Part 8: Fall 2018 Labs

140 Engaging Online Activities – 11.08.2018

Online activities can bring relevance and currency to a topic, but they also can easily miss the mark. At the November 8, 2018 Active Teaching Lab, participants shared their experiences with and questions about online activities to increase student engagement. Attendees discussed tools, activity ideas, Canvas integration, and facilitation strategies to maximize effectiveness and student buy-in with online content. 


  • Revisit traditional activities with fresh look at what the online environment offers, using Puentedura’s (2006) SAMR model: Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition. 
  • Rethink the essay. Discussion forums provide an audience for student writing outside of the instructor. Students benefit from peer feedback, and all students benefit from instructor comments on one response, realizing an efficiency in instructor time. In this way, collaborative work can encourage individual writing and thinking. 
  • Use creative writing prompts to make originality fun, engaging, thought-provoking, and hard to find on (and thus plagiarize from) Google or Wikipedia.  Try varying perspective, audience, and genre to encourage students to think deeply about the material and how they use it. For example, write a rejection letter from a historical figure’s perspective, and cite text to support assertions.
  • Guide students by providing multiple models or examples of what an assignment calls for and the level of work involved. Unless the assignment is directly connected to their lives, provide multiple models so they don’t feel a need to replicate a single example. Modeling personal connection to content helps create and reinforce a strong teacher presence in the online classroom.
  • Build community and comfort to foster engagement. Students who have the agency and means to customize and personalize their learning are able to make deeper content connections for themselves and for their peers. Some community-building activities include: a get-acquainted forum for which students decide what questions to ask each other in a survey, mandatory profile pictures to help students put names to faces, and open forums for students to share when they happen upon something related to class.
  • Promote connection and reconnection to content. When students self-generate personal value and connection to course content, they are more likely to learn it and succeed in the class. Also, each time they revisit content reinforces learning (Dunlosky et al, 2013). For example, at the beginning of the semester, have students write a letter to themselves or respond to a general question like “what defines race?” as part of the technical orientation to practice using tools in Canvas. At the end of the semester, give them an assignment revisiting their answer and evaluating how and why their thinking changed, encouraging self-evaluation and hopefully a sense of accomplishment.

For more information about online activities and increasing engagement, visit the session’s activity sheet.


The Active Teaching Lab is a Faculty Engagement program with sessions held on Thursdays from 1:00-2:00pm (room 302) and Fridays from 8:30-9:45am (room 120) in the Middleton Building (1305 Linden Dr.) during fall 2018. Check out upcoming Labs or read the recaps from past Labs. We build interdisciplinary conversations that are more emergent than a presenter and more dynamic than a panel — a conversation with colleagues sharing challenges, solutions, and experiments on topics selected by a variety of stakeholders.

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Active Teaching Lab eJournal Copyright © 2016 by DoIT Academic Technology and the UW-Madison Teaching Academy; Jennifer Hornbaker; John Martin; Julie Johnson; Karin Spader; Margaret Merrill; Margaret Murphy; and Jeffrey Thomas. All Rights Reserved.

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