Maryville University: Creating Meaningful Online Engagement

Maryville University used its model for fully online programs to ease the transition to hybrid and virtual learning experiences. Here’s what other institutions can learn from them.

As many colleges and universities changed or abandoned plans to reopen for in-person classes this fall, discussions about how to effectively teach in a virtual environment have continued. Since educators have had some time to grow accustomed to virtual teaching, the emphasis now is less about how to teach remotely and more about how to teach remotely in ways that are engaging and meaningful.

At Maryville University, our successful model for offering fully online programs was able to provide a strong foundation to ease the transition and pave the way for campus courses to move to hybrid and virtual experiences. Our approach may serve as a guide for schools grappling with how to effectively transition to virtual learning in ways that keep their students engaged. While the needs and situations of every school and department are different, our guiding principles of innovatively using technology, strategically supporting faculty, and intentionally focusing on learner engagement can serve as a resource.

High-touch, highly-engaged online experiences

The term high-touch is used to describe experiences that are rich with opportunities for personal interactions. With so much of students’ lives being online now, implementing high-touch learning environments is critical for helping them feel more engaged, and research widely supports high-touch connection as being one of the most important components of meaningful online learning. An important factor in Maryville’s approach for both online and virtual learning is that high-tech and high-touch can and should go hand in hand, and putting this principle into practice is part of what has made us successful in online education.

There are many ways to facilitate high-touch connections in online classes. One way we ensure this high-touch learning environment is through smaller class sizes. Smaller classes promote deeper connections and authentic conversations between faculty and students as well as between students and their peers. Where smaller class sizes are not feasible, an option could be to break classes up into smaller units of discussion or study groups. This increases the level of interactivity and participation which in turn improves student satisfaction and learning. Another way to create high-touch experiences is for instructors to establish high-response expectations and encourage active class participation through a variety of ways such as creating less formal and more social environments and providing students with multiple means to engage and interact with the professor and their classmates.

Learning strategies and tools for students’ different learning styles

Learning environments that do not account for different learning styles can have higher rates of attrition due to the lack of student engagement. This is why, at Maryville, our professors employ an array of learning strategies, technological tools and applications combined with an imaginative approach to create what we call an active learning ecosystem that embraces different learning styles and assessment.

Source: | November 17, 2020 | Katherine Louthan

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