When Online Student Experience Underwhelms: Top 10 Ways to Surprise and Delight in the Online Classroom


Online teaching is not a one-way street—not simply a venue for faculty to convey information to a passive classroom of students. Engagement is vital for learners, and with novel approaches faculty have the potential to engage students in ways that go beyond what is possible in on-campus classroom settings.

Everspring’s learning design experts empower faculty and instructional designers with the latest information and research to inform and enrich their online courses and teaching. We support our university partners in applying innovative approaches and strategies that result in strong student engagement and outcomes.

Whether you are in the middle of designing an online or hybrid course or you are already teaching one, here are 10 expert recommendations for increasing student engagement:

1. Get to know your students by linking to your social media feeds. If your university allows it, meet your students “where they are” by engaging with them on social media. Many of your students are likely already following their personal and career interests on social media platforms. Sharing your social media feeds within your course is a great way to deliver up-to-the-moment information via a familiar platform.

2. Capture current events in an interactive way. Rather than posting a link to an article on a recent current event, record a video to capture your own thoughts and interactions with the resource. Post the recording in a discussion or announcement to spark conversation. Your recording could help set the tone of a discussion by supplying a model for your students. Utilizing videos in asynchronous course content is a good way to establish a personal connection with your students and increase their interest and engagement.

3. Use data and analytics to identify less-engaged students. In a traditional, on-campus course, students can give visual cues that they are disengaged: looking out the window, not participating in class discussions, and so on. In the online environment, analytics tools, such as the Course Analytics tool in Canvas, can help you identify disengaged students and give you an opportunity to reach out to them. Course analytics let you see the number of times students have posted in discussions, what time students post, and how often assignments are submitted on time or late. All this information can provide valuable insights into student engagement.

4. Identify digital-only students. Do you have a student who is not responding to messages, coming to virtual office hours, or answering phone calls? These may be digital-first, or digital-only, students. Digital-only students are actively engaged with the course but participate solely through digital formats. Review the course data for your students to determine if they are actively participating in the course. Once a student is identified as digital-only, you might consider meeting this student where they are and reaching out solely through the online platform.

5. Post announcements and check in with your students. Use announcements to check in with your students. We recommend posting an announcement at least 1-2 times a week. Regular announcements can help you to build community and rapport with your students, leading to increased engagement and a better overall experience. Announcements give you an opportunity to take the temperature of the class halfway through and provide students a channel to give feedback. You can use announcements to remind students about upcoming deadlines, guide them through required readings, and connect what they are learning to real-world events.

6. Create a culture of connection. In an on-ground course, students use visual and spatial cues to assess classroom culture. In an online course space, it is important to state your expectations for students upfront. Consider creating a teaching statement and including the following information:

  • How formal do you want to be?
  • How will you share information from outside the classroom?
  • Are there customs or routines in your class?
  • When can students expect to find you online?
  • What are the turnaround times on assignments?
  • What level of rigor is expected?

7. Suggest notifications for students. In most learning management systems, users can customize their notifications. Post suggestions based on how your course is structured and plan to communicate. Among other things, you might encourage students to sign up for text notifications for discussion posts. Text prompts can encourage students to jump into a discussion as it occurs. Provide guides or links to students when available.

8. Highlight featured discussion forums and posts. If you see a particularly interactive forum or post, make sure to highlight it, featuring discussions can help students understand your expectations and set the tone of the course.

9. Create a sense of healthy competition. Name and award a weekly discussion champion, and perhaps reward them by letting them have input into the next topic for discussion. Competition can cultivate interest and commitment, increasing overall levels of engagement. You can choose the champion or encourage students to vote for a champion themselves. You might also look for helpful tools in your learning management system. For example, Canvas has a liking feature that can be enabled in discussions; this feature could be used to sort your discussion by likes and identify a weekly champion.

10. Let your personality shine through! Set the tone for your classroom by showcasing your expertise and personality. Are you witty? Quirky? If so, highlight your personality in your course space. Create a unique sign-off or embrace the language of emoticons. Provide relevant content in your posts and announcements, and don't be afraid to challenge your students through lively discussion and debate.

Everspring’s “academics-first” approach helps faculty bring their teaching to life online.

We support faculty as they grow in their online teaching with customizable solutions, robust synchronous and asynchronous tools, the Envision learning design hub, on-demand assistance, academic consultation, course development, instructional design, and faculty training and support.

Our commitment to faculty is evident in our high satisfaction scores, which are routinely in the mid-to high-90% range, and our partner programs continue to rise in the national rankings.

To learn more about how Everspring can help you incorporate learning design best practices into your online courses, please send us a message to connect with one of our experts.

This article was previously published under the title “Increase Engagement Now” on Everspring’s Envision platform, a tool designed to support faculty and enhance teaching and learning through technology. Envision features white papers, how-to guides, videos, and social media channels to gain inspiration and find answers to questions.