white male faculty teaching in front of projected zoom class

Facilitating Engaging Courses

Key Questions for Facilitating Engaging Online Courses

  • How will you promote regular engagement with course content and between students?
  • How will you ensure a sense of belonging among students?
  • How will you establish teaching presence?
  • How will you help students develop autonomy?
  • How will you assess student learning?
  • How will you keep students engaged and motivated?

Your facilitation strategies shift when teaching online. When teaching online, you will need to be intentional about appearing active and present in courses. Students may not see the hours an instructor pours into the course design process or monitoring course activity behind a screen. Students want to feel a connection with their instructors, and this connection has an impact on student learning experience and outcomes. Some strategies to increase teaching presence include:

  • Create a pre-course survey that allows you to gauge student background knowledge, circumstances, and anything else you’d like to quickly assess prior to the course. Gathering this information enables you to connect with your students by getting to know more about them and establishing a teacher presence. Knowing more about your students can inform how you facilitate the course. Students appreciate the opportunity to share about themselves.
  • Before the course starts you may want to record a welcome video and prepare announcements that will automatically go out at key times.
  • Messages and Announcements: You may want to send regular messages out (i.e., at the beginning, middle, and end of each module) to all students, selected groups or individuals to provide additional information, feedback or recommendations. This is helpful in keeping your course dynamic and for students to sense the instructor’s presence between meetings or activities. Read Using Announcements to Give Narrative Shape to your Online Course by Nathan Pritts in Faculty Focus.
  • Use video and audio technology to present course materials This helps establish and maintain a more personal connection with your students since they will be able to see you on screen.
  • Host online office hours and synchronous meetings: Meetings can be arranged during office hour blocks or via private meeting times using the Zoom integration in Canvas or other tools. Some students may not be able to meet during conventional business hours so flexibility is key.
  • Provide ongoing feedback and reinforcement: Feedback and reinforcement can take on many forms; email communication, audio recorded comments on assignments, or comments on discussions and class projects. One study found that out of 12 facilitation strategies explored, instructors’ timely response to questions and instructors’ timely feedback on assignments/projects were rated the highest in all four constructs (instructor presence, instructor connection, engagement and learning). Martin, F., Wang, C., & Sadaf, A. (2018). Student perception of helpfulness of facilitation strategies that enhance instructor presence, connectedness, engagement and learning in online courses. The Internet and Higher Education, 37, 52–65. Link to article via MSU library.
  • Engage Students in Online Discussions. Use open-ended prompts that encourage students to synthesize their own experiences with course content. Model effective communication to generate ideas and promote critical thinking, such as by asking questions, pointing out tensions, or drawing connections between posts. Consider norm building activities to promote robust contributions (e.g., Help students identify the characteristics of a good contribution by having them comment on sample posts that represent a poor, an average, and a stellar contribution. Use a rubric to give feedback on student discussions) Make initial discussion responses due before the module is complete so students can read and respond to their peers before the week’s end. Break students into smaller discussion groups if you have a larger class (6-10 is a nice size for online discussions). If discussing in real-time, consider using breakout rooms and having students report back a summary of their discussions either orally or through the chat.

These methods for increasing instructor presence online can also be used to enhance in person courses. For more on instructor presence, check out this collection of articles from Faculty Focus.

References and Resources