Student Engagement… Online?

One of the aspects of most quality assurance review methods is to measure the student engagement. Depending on the method, reviewers look at what mechanisms for student engagement exist, how active is the student body, the student learning experience or simply monitoring attendance/drop-out rates/ withdrawal rates and etc.

Student engagement is not always easy to detect. As mentioned above, it can take place through different forms so it is not always very obvious. Many institutions are now striving to create better mechanisms for their students to be involved with the “behind-the-scenes” of their learning, and thus increase how much their students are engaged with them.

Another side of student engagement is the activity in the classroom. How much are students involved in their own education through directed and self-directed learning. How much are they getting out of a course, are they doing the minimum or look for opportunities to learn and do more. Monitoring student progression throughout the different stages of learning is now becoming very important in education. To some extent, it has always been there, in the form of stats and figures, but now institutions are looking for the why. Why aren’t students performing well on a course? Why have students decided to leave a course? Why have students decided to progress on the next level? Perhaps online learning has somewhat of a head start on this.

In traditional HE it is not easy to measure the levels of engagement in a class room, or even on assignments and work done away. Yes, to some extent the end result can be seen, as well as snapshots of the progression, but often the picture is not full.

When the learning is done fully online, the tutors have the ability to see a much more detailed story. Through an online learning platform the student engagement on a course can easily be monitored – what content do they engage with? Which parts of the course do they go through? How much time do they spend on different parts of the course? As already discussed, just monitoring is not enough. However understanding how each student, and the whole cohort, engages with the material they have been provided with can also allow tutors to act early and make changes/address issues as the programme runs

For example, if a student is not logging in and working through the materials for a week, the tutor can easily connect with the student and understand why they are not engaging with the online community. One might argue that this is no different to what happens in a traditional HE course, however when there are 100s of students in one class room it is not always so easy to spot those who are not regularly attending or are behind on their learning.

The ability to act instantly when one notices that not everyone is engaging with the materials is what could perhaps increase the quality of the student learning experience. Immediate and individually tailored support when needed – just imagine how much this can help deal with drop out rates and allow students to see how they can cope with the course better! This is where online learning has an advantage

However, this is true when it comes to SPOCs (Small Private Online Courses) or distance learning courses. But how can this be included in a MOOC? The answer may well be in the fact that MOOCs offer what other online (or not) courses can’t – a community or a forum of thousands of people doing the exact same course. Perhaps this ability to speak with such a large amount of other students, with various experiences and backgrounds, is an alternative way to offer this type of support.