If online students aren’t engaged, what would you do as an educator?

This post on If online students aren’t engaged, blame their teachers sounds pretty strong: in blaming the teachers.

I think there is a fundamental assumption here, that the blog author Alexandra associates the causal relationship between engagement and education, and then learning.

Do online students need to be engaged in order to learn?  Yes, if learning is defined in “engagement” terms.  It depends on what sort of engagement that we want the learners to be engaged in.  If I were to learn how to critique on a blog post based on arguments and evidences, then I would likely conduct research, curate related blog posts or artifacts, and reflect on my own experiences, in order to comment and evaluate the post.  So, would I need  teachers in guiding me through such critique?  May be, if I don’t have the skills.  Assuming that I have the necessary skills, I don’t see why I wouldn’t be engaged in this reflective learning through blogging.  Do I need teachers’ intervention?  Again, this is not always needed, if I am well motivated. When it comes to posting my post on the social media platforms, I could choose my own blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google + etc.  This has no direct relationships with the teachers too, though the teacher (professor) could suggest that my blog to be posted on certain platform or LMS.

This illustrates that online students are engaged based on a number of factors, like motivation, skills and literacies possessed, and the appropriate learning environment.

If the professors are engaging with the students mainly through online video postings, like the Khan Academy, or many other videos offered by institutions or providers, again this depends on what the students are looking for, and whether they would like to engage in such video watching activities.  For me, Khan videos are too “elementary” and as I shared in my previous posts, I wouldn’t be able to make a fair judgment, not because it is too “good” or having a lot of views, but that I don’t need them in my learning at all.  So, am I engaged in those sorts of learning?  I watch lots of video lectures, without any professor’s guidance, or direction.  But I also ask lots of questions, and reflect on many videos, based on my critical self reflective questioning, and conversation with others.  If I didn’t learn much out of the video lectures, I don’t blame any others, including the teachers, or professors,  or the education system, and not myself.  I ask questions on: “If I were to re-design my learning, what would I do?” instead.

So, my question is: If online students aren’t engaged, should we blame the teachers?  Why? What is critical here is that the teachers could never fully understand the needs and expectations of the students, especially in an online environment.  What the teachers could have done instead is to explore and use different ways to help and support the students.  If students still aren’t engaged in online learning, perhaps, online learning could be done using other means, as I have shared in my reflection above.

So, ask the learners how they would like to learn, and what, when, where, who they would like to learn with.  Remember that learning is both a thinking and action process, based on reflection, problem solving and decision making.  If we don’t help our colleagues and learners to think more deeply in improving and innovating their learning and teaching practices, we may end up with a blaming game, that would lead us to desperation, and a lose-lose situation.

If we reflect on what is happening in MOOCs (xMOOCs), do we see praises and critiques on both sides, with “blames” and strong criticisms, followed by defenses and strong views – that we are right, you are not that “right” here and there, with or without much evidences sort of conversation or discourse.  That may be the type of discourse that we are looking for in Higher Education, in collective inquiry and a philosophical debate.

I do think it is interesting to look into both sides of the coin, on why some people are engaged, and so many people are totally dis-engaged for all sorts of reasons (as in xMOOCs), and then re-think about what it means by the pedagogy employed (Mastery Learning, flipped classroom, and discussion boards or forums based on LMS).  In theory these pedagogy SHOULD work best in xMOOCs.  In practice, we need to reflect upon what is going right, and what could be done better.

Finally, it seems that we are still relying much on lecturing as a principal way of conveying and transmitting information.  If online students aren’t engaged, who should we blame?  I don’t think any one would blame the whole education system, as that means you have to change the whole education system.

Consider the following:

1. Adopt creative classroom, and creative learning where learners and educators could co-learn and thus co-evolve in the online learning ecology.

2. Adopt a diversified pedagogy, like Constructivism, Social Constructivism and Connectivism, and Digital Pedagogy or Netagogy as shared in my previous posts, and use problem and project based learning to engage the learners.

3. Create a win-win learning environment, by encouraging colleagues and learners to immerse in learning networks, community or network of practice.

4. Encourage and support professors, educators and learners to create PLE/PLN and eportfolios as evidences of education and learning.  Role model and demonstrate how one could create such a learning practice as an educator and empower the learners to practice and learn pro-actively in an open learning environment.

5. Motivate others by providing adequate incentives and positive reinforcements, through feedback and rewards.  I understand that this may relate heavily on a behavioral approach.  But is it true that it always works, especially with our colleagues and learners?

We are all learning together, locally and globally in this social world of education.  Each of us is a change agent, a leader of learning and education.  It’s just a matter of providing peer support and leadership that we could move education and learning forward, in this 21st century.

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8 thoughts on “If online students aren’t engaged, what would you do as an educator?

  1. >Do I need teachers’ intervention?

    Are you suggesting that the teachers are dis-engaging students through through teacher-intervention, and therefore are to blame?

  2. I don’t think I am. Teacher intervention may be engaging (i.e. by lecturing, tutoring, mentoring), though I don’t think it would be helpful to “blame” the teachers. Teachers’ intervention could also be interpreted quite differently by different learners. For instance, would students appreciate if they receive emails asking them to do certain tasks or to check on the updates? Students who are self-motivated may not need much intervention, especially if they progress well in their learning. However, students who aren’t able to cope with the learning may need extra help. Again such help should be offered, not mandated, so the students could perceive intervention in positive lights, and not just a mechanistic means to achieve the “goals” decided by the educators.
    Any thoughts on this?

  3. Pingback: If online students aren't engaged, what would you do as an educator? | CUED | Scoop.it

  4. Pingback: If online students aren't engaged, what would you do as an educator? | Revista digital de Norman Trujillo | Scoop.it

  5. Pingback: If online students aren't engaged, what would you do as an educator? | Educación a Distancia (EaD) | Scoop.it

  6. Hi John, sorry for the delay in answering. Yes, very busy with the study. How about you? Still writing profusely, I see.

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