Building Interaction Into Your Online Course

You’ve already decided that you’re ready to author online and you have your content organized. Now it’s time to face the ultimate challenge in online learning – making it interactive!

Interaction in online courses is a two-edged sword. On one hand you want students to participate. This enhances their learning by letting them question and discuss issues in the course. On the other hand, as the instructor, you need to decide the level of interaction you want to have with each student – and build your courses accordingly.

As an illustration, let me relate a poor choice I made in a course I wrote several years ago. Because I wanted everyone involved, I required that each student post at least one message per week to the discussion group. In addition, I required that they respond to two other messages. Simple? Yes. But because I had decided that my level of involvement was to respond to every posting, I was faced with 3 messages for every student every week – and this was only the minimum requirement! I soon found myself bogged down in responding to an overwhelming number of messages.

To decide on your level of involvement, let’s look at 5 levels of interactions you can provide.

1. Respond to every email. At this level of interaction, you are reading and responding to every email or discussion sent. Beware. While this may be effective at the beginning of a discussion when there is little interaction, you’ll soon be overwhelmed just responding to and encouraging students.

2. Respond to every nth email. This is a more rational view. Here you can decide to pick every 5th posting and respond to it. The danger is that you’ll miss a student’s best posting or that you’ll miss an important question.

3. Respond to 1 message per student per week. You can set the expectation that you’ll welcome questions from everyone, but that you’ll a course in miracles  only guarantee a response to one per week. That will put the burden of composing an effective message on the student’s shoulders, rather than just jotting off a quick question every time they think of it.

4. Post provocative questions. This is a great way to get a discussion started. If you choose this route, you may choose not to participate in the discussion yourself – but instead, just summarize it at the end – or not.

5. Employ help. This may be a Teaching Assistant, a mentor, students who have taken the course in the past, etc. You may also choose to separate the types of correspondence – for example, one person may cover technical questions, while another handles course mechanics and you take the content questions.

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