Teaching with Technology

Student Motivation in Online and Flipped Courses

Printby Sandy Gambill, Instructional Designer

Many of the ideas we’ve posted this summer for motivating students in a traditional face-to-face class can be applied in online or flipped courses, but you may need to build in some additional structure to foster engagement and help students accept the shift in the balance of power that occurs in these settings.

In completely online courses, it’s easy for the boundaries of time and space to dissolve, and for procrastination to set in. Setting a consistent weekly time when new material will be released and assignments will be due helps students manage their time within the week.

If you set up a time, say 4:00 p.m. on Monday, to begin and end your online week, and find students aren’t beginning work until close to the deadline, try instituting a mid-week benchmark with points attached. For example, if you’re planning a discussion topic that opens Monday at 4:00 p.m., make the initial posting due by Wednesday at 4:00 p.m.

A common concern of professors considering flipping a course (using technology to move lecture or first exposure to material outside of class meeting time and using class time for discussion or activities typically done as homework.) is motivating students to come to class prepared.

A common approach is a short quiz on the readings or lecture material that students can take in Blackboard or on paper during the first few minutes of class.  An advantage to doing these quizzes online is that if you shut the quiz down before class-time, you can use the results of the quiz to help you know what to stress in class.

While pre-class assessment is almost guaranteed to motivate students to do the work, two recent studies address the issue of how well students actually learn this way.

A 2013 study at Harvard stressed the importance of “chunking” lectures into small 5 to 7 minutes chunks and then doing a short quiz or activity on each chunk. This technique, interpolated memory tests, is described in detail by Julie Schell, on her Turn to Your Neighbor Blog.

A study by Stanford University questions the entire structure of the flip, by suggesting that it might be better for learning to have students work problems before viewing video lecture and doing readings.  Participants in the study had a 25% increase in performance by “flipping the flip.”

What do you think will work for your students? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments section.