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Being an online student can be lonely. Because learning takes place largely away from campus, and often at non-traditional hours, online students are more isolated from campus resources and activities, classmates, and instructors. They don’t have the same connection to the library, to campus life and events, or to student support services. The combination of all these factors can negatively impact student engagement in their online courses and ultimately interfere with students’ desire and ability to be successful in an online class or an online program.


Being an online instructor can be lonely, too. Online instructors can also have limited connection to campus and to colleagues. Some instructors are hesitant to teach online; they worry about being able to connect to students because some of the spontaneity of interaction is lost in an asynchronous online learning environment. Just as there’s no way for a student to raise her hand to ask a question and receive an immediate response, there’s no way for you to adjust instruction on the fly to clear up misunderstandings about content.


Online courses must be designed with elements that minimize isolation and disengagement. One way to boost engagement is to allow plenty of opportunities for student to interact and feel connected in the course. Quality interactions in an online course (or any course) promote more investment in learning, deeper understandings of concepts, more retention of information, and more satisfying course experiences overall.

Online Faculty Development Program

The Online Faculty Development Program is offered every year, beginning in July, to new-to-online instructors at TWU. Participants earn a stipend, divided into two payments, over the course of the program. The first payment is earned upon successful completion of a four week online course. The second payment is earned when their first online course meets Quality Matters Standards in an internal review process. In 2015 I offered a completely redesigned version of the four week course, which focused on how to design online courses to foster and manage four different types of interaction. Participant engagement increased and successful completion doubled. The following year we achieved 100% completion for the first time ever. The passage below introduces participants to the purpose of the new structure.

5 Levels of Interaction Sample Lesson

The embedded content below is a sample lesson from the new version of OFDP. The fourth week of the course discusses learner-to-learner interaction. One of the requirements for the week is to create a group of activities that achieve the five levels of interaction discussed in the lesson below.

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