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Bunny Slippers Optional: Maintaining Engagement in the Online Classroom

Studying from home can result in students taking a more relaxed approach to their education, so educators must employ a few strategies to keep their students engaged. Photo by Paul Maguire.

One of the fundamental reasons online learning is quickly becoming a popular alternative to traditional classrooms is, simply, the ease. There are not many university classrooms that will allow a student to walk in without brushing their teeth or combing their hair, in pajamas, robe and bunny slippers. This makes online learning an alternative for those pressed for time in their daily routine; working students and those with major time commitments.

The “ease factor” is also why many college instructors choose to teach online. Just like many students, these instructors are then free to pursue other projects all while staying in their bunny slippers.

Unfortunately, as an instructor the “ease” of teaching on-line can also perpetuate a climate of laziness, carelessness, and boredom within the instructional setting and that resonates in many complaints from the end users of online instruction. Listed below are a few tools and practices first time instructors can use to keep online learning interactive and fun.

  1. As an online instructor you are still an employee of an institution and you still need to transfer knowledge to your user and set the tone for the classroom regardless of where you or your students are logging-in. It is still important at the end of the day that we remember we are instructors and delivering large amounts of information is not the only job required of us. The classroom will take the tone the instructor sets, if you let your students know from day one that this is still a professional setting it will be seen as such for the entire course time.
  2. Remember to use inflections in your voice and writing tone to let the students know you are excited about certain materials. Use tools within your program to highlight reading or important materials. Use emoticons and images when possible. Use other sites, or have guest “speakers”. Just because you are online does not mean you cannot use the same types of learning tools/methods as a classroom.
  3. Use all the functions within your program; whether it is BlackBoard or a program designed just for your institution, always take refresher courses at the beginning of the quarter or semester. Technology is always changing and knowing what new functions are available will not only make teaching easier but will impress your colleagues and your students.
  4. Encourage conversations among the students within the classroom and “outside”. Use the phone, websites, and social media to keep students in touch with each other and with you. One thing that is critical to foster is the interpersonal relationships that students can have with each other, something that can be difficult when your students are from different regions of the country or the world. Using great free tools such as Google+ can give students airtime with each other as well as know each other on a personal level. As an instructor, assigning group projects and providing online outlets are fundamental tools in developing relationships that can be stronger than bonds made in real classrooms.
  5. Don’t forget to be funny! Use humor. Sometimes online instructors get stuck in the world of computer screens, keyboards, and printers and forget they are talking to other human beings. Try a daily joke or riddle, or have students tell jokes and share stories (of course remember your audience and use good sense and judgment in the type of humor you use). Remember, even a corny joke can crack a smile on someone’s face a thousand miles away.

Every school and program is different but these foundations will help you become a memorable instructor for students everywhere. Although online teaching comes with much ease creating your own style while setting the tone, keeping abreast of new technology, and using humor will foster great interpersonal skills among your students and with you. A good online instructor can create an amazing online classroom atmosphere where everyone can keep his or her bunny slippers on just a little while longer.

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