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P. Gabor, C. Ing

University of Calgary (CANADA)
Student engagement has been shown to be instrumental to learning outcomes but, in on-line or blended learning situations, it is more difficult to engage students. This is particularly true in fully on-line courses where students may never meet their instructor or other learners in person. It is easy to visualize students sitting isolated in front of their computers, iPads or mobile phones, working to complete course requirements, but never developing relationships with their instructor or peers. While engagement with instructors and peers can be the source of support and build motivation, for some students, isolation is the reality of their learning experience. For others, there is a degree of engagement but at a lower level than is desirable.

A lack of engagement by learners in on-line and blended milieus occurs because the instructor’s personality and presence are filtered by the electronic media and the peer-to-peer relationships that most students naturally develop in face-to-face learning situations are not as easily formed. Thus, to some students, the instructor and other students are a disembodied presence—text on a screen, not real people with whom relationships can be formed.

Research suggests that student engagement can be increased by creating a strong instructor presence within courses and by building on-line communities that foster instructor-learner relationships as well as relationships among learners. Students who are well engaged and connected are more likely to complete the course and achieve their learning goals. They are also more likely to be satisfied with the instruction and have meaningful learning experiences.

In this presentation we will look at strategies that can increase engagement and create effective learning communities. Among the strategies discussed are: (1) how instructors can create a strong presence so their personality emerges and invites students to engage; (2) how courses and curricula can be designed in a way that promotes interaction; and (3) how various course activities can be structured to bring students together to reduce isolation and promote interaction and support. We will illustrate these strategies, using examples from our teaching practice.