repeats while a condition is true. Here’s how he described the assignment to the students:
Your assignment is to simulate the progression of a zombie epidemic as it spreads through Portland, Oregon, beginning in the year 2001 (which was about the time that zombies became unnervingly popular). This assignment will test whether you can use loops when translating from a problem to a computational solution.
I was excited about the design possibilities this introduced to a usually dry topic. Zombies! I built the page in our LMS, Canvas, and was excited to review it with him.
“Isn’t this fun?” I asked, showing him the assignment page I had created:
“I guess so,” he said, “is there any research to indicate that decorative graphics support learning?” he asked me. I guess that’s fair to ask, even if it was a bit of a buzzkill.
I had no idea if including cool pictures was a research-based best practice in online course design. While I really wanted it to be true and felt like it should be true, I could not immediately cite peer-reviewed studies that supported the use of zombie images to improve learner engagement; I had never seen such research. But, I was determined to look before our next meeting.
The instructor’s research challenge led me to discover Research Rabbit. Research Rabbit is a relatively new online platform that helps users find academic research. Research Rabbit has users organize found research into collections. As articles are added to a collection, Research Rabbit helps identify related research.
Without realizing how much time I was exploring, four hours quickly passed in which I was wholly engrossed in the search to justify including a zombie picture in one assignment for one instructor. Below, I will share a few of the features that enamored me with Research Rabbit and why I continue to use it regularly.
Why I love Research Rabbit
Visualization of Search Results
Rather than combing through reference lists at the bottom of a paper, you can quickly view any works cited by a paper you have selected or change views and get a list of articles that have cited the selected document. Those results are presented in a list view, a network view, or on a timeline.
A Tool for Discovery
Research Rabbit starts generating suggested additions as soon as you add a paper to a collection. The more papers you add, the more accurate these recommendations become. It works somewhat like personalized Netflix or Spotify recommendations (ResearchRabbit, n.d.), helping you discover research you may not have been aware of in this same area of study.
Using their discovery functionality, you can identify clusters of researchers (those that have published together or frequently cite each other’s work). You can also use the “Earlier Work” option to see when research on a particular topic may have started and identify foundational papers in the field. Looking for “Later Work” helps you find the latest research and stay current on your research topic.
The Research Rabbit founders explain their reasoning for keeping their tool Free Forever as follows:
Why? It’s simple, really.
Researchers commit years of time, energy, and more to advance human knowledge. Our job is to help you discover work that is relevant, not to sell your work back to you.
(Research Rabbit FAQ)
Research Rabbit Syncs Collections to Zotero
I would have lost a lot of enthusiasm for Research Rabbit if I had to manually add each new paper to my Zotero collection. But Research Rabbit integrates with Zotero, and automatically syncs any designated collections. If you use a different reference tool, you can also export Research Rabbit collections in common bibliographic formats.
A Tool for Sharing and Collaboration
Once you have created a collection, you can invite other researchers to view or edit a collection based on the permissions you set. Collaborators can also add comments to individual items. Research Rabbit also gives you an opportunity to create public collections that can be shared with a custom link.
How to Explore Research Rabbit on Your Own
The feature set of Research Rabbit is beautifully demoed on the Research Rabbit website. From there, you can explore how to visualize papers, discover author networks, and start building collections. There is also a growing list of introductory and instructional videos by the academic community online.
Deanna Grant-Smith, Timothy Donnet, James Macaulay, Renee Chapman, & Renee Anne Chapman. (2019). Principles and practices for enhanced visual design in virtual learning environments: Do looks matter in student engagement?https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-5225-5769-2.ch005
When I hear the word presence, I’m reminded of a teacher taking attendance at the beginning of class. I picture the teacher calling out each student’s name, the students responding either “here!” or “present!” in turn. In this scenario, though, while the students each affirm their presence, the teacher’s presence is a given. The teacher doesn’t mark herself present in the attendance record. The teacher doesn’t need to prove they taught class or prove they exist to students. As one might suspect, this is an area where online asynchronous courses differ from traditional classrooms: one’s presence is not a given. Presence becomes even more important in online settings. Perhaps that’s why we hear so much about it. Online presence. Social presence. Instructor presence. But, what do these words really mean in virtual classrooms?
There are many ways to define presence. The first entry in Merriam Webster’s online dictionary defines presence as “the fact or condition of being present.” This entry directs readers to present (adjective, entry 3 of 4), which defines present as “now existing or in progress.” There is an immediacy to these words, a temporal aspect, and a physicality: Presence. How do we reconcile the temporal and physical connotations of this term with online, asynchronous interactions?
In this digital age, I think most folks would agree that it’s possible to experience presence online, to feel that someone is real, even if they’re not standing in front of you. But, how do we define it within this context? How do we describe presence to someone who’s attempting to achieve it virtually? For myself and other instructional designers tasked with guiding faculty to design and prepare to facilitate an online course, where they’re told their ability to establish presence will directly impact student success, what advice do we offer? Simply put, how is presence communicated in an online, asynchronous course?
To begin answering these questions, I’ll provide an overview of Garrison et al.’s (2000) Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework, which defines three presences for computer-mediated communication (i.e., the communication that occurs in online courses and other digital environments). Then, we’ll briefly consider how you might think about presence in your own online courses.
Overview of Community of Inquiry (COI)
We’ll start with a brief overview of Garrison et al.’s (2000) model of Community of Inquiry (CoI). CoI is a conceptual model that identifies three presences that are essential for online classrooms. It’s worth noting, too, that this model was created to provide a framework for presence mediated through the use of digital technologies. The three presences are 1) cognitive presence, 2) social presence, and 3) teaching presence.
Cognitive presence refers to the opportunities learners have “to construct meaning through sustained communication” (Garrison et al., 2000, p. 89). This is considered a foundational element of the model and might include, for example, an instructor providing feedback to students or students engaging in peer review.
Social presence includes opportunities the instructor and students have to share personal details within the classroom environment. Social presence supports cognitive presence and plays an important role in meeting course goals that are explicitly affective (Garrison et al., 2000).
Teaching presence is divided into two functions: structure and process. The structure can be thought of as the design of the educational environment and the process is often thought of as the facilitation of the environment (Garrison et al., 2000). Although different people may be involved in each function (e.g., an instructional designer and teacher might design a course, but a different instructor and a TA might be responsible for facilitating the course), both functions play a role in teaching presence.
Ultimately, you might find it hard to keep these presences straight, and that’s okay! Richardson and Lowenthal (2017) point out that academic publications don’t even use the same terms to describe various online presences. Acknowledging that there are different interpretations of presence in online contexts and different approaches for achieving presence online is the point of this post. In the future, you can always refer back here or save the resources listed below for reference later. In Ecampus, we try to emphasize instructor-student, student-student, and student-content interaction, an approach you might find easier to remember.
What I hope you take away from this post is that it’s not as important to remember the differences between each of these presences as much as it is important to include a variety of strategies in your course to communicate and establish presence. I’d also encourage you to occasionally try new approaches and to strive to communicate presence in multiple ways, without getting locked into a narrow view of presence and what it means in online classrooms.
Garrison, Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (1999). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2), 87–105. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1096-7516(00)00016-6
In Dr. Freeman Hrabowski’s TED Talk “4 Pillars of College Success in Science”, he told the story of Nobel laureate Isidor Isaac Rabi’s mother’s famous question: Did you ask a good question today? Let’s pause for a minute and reflect: What is a good question? What questions do you ask most frequently? What questions do your students or children ask most?
Types of Questions
Teachers usually encourage students to ask questions. Dr. Peter Liljedahl, author of “Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics” and professor of Mathematics Education at Simon Fraser University in Canada, however, points out that not all questions need and should be answered directly. According to Liljedahl, there are three types of questions and only one type of questions requires direct answers. Liljedahl categorizes questions in K-12 mathematics classrooms into the following three types:
Stop Thinking Questions
Keep Thinking Questions (Liljedahl, 2020)
Proximity questions refer to questions students ask when the teacher is close by, as the name suggests. Liljedahl’s research showed that the information gained from such proximity questions was not being used at all. Stop-Thinking Questions are questions students ask just to get the teacher to do the thinking for them, with the hope that the teacher will answer it and they can stop thinking, such as “Is this right?”, “Do we have to learn this?”, or “Is this going to be on the test?” Unlike the first two types of questions, keep-thinking questions are often clarification questions or about extensions the students want to pursue. According to to Liljedahl, if you have an authentic and level-appropriate task for students to work on, 90% of the questions being asked are proximity questions or stop-thinking questions and only 10% of questions students ask are keep-thinking questions. Liljedahl pointed out that answering proximity questions and stop-thinking questions are harmful to learning because it stops students from thinking.
Next, how could teachers differentiate the types of questions being asked? Liljedahl offers a simple solution to separate keep-thinking questions from the other two types of questions: Are they asking for more activity or less, more work or less, more thinking or less?
After differentiating the types of questions, what should teachers do with these proximity questions and stop-thinking question? Ignore them? No, not at all! Liljedahl emphasizes that there is a big difference between having students’ questions heard and not answered, and having their questions not heard. How should teachers answers these proximity questions and stop-thinking questions then?
Ten Things to Say to Proximity And Stop-Thinking Questions
Liljedahl provides the following list of ten responses to a proximity or stop-thinking question so that you are not giving away the answer and taking the thinking opportunity away from students. Basically, you turn the questions back to your students!
Isn’t that interesting?
Can you find something else?
Can you show me how you did that?
Is that always true?
Why do you think that is?
Are you sure?
Does that make sense?
Why don’t you try something else?
Why don’t you try another one?
Are you asking me or telling me? (Liljedahl, 2021, p. 90)
Cross-Discipline Nature of Good Questions
“Building Thinking Classrooms“ is recommended to me by some college biology teachers in the US. Biology teachers recommending math teaching book, isn’t that interesting? The reasoning behind this recommendation is that the techniques being taught in this book could be easily applied to any other teaching context to get your students engaged in thinking, whether it is K12 education or college education, math teaching or teaching of another subject.
Asking Good Questions for Management and Education Administration
If you are not directly involved in teaching and learning, but in administrative or management role in an organization, Dr. Amy Edmondson has some practical suggestions for asking good questions to keep organization growing healthily. Dr. Amy Edmondson, author of “The Fearless Organization”, Novartis professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School, states that good questions focus on what matters, invite careful thought, and give people room to respond. Edmondson also suggests three strategies for framing good questions:
To broaden the discussion. For example: What do others think?
What are we missing? For example: What other options could we consider?
How would XXX (such as our role model, our mentor, or our competitor) approach this? For example: Who has a different perspective?
With the above tips for asking questions, are you ready to ask a good question today?
Edmondson, A. (2018). The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation and Growth. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Are you searching for a way to increase student-to-student interaction in your teaching? Would you thrill at the idea of more creative online discussions? This post describes a well-tested approach that supports strong inter-student interaction and avoids the typically mundane discussion activity. Best of all, this approach works effectively in multiple STEM disciplines, including mathematics, engineering, coding, and other problem-solving orientated subjects.
Since I always look for ways to make online discussions more engaging and meaningful for students, I like to share instructors’ creative and fun approaches. Several years ago, I wrote a blog post explaining how a math instructor engaged students, asking them to find examples of parabolas they were studying that week in their local environment and post pictures on the discussion board. It was a huge success and had students enthusiastically sharing their discoveries.
I’m currently working with an engineering instructor to develop a series of graduate-level online courses. The challenge is how to approach a series of homework activities. The assigned problems are difficult, so solving in small groups is beneficial. However, the instructor also wants to make sure that all students independently develop a firm grasp of the principles and processes, but without worry about right answers.
Enter the two-step problem solving approach. Here’s how it works:
First, students review a complex scenario-based problem, which they attempt to resolve individually. Students are assessed on accurate application of the proper processes, formulas, or steps to solve the problem, not on whether they come up with the correct answer.
In the following week, students work in 3- or 4-person teams, uploading and sharing their individual responses on the group’s private discussion board. This leads to the second step, where students review the logic and processes taken by team members. To reach agreement on the correct answer, they collaborate and discuss all the proposed approaches, actively engaging with and educating each other, citing resources that support why their approach is correct. Ultimately, each small group must interact and debate until they reach a consensus, which is submitted and graded for a correct (or not) answer.
The engineering instructor has implemented this approach for several terms and finds it successful in several ways.
The individual first attempt minimizes the potential of a student shirking their duties or not giving their full effort to the group activity.
Being assessed on approach and application of appropriate principles eases the anxiety of getting the right answer, which minimizes the temptation to use shortcuts or unethical options.
The group discussion supports active learning and requires students to present their solution. When the student believes their answer is correct, they confidently cite evidence and reference applicable resources to explain their rationale.
Given today’s global business environment, the ability to succeed as part of a team is an essential skill to master, requiring effective communication, persuasion, and negotiation to arrive at a consensus.
Working as a team alleviates pressure and allows everyone to contribute, more or less evenly. Students must interact with peers and learn to respect and appreciate individual differences, skills, and perspectives.
Although most problems have a “right” answer, solutions often include a more nuanced response that highlights the need for some degree of subjective judgment.
Using this two-step approach has been valuable for students. It reinforces their efforts to grasp the formulas and processes related to the problem, while simultaneously providing the space to learn from their peers. And as noted earlier, this method is easily adaptable to many disciplines and subjects. If you are searching for a way to increase student-to-student interaction in your teaching, you may want to give this two-step approach a try.
We’d love to hear your feedback and comments, so please post if you want to share your experience with this or other creative approaches. Good luck!
Susan Fein, Ecampus Instructional Designer, firstname.lastname@example.org