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Online Learning

Engaging the Online Learner

Engaging the Online Learner:  Activities and Resources for Creative Instruction. Conrad, Rita-Marie and Donaldson, J. Ana, Jossey-Bass (2004).

Reviewed by Cheri Johnson, Sociology

This is the first book in the Jossey-Bass Guides to Online Teaching and Learning series.  It provides an overview of the process of translating classroom-based courses into a format that fosters distance learning, particularly when utilizing a fully web-based format.   Recognizing that there is a learning curve for online instructors as well as online learners, Conrad and Donaldson offer a framework for course development, which they call “Phases of Engagement.”  This constructivist approach guides the instructor from a position of authoritatively dispensing information and direction to one of community membership, collaboration, and challenge. 

Engaging the Online Learner is divided into two parts, the first of which presents the Phases of Engagement model, while the second offers a large selection of exercises, activities, and rubrics applicable to a wide range of courses.  Part One guides instructors through the process of course development with an emphasis toward addressing learning needs related to the student’s projected level of engagement throughout the term of study (geared toward a semester-long course…but obviously adaptable!).  It includes suggestions for retooling face-to-face activities to fit the online classroom, determining which of your existing course materials will work well and which may need replacement, and assessing how and where some of the various tools widely available in learning management systems might best fit into your online course.  Part Two provides a wide array of activities developed and tested by experienced online educators, suitable for use at various stages in web-based courses of all types.  The book is easy to read cover-to-cover, but it’s equally useful as a convenient resource for activities bound to enhance student engagement in your online classes.  Contents include:

Part One:

1.  Engaged Learning in an Online Environment—Guiding learners to engage online and appropriate activities for each phase

2.  Designing Online Engagement—Adapting classroom-based activities, meeting the needs of online learners, and choosing an effective communication tool

3.  Measuring Online Engaged Learning—Analyzing the quality of critical thinking, discussion analysis tools, rubrics, team assessments, and reflective self-assessments

Part Two:

4.  Learning to Use Online Tools—Activities to build student skills in using the necessary tools

5.  Online Icebreakers—Characteristics of effective icebreakers, and icebreaker activities

6.  Peer Partnerships and Team Activities—Activities for dyads and teams

7.  Reflective Activities—Characteristics and examples of effective reflective activities

8.  Authentic Activities—Characteristics and examples of authentic activities

9.  Games and Simulations—Characteristics and examples of effective games and simulations

10.  Learner-Led Activities—Choosing, planning, and preparation, plus examples of effective learner-led activities