Deeply engaging students through collaboration is one of the hardest parts of designing and teaching online. Whether your course is fully online, blended, or just flipped, social learning has been difficult build into online activities.


When students are engaged in online activities, they learn, but too often at-risk students are disengaged and unsuccessful. Strategies that address the unsuccessful online learner are of critical significance to ISTE members, to the instructional technology field, and to teachers and schools. Specific strategies incorporate instructor presence, presenting bite-sized content through short videos, online team projects, peer review/editing, publishing student work, making content relevant to learners, fostering relationships, using “brain rules,” and evaluation through creative application of content. For each strategy, the technology serves as a pedagogical multiplier of student achievement because of the ways it supports engagement and collaboration. Participants will select two-to-four of the strategies to build into a personal engagement plan to share with the workshop participants. This plan is designed to foster replication of the shared strategies. Increasing student engagement is of the highest value to participants who want even their most disadvantaged students to succeed. The presenter has successfully used each of these strategies over his career with disadvantaged and online students. He shares strategies like these in ISTE and PETE&C sessions.

Technology serves as a pedagogical multiplier of student achievement because of the ways it supports engagement and collaboration.


The primary purpose of this workshop is to address student engagement, a core problem in education today. A few specific tools will be addressed like ZOOM, Google Apps, Medium, and YouTube, but no commercial or little-known tools will be used. The models are primarily pedagogical models that fit well in the online, blended, and flipped environment. Ideally participants will implement their personal engagement plan in their online design and teaching. Each of the strategies has been studied formally and informally, and they are chosen because of the success seen by the presenter in his teaching.


  • 10 min – introductions, schedule, context (CMAP)
  • 50 min – six strategies with examples and case studies
  • 15 min – break
  • 50 min – six strategies w/ examples and case studies
  • 15 min – break
  • 20 min – develop personal engagement plan (2-to-4 strategies)
  • 20 min - share strategies & discuss

 no_checklist_zone.pngOur Strategies

  1. instructor presence
  2. build relationships
  3. live web conferences & presentations
  4. debates
  5. brain rules
  6. visual images
  7. make relevant connections
  8. creative application of content
  9. featuring student work online
  10. peer review/editing/grading
  11. team projects
  12. public presentation/publishing

1. Instructor Presence

The most powerful feeling I’m left with after the course is how close the instructor and students "felt". The media and technology allowed us to collaborate in a way that I’ve never experienced before in an online or distance learning class. To be honest, I always thought that on-line classes were contrived and not authentic; distance simply did not allow for the same level of collaboration as that in a classroom setting. This experience has proven to me that authentic and powerful learning experiences can indeed occur on-line. (Brian, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, personal communication, 2003)


2. Build Relationships

Is it YOUR class or OUR class? How do students get to KNOW each other? How are they required to WORK TOGETHER (meaningfully, of course!).

3. Live Web Conferences & Presentations

4. Debates

  • Pick controversial topic: Be provocative!
  • Facilitate only as needed: allow students to discuss & argue
  • Reflect and debrief, involving other class members
  • Should be more structured than you think

5. John Medina's Brain Rules

Evolution SURVIVAL: The human brain evolved, too.

Exercise EXERCISE: Exercise boosts brain power.

sleep SLEEP: Sleep well, think well.

 stress STRESS: Stressed brains don't learn the same way.

wiring WIRING: Every brain is wired differently.

attention ATTENTION: We don't pay attention to boring things.

shortterm MEMORY: Repeat to remember.

multisensory SENSORY INTEGRATION: Stimulate more of the senses.

vision VISION: Vision trumps all other senses.

  music  MUSIC: Study or listen to boost cognition.

 gender GENDER: Male and female brains are different.

exploration EXPLORATION: We are powerful and natural explorers.

6. Visual Images

  1. Vision is your DOMINANT sense (not "learning styles")
  2. Research: relevant image increases learning
    by DOUBLING info encoding networks
  3. images evoke attention/interest/EMOTION
  4. example image cave restaurant
  5. example image lava street

-- 'Bout Time for a BREAK (if that's OK)--

7. Make Relevant Connections

  • Brain attentive to personally-meaningful information
  • All assignments need a student-understandable purpose
  • Connect all new content to personal meaning?
  • Use concept mapping system like CMAP:

New 3 R's:  Rigor — Relevance — Relationships


Connectivismconnectivism_after_siemens copy.jpg














8. Creative application of content

CREATIVE APPLICATION, like "personal meaning," requires student (brain) to RE-ENCODE content in novel patterns and connections. The more connections, the easier to retrieve the content. The more connections, the more "transferrable" the content. Creativity PERSONALIZES content.

How to evaluate or grade creative application? Student's job is to DEMONSTRATE UNDERSTANDING in ways that they choose. Must still be consistent with course.

9. feature student work online (internal)

  • LMS folder of assignments/projects
  • course-accessible forum attachments

10. peer review/editing/grading

... thank you to my partners in peer reviews and collaborative Thoughtful Questions! I appreciated your thoughtful feedback and support throughout the semester.

11. Team Projects

Second Life collaborative project example

12. Public Presentation/Publishing (external)

-- 'Bout Time for a BREAK (if that's OK)--
Time for YOUR Plan -
PLAN: take a few minutes to review Worksheet #4. Select 2-to-4 strategies. Think of HOW you will implement these strategies to increase engagement and collaboration.
SHARE:  Use our QuickTopic page to post two or three sentences that capture your plan. (note: this is a free service at
A Closing Emphasis on Collaboration (from international online class, 2002-2003):

Thank you for providing such an innovative learning opportunity in this course. Using audio and video conferencing was not only contextual and appropriate, but delightful! I also appreciated your timely feedback on papers and your flexibility with scheduling.

And, thank you to my partners in peer reviews and collaborative Thoughtful Questions! I appreciated your thoughtful feedback and support throughout the semester.

Finally, to everyone in the class: I've enjoyed reading your Thoughtful Questions and hearing your voices! What a wonderful international community of learners!

— Lynn from Nagoya, Japan (just turned 50)