Instructors and students alike frequently face the same uncertainty when it comes to online learning: "How will I interact with others in the course?”
Although web conferencing tools, such as Zoom, have been a powerful way to connect with students through the COVID-19 epidemic, instructors across colleges at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette have created dynamic online learning environments using a mix of tools to foster engagement with and among students.
Last year, assistant professor Dr. Dale Bazan joined the School of Music and Performing Arts with several years of online teaching experience under his belt. He quickly began putting his experience into practice by reimagining the traditionally face-to-face History of American Popular Music course for hybrid and online delivery.
In his course, students use VoiceThread to create audio introductions. The platform allows students to reply to one another and supports video, as well. Dr. Bazan prompts students by providing the initial post in the thread, demonstrating what he’s looking for: name, hometown, favorite popular musician, and a personal fun fact.
“Especially when you’re hybrid or online, it’s easy to feel like you're talking into a void when you don’t have interaction,” he says.
Senior psychology instructor Dr. Christie Charles has been teaching online since 2016 and says VoiceThread has been transformative in her online industrial/organizational psychology courses for facilitating more informal, organic conversations.
“It allows for quicker, two-way exchanges,” she says. “You don’t have to post first, then read down the comments. It promotes student engagement, not only with the faculty member, but also amongst themselves. And that's very, very important.”
By using free resources from InfoGram and Canva, hospitality management instructor Lisa Bowles has helped students better connect with learning objectives in her business writing course. In addition to outlining her course objectives in the syllabus, Bowles includes interactive infographics with course objectives and expectations.
The illustrations achieve two goals. Students report they better understand what they're supposed to learn through the duration of the course. Meanwhile, Bowles demonstrates a different way to present information, which is one of the objectives in her business writing course.
"This class has several full-time professionals and they absolutely love this feature because it is a harbinger of a class assignment," she says. “They talk about how they can use these tools to communicate with their staff and how much of a difference the visual versus written message makes.
"As an instructor, I want to learn with my students and show them I'm not asking them to do something I wouldn't do."
Dr. Bazan has also found multimedia useful in encouraging students to connect more deeply with course content.
In his history of popular music course, students create multimedia timelines to show how music developed over time. Students build their timelines throughout the course, then the projects are posted in the discussion forum for other students to see and review.
“What's nice about it is it’s multimedia rich,” he says. “They get to have a little bit of creativity as they choose the items that they thought were most important in each chapter, whether it was an artist or a particular song or the invention of the phonograph or, you know, mp3 players later on.”
Moodle’s Discussion Forums remain a popular tool across online and hybrid courses for a reason. The tool is easy to use for both faculty and students and has myriad possibilities.
Dr. Charles says she favors discussion forums in her introductory psychology and industrial/organizational psychology courses, requiring students to respond to her prompt as well as each other's responses.
"The forums promote original thinking; it allows for a more expansive exchange,” says Dr. Charles. “I really want them to think about psychology and how can they use psychology in their field of interest. I don't want a quick response; I want them to think and possibly do research.”
But Discussion Forms can go beyond text.
In Dr. Bazan’s course, students post their timelines and video presentations to the course forum. There, students review one another’s work from topic to use of examples.