Office for Digital Learning

Communication and Collaboration

Student Engagement in Digital Learning Environments

Posted on: 19 May 2016

Student Engagement

Active digital learning environments that promote and enhance student engagement include opportunities for active learning for students in terms of interacting with:

  • learning materials (inside and outside of class),
  • lecturer / tutor
  • each other

Research has shown that each of these interaction types have a positive impact on student achievement (Bernard et al., 2009). Palloff and Pratt (2007) state:

"Key to the learning process, are the interactions among students themselves, interactions between faculty and students, and the collaboration in learning that results from these interactions.”

Enhancing student engagement helps students to feel more involved with their course and helps to develop a supportive learning community where the cohort have personal connections with peers and lecturers. Giving students a variety of opportunities to engage with varied media content and share their learning and ideas with others will enhance meaningful engagement within a course and promote critical thinking.

Many students enter Higher Education with digital expectations based on previous learning experiences and have similar expectations when they enter higher education. Digital literacy is becoming an essential for students in terms of employability in a society that now relies on digital technology. Universities need to ensure that their students’ digital literacy skills are at a level that is suitable for them to thrive in the workplace. Various available tools and technologies in Ulster can be used to enhance the learning experience and meet student expectations whilst up-skilling students in the technologies that are now commonplace in their future workplaces.

Ulster's Tools and Technologies

Ulster has a number of technologies and tools available to enhance the teaching and learning experience. You may already be aware of or use many of these, but there may also be some that you have not heard of, would like to hear more about and would like to know how to use.

This section aims to cover the main digital communication and collaboration tools and technologies that are available to enhance student engagement within your courses whether they are campus based, blended or online.

If you introduce new tools in your digital learning environment be sure to provide information and guidelines for students about:

  • why they are using the tool
  • how to use the tool
  • why this activity is relevant and which course learning objectives it maps to.

Communication

The Virtual Learning Environment provides a number of communication tools that allow convenient direct communication between lecturers and students and between peers. They can be used for enhancing and facilitating learning and teaching activities, providing means for groups to collaborate online, and also just for simple purposes e.g. making an all student announcement.


Discussion Board

A communication tool for all users enrolled in a course for posting and responding to course related topics/scenarios. Postings can contain can contain text, images, video and audio. This tool can be used to stimulate online discussion on course themes, to encourage deeper thinking on a particular subject that is being covered in class and provide a forum for sharing knowledge, ideas and experience. Students can develop their skills in online communication and collaborative work. Types of activities can include class debate, subject based in-depth discussions, sharing web resources, role play, case base discussions, student led discussions.

Let students know what is expected of them, how and why they should participate and of any rules. Discussion boards work best if they are facilitated and led by an instructor, and as Salmon (2011) recommends summaries relating back to key course concepts should be provided to enrich the overall learning experience.

To encourage contributions by all students, access can be amended so that students cannot view others’ postings until they post their own.

https://en-us.help.blackboard.com/Learn/9.1_2014_04/Instructor/080_Collaboration/010_Discussions



Blog

A blog (short for web log) is a space where course members (lecturers and / or students) can post their personal reflections and then others can comment on them. Content is typically organised by topic with newest postings on top and can contain text, images, video and audio, comments are simply text based. This can be used to allow sharing of personal reflections, views on course topics and current affairs in an organised and public way, students tend to be less formal in blogs.

If you wish to use blogs it is important to let your students know how you intend to use them and share any rules and guidelines.

Blackboard Learn allows you to add Blogs directly to your course area thare are available only to those enrolled on your course. Journals are private versions of blogs and can only be seen by the student and instructor.

Public blogging systems e.g. BloggerEdublogs and WordPress are freely accessible online.

https://en-us.help.blackboard.com/Learn/9.1_2014_04/Instructor/080_Collaboration/030_Blogs

Blackboard
Collaborate

This live audio visual tool allows instructors to create and participate in real time lectures, webinars, meetings and other live sessions. It has been designed with education in mind. It can also be used to record learning content such as lectures or screencast demonstrations.

Many instructors use this tool to host external expect speakers, provide a live lecture, virtual office hours, view student presentations.

A presentation, by the Office for Digital Learning, on Classic Blackboard Collaborate https://vimeo.com/123831333 (password - video)

Blackboard:

http://www.blackboard.com/online-collaborative-learning/blackboard-collaborate-features.aspx



Calendar

Calendars allow communication of important events such as deadlines, rescheduled classes, tests, live session times, guest speaker announcements and assignment due dates.

https://en-us.help.blackboard.com/Learn/9.1_2014_04/Instructor/060_Communication/020_Calendar



Email

Email allows all staff users to send email directly from within the virtual learning environment to external email accounts without having to open an email client.

https://en-us.help.blackboard.com/Learn/9.1_2014_04/Instructor/060_Communication/010_Email

Messages

Messages allow internal messages that are sent and received within the virtual environment, it’s an internal email system.

https://en-us.help.blackboard.com/Learn/9.1_2014_04/Instructor/060_Communication/060_Course_Messages



Announcement

This is a convenient, instant way to contact all students within a module area to keep them up to date. Announcements are generally used to draw particular attention to course updates, reminders or news, encourage and prompt students, provide general comments or feedback or to draw students back into a module area.

These announcements can be timed so that they are released at a certain time during semester. Create a meaningful subject title and keep announcements short.

https://en-us.help.blackboard.com/Learn/9.1_2014_04/Instructor/060_Communication/030_Announcements


Collaboration

Collaboration tools provide a means for students to engage in courses in a meaningful way inside and outside the physical classroom. These tools can provide a platform for creative, deep thinking. Laurillard (2012) talks about learning by collaboration “as ‘creating joint reference’, something the learners make together, and then use to move on to further exploration” and as working “towards building shared public knowledge.”

Blogs, Discussion Boards and wikis are increasingly used in higher education to provide students with collaborative learning experiences that allow them to interact directly with peers and lecturers whilst they share and construct knowledge. Collaborative learning opportunities enable active learning for online or blended courses and also promote peer learning.

Blackboard.com - Best Practice: Interactive Tools in Action: https://en-us.help.blackboard.com/Learn/9.1_2014_04/Instructor/080_Collaboration/000_Best_Practice_Interactive_Tools_in_Action.


Discussion Board

A communication tool for all users enrolled in a course for posting and responding to course related topics/scenarios. Postings can contain can contain text, images, video and audio. This tool can be used to stimulate online discussion on course themes, to encourage deeper thinking on a particular subject that is being covered in class and provide a forum for sharing knowledge, ideas and experience. Students can develop their skills in online communication and collaborative work. Types of activities can include class debate, subject based in-depth discussions, sharing web resources, role play, case base discussions, student led discussions.

Let students know what is expected of them, how and why they should participate and of any rules. Discussion boards work best if they are facilitated and led by an instructor, and as Salmon (2011) recommends summaries relating back to key course concepts should be provided to enrich the overall learning experience.

To encourage contributions by all students, access can be amended so that students cannot view others’ postings until they post their own.

https://en-us.help.blackboard.com/Learn/9.1_2014_04/Instructor/080_Collaboration/010_Discussions
Blog

A blog (short for web log) is a space where course members (lecturers and / or students) can post their personal reflections and then others can comment on them. Content is typically is organised by topic with newest postings on top and can contain text, images, video and audio, comments are simply text based. This can be used to allow sharing of views on course topics, current affairs in an organised and public way, students tend to be less formal in blogs.

If you wish to use blogs it is important to let your students know how you intend to use them and share any rules and guidelines.

Blackboard Learn allows you to add Blogs directly to your course area available only to those enrolled on your course. Journals are private versions of blogs and can only be seen by the student and instructor. Public blogging systems e.g. BloggerEdublogsWordPress are accessible online and can be made public to all. 

https://en-us.help.blackboard.com/Learn/9.1_2014_04/Instructor/080_Collaboration/030_Blogs
Groups

Small group projects promote inquiry based learning in a team setting. These project can help develop critical thinking, leadership and problem solving skills. You could consider splitting your students into small groups, you will then have a choice of giving each group access to a private group tools such as a wiki space, group discussion board, group email, file share and access to other ‘group’ tools which they can use to collaborate.

More information on setting up groups in Ulster is available at:

http://wiki.ulster.ac.uk/display/VLESUPPORT/Creating+Groups

And

https://en-us.help.blackboard.com/Learn/9.1_2014_04/Instructor/080_Collaboration/050_Course_Groups/020_Course_Groups_and_Tools


Wiki

An online collaborative workspace for working with others where all users can create and revise content, it has a trackable history of edits and changes (wikipedia is an example). They can be used for any collaborative work such as project planning, responses to a scenario / problem, developing a working document and group projects.

https://en-us.help.blackboard.com/Learn/9.1_2014_04/Instructor/080_Collaboration/020_Wikis


You can read more about the differences between blogs, journals, discussion boards and wikis at http://wiki.ulster.ac.uk/display/VLESUPPORT/Understanding+Blogs%2C+Journals%2C+Wikis+and+Discussion+Boards

Engaging your students online

References

  • Beetham, H, and Sharpe, R. (2013) Rethinking Pedagogy For A Digital Age. (2nd Edition) London: Routledge.
  • Bernard, R. M., Abrami, P. C., Borokhovski, E., Wade, C. A., Tamin, R. M., Surkes, M. A., & Bethel, E. C. (2009). A meta-analysis of three types of interaction treatments in distance education. Review of Educational Research, 79 (3), 1243-1289.
  • Laurillard, D. (2012) Teaching as a design science: Building Pedagogical patterns for learning and technology. Routledge, New York and London.
  • Palloff, R.M. and Pratt, K. (2013) Lessons From The Virtual Classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Salmon, Gilly. (2011) E-Moderating. New York: Routledge.