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Enhancing Online Student Engagement


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Engagement may be a precursor to meaningful interaction among classmates, and between instructors and students. Disengaged students often have limited interaction with course materials. Online educators may need to deliberately incorporate learning activities aimed at increasing student engagement. Arts-based learning activities can foster student social and academic engagement as they assist students and instructors in becoming more “real” to one another in the online learning milieu. Examples of arts-based learning activities that may facilitate student engagement include Photo Cascades, “My” Music Moments, and Word Sculptures.

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Enhancing Online Student Engagement

  1. 1. From the field Enhancing Online Student EngagementAuthors Engagement may be a precursor to meaningful interaction among classmates, and be- tween instructors and students. Disengaged students often have limited interactionBeth Perry, AthabascaUniversity, Professor with course materials. Online educators may need to deliberately incorporate activities aimed at increasing student engagement. Arts-based learning activities canKatherine J. Janzen, Mount foster student social and academic engagement as they assist students and instruc-Royal University, Assistant tors in becoming more “real” to one another in the online learning milieu. ExamplesProfessor of arts-based learning activities that may facilitate student engagement include Cascades, “My” Music Moments, and Word Sculptures.Margaret Edwards,Athabasca University, ActingDean and 1. Introduction Student engagement potentially influences student success in online education. Engagement comes in at least two forms – academic engagement and social engagement (Hu & Kuh,Tags 2002). Learners who are engaged academically are motivated to participate unreservedlyDistance Education, Student in educationally-meaningful learning activities and see them through to completion (Brew-engagement, Arts-based ster & Fager, 2000). Socially engaged learners interact with peers and instructors in socially-learning activities, Higher meaningful ways (Hu & Kuh, 2002). Both social and academic engagement are important toEducation, Learning student success (2002).Technologies In online education facilitating student engagement may require purposeful teacher-assisted strategies. In face-to-face learning environments students are situated in the same physical space and social engagement may occur naturally. However when classmates and instructors are separated by distance, interaction and resulting social engagement may require deliber- ate interventions by teachers. Likewise, academic engagement in online learning environ- ments may be stimulated by providing learners with selected learning activities they find motivating. One limitation of online learning is the lack of a sense of the “real” (Janzen, Perry, & Ed- wards, 2011). In other words, due to geographic separation that is part of online learning students and instructors may experience a sense of isolation (lack of social engagement). Course participants may not sense they know one another in meaningful ways. For some, the experience of online learning may be distilled into sitting in front of a computer screen in solitude. In this classroom of one, course participants may never feel they belong to a larger educational community (Janzen, et al., 2011). Student engagement, both social and academic, can be influenced by multiple factors in- cluding course design, teaching methods, and nature of learning activities (Pike, Kuh, & Mc- Cormick, 2011). The focus of this paper is on the use art-based learning activities to facilitate engagement in online learning environments. Art-based learning activities are a category of online teaching strategies founded in the arts (Perry & Edwards, 2010). These learning activities may include elements of drama, music, visual art, or the literary (2010). In this pa- per Photo Cascades, “My” Music Moments, and Word Sculptures learning activities are dis- ing earn eLearning Papers • ISSN: 1887-1542 • www.elearningpapers.eueL ers 30 u ers.e gpap .elea rnin n.º 30 • September 2012Pap www 1
  2. 2. From the fieldcussed and their influence on social and academic engagement to the cascade learning activity and students add questions todescribed. The discussion section expands of why arts-based further the discussion. The result of this learning activity is alearning activities may enhance student engagement by explor- collection of evocative images and reflective questions relateding how these activities help learners meet their basic psycho- to a course theme. The cascade is representative of the variouslogical and intellectual needs. class member perspectives on a theme, including the instructor and students. The questions and images are discussed by the2. Learning Activities to Facilitate Student students in an online discussion forum. An example of a starter Photo Cascade is provided in Figure 1. The activity relates to the Engagement course theme of ethics.2.1 Photo Cascade 2.2 “My” Music MomentsThe Photo Cascade learning activity is derived from photovoice.Photovoice was first introduced by Wang and Burris (1997) as Music is a powerful arts-based teaching tool that can be in-a modality for participatory action research. Perry (2005) con- cluded in online course learning activities in many ways. In theceptualized and developed photovoice as an online teaching “My” Music Moments learning activity students are invited tostrategy to promote social engagement between students, and choose a selection of music that appeals to them and that helpsbetween students and teachers (Perry & Edwards, 2006). Pho- them in some way to further their thinking related to a coursetovoice uses purposefully selected visual images and affiliated theme. For example, the lyrics of a particular song may focus onreflective questions as an online teaching strategy and is based course topics such as death, bereavement, birth, transitions, orin the art of photography (2006). dementia to name a few. Students are asked to choose a song related to a course theme that they find personally meaningfulPhoto Cascade is a collection of photographic images focused and to share that song and a written explanation regarding whaton a course theme. The first images in the cascade are provided the song taught them in a course discussion forum. Websitesby the course instructor and students are invited to contribute such as provide free legally down-additional related images resulting in a cascade of images. Addi- loadable music. Students can search the database on this andtionally, the instructor contributes an initial reflective question similar sites using keywords to find their “My” Music Moments selection. Select the image that helps you define ethics and explain your choice. 2.3 Word Sculptures Sculpture as an art-form may seem challeng- ing to incorporate into online teaching and learning. As technology becomes more so- phisticated it may be possible for students to produce virtual sculptures depicting course topics. As not all students may have access to 3-D animation software used to create such sculptured artifacts, a way to incorporable sculpture in online learning activities using tools accessible to all gave rise to the idea of Word Sculptures. Sometimes these Word Sculptures are called “wordles” or “word clouds.” Students use free online software located at to sculpt their chosen words related to a course topic in to a word picture that they can share withFigure 1: Example of Beginning Photo Cascade on the Theme of Ethics the class. For example, Figure 2 is a Word ing earn eLearning Papers • ISSN: 1887-1542 • eL ers 30 u ers.e gpap .elea rnin n.º 30 • September 2012 Pap www 2
  3. 3. From the field the topic under study. Students are most likely to succeed with learning activities that build on their existing knowledge and that provide them opportunities to apply what they are learn- ing to real-life situations. In several ways art-based learning activities challenge learners academically. For example, the Photo Cascade activity requires students to have (or acquire) knowledge related to the course theme to which the Photo Cascade is aligned. In order to make, and justify, their image choices and questions related to the Photo Cascade learners need to know key terms and theories related to the course theme. Learners use existing and newly acquired knowledge to participate in the Photo Cascade activity and in doing so their sense of competency grows. Because there are no “right” answers to the Photo Cascade activity, learners who participate will succeed. Again this contributes to their underlying self-confidence regarding the course topic and their sense of competency. 3.2 Connection with Others Arts-based learning interventions enhance human connec- tions in online classrooms and help participants form a sense of community in their online courses (Perry, Edwards, Menzies,Figure 2: Word Sculpture on the Course Topic of Healthy Living & Janzen, 2011). Establishing trust and respect among class participants is an important precursor to connections (Purkey, 2007). Further, class members need to become acquainted withSculpture on the course topic of healthy living. Word Sculptures one another so that connections can be established. Sharingshared in a course discussion forum generate considerable dis- self-created Word Sculptures, personally meaningful music se-cussion among class members. lections, and images that represent their perspectives, reveals to their classmates their personal qualities, values, biases, and3. Discussion priorities. These art-based teaching strategies provide an ac-These arts-based learning activities may enhance student en- ceptable avenue for self-disclosure that allows familiarity to begagement because they help online learners meet their basic enhanced. Class members (including the instructor) get to knowpsychological and intellectual needs. Hu and Kuh concluded one another. As students take risks, participate in challengingthat students need a sense of competency, connection with activities, expose vulnerabilities and emotions, and find sharingothers, autonomy, and the opportunity for originality and self- received non-judgementally by class colleagues, the sense ofexpression (2007). Learners who achieve these needs are more trust and respect is heightened and connections may be made.likely to become socially and academically engaged in the online Further, students reveal their own “stories” though their con-learning experience. tributions to these learning activities allowing fellow learners to discover shared hobbies, interests, and other commonalities that may help connections to form and strengthen.3.1 Sense of CompetencyStudents feel competent when they are presented with aca- 3.3 Autonomydemic challenges that are demanding but attainable. Learnerswho participate in, and succeed, at learning activities gradu- Skinner and Chi (2012) concluded that learners with a sense ofally achieve a sense they are capable and competent regarding autonomy are more academically engaged. Self-determination ing earn eLearning Papers • ISSN: 1887-1542 • eL ers 30 u ers.e gpap .elea rnin n.º 30 • September 2012 Pap www 3
  4. 4. From the fieldtheory purports that autonomy enhances intrinsic motivation Word Sculptures are likely to be exactly the same. Additionally,with autonomy defined as the “universal urge to be causal students justify their choices to others in the course furtheringagents of one’s own life” (Deci & Ryan, 2002). A sense of au- the originality of their contributions. The opportunity to sharetonomy can be facilitated in students by providing them choice. one’s unique story enhances learner engagement in the onlineIn the learning activities discussed in this paper students can learning environment (Xu, Park, & Baek, 2011).choose to participate or not. Further learners who do partici-pate choose images, music selections, and the words used in 4. Conclusiontheir individualized Word Sculptures. These opportunities forchoice facilitate a sense of autonomy leading to the potential Learning environments affect student learning (Haigh, 2008).for academic and social engagement. A positive cycle may be Effective online learning environments include learning activi-established. (see Figure 3) ties designed to engage learners. There seems to be positive relationships between learner engagement (so- cial and academic engagement) and meaningful interaction with others within the course and with course materials and resources. As students become more engaged they also interact more often and in more meaningful ways. Online educators are challenged to include learning activities that help course participants to become “real” to one another in the virtual milieu. Becoming “real” further facilitates en- gagement and interaction. Art-based learning activities described in this paper may contribute to this desired outcome. Art-based learning activities of Photo Cascade, “My” Music Moments, and Word Sculptures may be effective in enhancing online learner engagement in part because they help students meet their basic psychological and intellectual needs including a sense of competency, connec- tion with others, autonomy, and the opportunity for originality and self-expression (Kuh, 2007).Figure 3: Choice-Autonomy-Motivation-Engagement Cycle Further research related to possible associations between online learner engagement (social and3.4 Opportunity for Originality and Self- academic) and art-based learning activities is required. Social Expression determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2002) may provide a useful conceptual framework for these studies.The arts provide an avenue for self-understanding and self-expression (Ware, 2011). In some ways though participating inPhoto Cascade, “My” Music Moments, and Word Sculptureslearners are creating and sharing in the public forum of theclass community an autobiographical glimpse into their livesand ways of thinking about the course topics. Students who par-ticipate in these learning activities are sharing part of their per-sonal life story. Each student makes an original contribution tothese learning activities as no two images, music selections or ing earn eLearning Papers • ISSN: 1887-1542 • eL ers 30 u ers.e gpap .elea rnin n.º 30 • September 2012 Pap www 4
  5. 5. From the fieldReferences Perry, B., & Edwards, M., Menzies, C., & Janzen, K. (2011). Using Invitational Theory to Understand the Effectiveness of Ar-Brewster, C., & Fager, J. (2000). Increasing student engagement tistic Pedagogical Technologies in Creating an Invitational Classroom inand motivation: From time-on-task to homework. Portland, OR: the Online Educational Milieu. Proceedings of the 6th InternationalNorthwest Regional Educational Laboratory. Conference on e-Learning (ICEL), Kelowna, BC, June 27-28.Deci, E., & Ryan, R. (Eds.), (2002). Handbook of self-determina- Pike, G., Kuh, G., & McCormick, A. (2011). An investigationtion research. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press. of the contingent relationships between learning community par- ticipation and student engagement. Research in Higher Education,Haigh, M. (2008). Coloring in the emotional language of place. 52(3), 300-322. doi:10.1007/s11162-010-9192-1Journal of Invitational Theory and Practice, 14, 25-40. Purkey, W. W. (2007). An introduction to invitational theory. Re-Hu, S., & Kuh, G. D. (2002). Being (dis)engaged in education- trieved from purposeful activities: The influences of student and institu-tional characteristics. Research in Higher Education, 43, 555-575. Skinner, E. A., Chi, U., & The Learning-Gardens Educa- tional Assessment Group, 1. (2012). Intrinsic motivation andJanzen, K., Perry, B., & Edwards, M. (2011). Becoming real: engagement as “active ingredients” in garden-based education:Using the artistic pedagogical technology of Photovoice as a Examining models and measures derived from self-determinationmedium to becoming real to one another in the online environ- theory. Journal of Environmental Education, 43(1), 16-36. doi:10.108ment. International Journal of Nursing Education Scholarship, 8(1), 0/00958964.2011.596856.1-17. doi: 10.2202/1548-923X.2168 Wang C., & Burris M. (1997). Photovoice: concept, methodol-Perry, B. (2006). Using photographic images as an interactive ogy, and use for participatory needs assessment. Health Educationonline teaching strategy. The Internet and Higher Education, 9(3), Behavior, 24, 369-387.2229-40. Ware, L. (2011). When art informs: Inviting ways to see thePerry, B., & Edwards, M. (2006). Exemplary educators: Creating unexpected. Learning Disability Quarterly, 34(3), 194-202. doi:Ia community of inquiry online. In Perspectives on Student Learning: 0.1177/0731948711417557Presence, Interaction and Animation. Open and Distance LearningAssociation of Australia. Xu, Y., Park, H., & Baek, Y. (2011). A new approach toward digital storytelling: An activity focused on writing self-efficacy inPerry, B., & Edwards, M. (2010). Interactive teaching tech- a virtual learning environment. Journal of Educational Technology &nologies that facilitate the development of online learning com- Society, 14(4), 181-191.munities in nursing and health studies. Teacher Education Quarterly,Special Online Edition. Retrieved from and productionName of the publication: eLearning Papers CopyrightsISSN: 1887-1542 The texts published in this journal, unless otherwise indicated, are subjectPublisher: to a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivativeWorksEdited by: P.A.U. Education, S.L. 3.0 Unported licence. They may be copied, distributed and broadcast pro-Postal address: c/Muntaner 262, 3r, 08021 Barcelona (Spain) vided that the author and the e-journal that publishes them, eLearningPhone: +34 933 670 400 Papers, are cited. Commercial use and derivative works are not permitted.Email: The full licence can be consulted on es/by-nc-nd/3.0/ ing earn eLearning Papers • ISSN: 1887-1542 • www.elearningpapers.eueL ers 30 u ers.e gpap .elea rnin n.º 30 • September 2012Pap www 5