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Designing an Online Course that Mimics Face-to-Face Interactions

Submitted by on August 28, 2013 – 12:00 pmNo Comment

“People…seem to feel that an online environment may somehow be less personal and interactive than [in] a classroom.”

Identified by Dr. Beth Mancini in the video below, this sentiment is common among instructors designing an online course, especially those accustomed to teaching face-to-face courses only.

The virtual environment requires that instructors rethink almost every aspect of a course, especially the way relationships are created and interactivity occurs. In a course where students are geographically separated, how can they feel apart of the course’s learning community?

Watch this brief video where Dr. Mancini–Associate Dean at University of Texas at Arlington College of Nursing–introduces a concept called intentional design: the key to ensuring an online course supports interaction and community as well as the on-campus classroom.

Dr. Beth Mancini | Faculty and online students interaction from Academic Partnerships on Vimeo.

Creating Opportunities for Interaction

The level of interaction online students experience can hinge on the amount of opportunities they’re given. As Dr. Mancini shares, instructors need to intentionally create opportunities where students can interact; course community does not build itself.

Especially if interaction affects student retention, instructors should provide online students the interaction opportunities they would likely receive in a face-to-face environment.

“…online education, when explicitly designed to do so, can have all the characteristics of the best of classroom-based courses.” – Dr. Beth Mancini, Associate Dean at University of Texas at Arlington College of Nursing

The Interaction Types Your Course Needs

Interactions in an online course should occur between students and their peers; between students and course content; and between students and the instructor. These three types of interactions

  • create relationships and community that students need to feel connected.
  • prevent disengagement and isolation that occurs when students feel disconnected.

By understanding the three ways in which interactions occurs, instructors can being to design a course that incorporates reliable strategies for facilitating interaction.

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4 Strategies that Work Time and Time Again

For many years, our academic services team at Academic Partnerships has consulted our partner faculty through the course design process. Below we capture interaction strategies that the team has consistently seen proven effective and commonly recommend when consulting faculty.

Q&A Discussion Boards

“I always recommend that faculty include a Q&A discussion board for students. This not only reduces the amount of emails sent to instructors from students asking the same questions, but it also encourages student-student interaction as they answer posts from their peers.” – Monica Hogland, Academic Services Consultant

For a discussion board alternative, see Piazza: Create a Support System to Enhance Students’ Learning Experience.

Small Group Discussions

“Breaking the class into groups each week is very helpful because the discussions end up having great depth as opposed to breadth. It is a good idea to change the groups each week so students get different perspectives.”  – Melanie Hovland, Academic Services Sr. Consultant

See 9 Strategies to Ensure Successful Course Discussions.

Synchronous Chats

“Set up a couple of times during the semester when the instructor will be available for synchronous chats to answer student questions. If you can do these at different times of the day (say one chat in the evening and one on the weekend) it can be helpful in addressing the variety of schedules online students have. Also, if you can record these sessions it can be beneficial for those who are not able to attend the sessions.” – Heidi Ash, Manager of Academic Quality

Getting Started Section

“To set the foundation for student-instructor interaction, include a getting started section at the beginning of your course to set students up for success early on. A welcome statement, your course syllabus, support information, and technical requirements will provide your students with your expectations from the start.” – Bryan Hauf; Academic Services Consultant, Course Design and Systems Admin

See Welcome Announcement: Paving a Path for Students’ First Steps toward Success.

Your Turn!

What strategies would you add to the list? How do you create opportunities for interaction in your course? What has worked for you; what methods were less successful?

Share with us in the comments section.


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