Online classes are increasingly becoming the norm in order to provide students with greater access to higher education. Not only do virtual classrooms potentially eliminate problems of limited class size, but they also provide students with one intuitive platform for tackling a semester’s worth of subject matter. However, as more professors familiarize themselves with this structure, numerous questions have come to the surface. Do online classes provide the same level of student engagement? Is there a means of cheat-proofing assessments taken online? Will students miss out on opportunities to collaborate with their peers?
The complexity of these pedagogical queries primarily lies in the fact that each classroom is different, and educators have distinct teaching styles that may or may not cater well to an online class structure. With that said, positive student engagement online relies on streamlined, creative, collaborative teaching strategies. Whereas traditional lectures and exams may not be ideal, alternatives such as discussion forums, group projects and critical essays can encourage students to be more involved in class despite geographical distance.
Project-based learning is a particularly strong strategy for challenging students to work together toward a common goal. Moreover, online group projects hold real-world implications, considering businesses around the world must often work together via phone and Internet forums. Luckily, there are plenty of applications and programs that are designed to create group projects and collaborate on development.
“Discussion forums are a great way to identify student engagement.”
The benefits of project-based learning in an online classroom
One of the most noticeable differences between a brick-and-mortar and online classroom is that the majority of class time doesn’t involve meeting with educators and colleagues face to face. Hence, asking students to turn to their neighbor and discuss subject matter in groups isn’t a viable option in the traditional sense. Discussion forums mirror this in-person interaction but also provide documentation, giving students something to refer back to. These forums also allow educators to get more involved if they so choose. Therefore, discussion forums can be a good way field questions, identify group interactions and assess how teams are working together.
Project-based learning naturally encourages written discussions amongst team members and also provides students an opportunity to grade their colleagues using peer evaluation. According to Faculty Focus, peer review systems can encourage more collaboration and engagement for online learners. This strategy teaches students to be accountable for their actions and participation, which is a valuable lesson for the working world.
As technology advances, web conferencing and video sharing services have also become increasingly accessible, making it possible for groups to present information in online forums. This means that even though a student or group doesn’t stand in front of the lecture hall and deliver a traditional presentation, they’ll still be able to develop leadership and communication skills.
Creating an assessment
Team assessments for online group projects are an invaluable tool because they allow educators to weigh the amount of work each student completed individually. Deliverable materials also play a pivotal role in assessing online learners. Whether it’s a PowerPoint, website or other project, there needs to be evidence of engagement and investment. Another option is to implement an interactive program that will be challenging for students to complete, such as a business simulation.
Campus Technology, a leading publication about higher education, notes that quick quizzes rather than final exams will not only better engage online learners, but also potentially lead to better student outcomes. This methodology is a good complementary assessment strategy when coupled with larger projects that take place over the entire semester. Blending these strategies allows educators to address subjects in which students are having difficulty throughout the semester, while still receiving deliverables that better encompass the entirety of the coursework.