Getting students to participate in class has always been challenging. In an eLearning environment, the challenge shifts. Rather than simply getting students to participate, it is necessary to make sure the participation is meaningful. If all participation means is writing up a discussion post, then it is easy for each student to do so and they’ll not look beyond what they wrote.
Class Size Matters
Just because you aren’t limited by the number of desks or amount of floor space in a room, doesn’t mean that the class size should be unlimited. Class size has a direct impact on student participation. The smaller the class, the larger will be the percentage of students who participate. It is easy for a student to lurk in the corners of a class with a hundred students but it is nearly impossible to do so in a class of ten. If you have a larger class, then you may want to break it down into small groups. That way, each group can have the small class experience, and individual students don’t feel overwhelmed by hundreds of posts.
A common tactic for encouraging participation in online classes is to make posting on a discussion board part of the assignment. This is somewhat effective; however, it does not always encourage discussion. Often, you will see a long series of single-post threads with each student making their statement and then ignoring everyone else. To avoid this, give equal participation value to initial posts and thoughtful responses. If it is a consistent problem in your class, then you may want to try limiting the number of original topics that can be posted. You can also set requirements for response posts, though setting quotas on discussions can have its own set of problems.
Most eLearning platforms offer tools to track student participation in your classes. Though these can vary in detail, they are invariably useful. Make a habit of monitoring your class participation rates regularly. You may want to intervene and offer guidance to students who struggle to participate. A nudge may be all they need, especially if they are new to eLearning situations.
Make Participation Meaningful
Class discussion and participation needs to be meaningful as more than a way to see if students did the assignments they were supposed to do. It needs to build and refine either knowledge or skills. Exactly how this manifests will depend on the age and current skills of your students. Though, generally you want more discussion and less summarization of topics.
eLearning situations can offer students many different ways to participate. Discussion boards and chat rooms are common methods. You can also incorporate wikis, social media, and blogs. Whatever method you may choose, participation is the key to success for students. As an educator, it is important for you to do what you can to encourage a healthy classroom environment.