Keeping Your Students Engaged Online

This blog post is part of a series of blog posts on what instructors need to do at the beginning, during and at the end of the online course. The blog post on starting your online courses was posted September 2014, this blog post is on keeping students engaged throughout the online course. Here are some ideas:

Establish Weekly Rhythm:

The main reason for establishing the weekly rhythm is support predictability and consistency for students and instructors. It will help everyone in developing his or her weekly schedule and know the amount of work needed every week (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010).

Discussion Boards:

While the online learners are motivated intrinsically and prefer self-learning and self-accusation, they will need to satisfy the course requirements and you will need to assign grades to the participation in the discussion board. Rubrics could be an effective tool to help students in understanding the requirements and the expectations. You could use a very simple rubric as shown below:

Table 1: Simple Three-Point Rubric

1 point: 2 points: 3 points:
Minimal response to module questions Postings responds to the question but does not stimulate further class discussion Posting fully address the question and stimulate at least one substantial follow-up posting

Source: Bartoletti (2007) as listed in (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010).

Here is a list of rubrics for discussion boards with more details on effective online communication.

Get Early Feedback:

Two to three weeks into the course, ask students for their feedback on the content, the structure of the course, the course requirements and the communication from you, this will serve as a formative evaluation and will help you in doing early changes if needed. You could use an anonymous online survey or use the forum in the Learning Management System (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010).

Online Activity using Discussion Boards

Grouping students into smaller groups online will provide students to develop and exchange academic ideas with their unseen peers. It also provides students new to the online environment, an additional opportunity to become more comfortable with the online discussion boards (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011).


  • Title: Dyad Debate
  • Objective: To introduce students to the idea of exchanging oppositional thoughts online.
  • Authors: Mona P. Ternus, RN, C, Ph.D., Old Dominion University and Debbie R. Faulk, RN, Ph.D., Auburn University.
  • Method: Asynchronous
  • Instructions: Using the threaded area, debate two of the following issues with your assigned discussion partner: (1) Should illegal immigrants be included in health care benefits? (2) Should Ontario legalize abortion? (3) Should the government decide whether physician-assisted suicide is legal?
    • Each student should post a summary of one of the debates under the discussion area for issue 1, issue 2, or issue 3. Students read the summaries other have written and comment on at least two of the other teams’ debate.

“The activity and recommendation is adapted from the book “Engaging the Online Learner: Activities and Resources for Creative Instruction” (2010). Rita-Marie Conrad, a teacher and designer of online university courses, and J. Ana Donaldson, educational technology, University of Northern Iowa.”

For consultations on effective online activities contact Dalia Hanna, Manager Teaching and Learning at

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