Building Community, Engaging and Motivating Students

Palloff and Pratt’s book, Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace, maintains that a learning community is the defining hallmark of the successful distributed/distance education effort. Using the computer for significant course interaction can be an experience different from teaching a face-to-face course. This section guide will provide information on the following issues:

  • How can instructors create interactive learning environments?
  • How can instructors become successful interaction facilitators?
  • What interaction tools are available for distributed/distance education?
  • What interactive teaching methods could be implemented in a course?

Cultivating Supportive Online Environments

Featuring: Giulia Forsythe (Brock), Patrick Lyons (Carleton), Steve Joordens (Toronto), Shawn Graham (Carleton).

Characteristics of Effective Teaching in Any Setting

How do you engage and facilitate learning with students? One report, titled Students’ Perceptions of Effective Teaching in Higher Education, examined student feedback on what makes an effective and engaging college instructor in traditional classroom, hybrid, and online modalities. They list nine characteristics held consistently valuable across the spectrum, which is provided below in the sequence specifically relating to an eLearning context (Delaney, Johnson, Johnson, & Treslan, p. 6, 2010):

  1. Respectful
  2. Responsive
  3. Knowledgeable
  4. Approachable
  5. Communicative
  6. Organized
  7. Engaging
  8. Professional
  9. Humorous

Good, quality teaching, regardless of the time, place, format, or modality, enhances the student experience. Some of these characteristics are certainly easier, if not simply more familiar, in a physical classroom; but given experience, practice, and sometimes patience, they are just as attainable in the cyber classroom. Moreover, these characteristics align closely with the course design rubric created by QualityMatters (QM). Whereas the QM tool addresses the content, instructional strategies and approaches, as well as resources that comprise a well designed course, these nine characteristics relate back to the ‘human side’ of teaching.

The Centre for Pedagogical Innovation (CPI) offers support for tailoring instructional methods to technology-enhanced distance and blended courses.

The Importance of Interaction

Interaction is important for quality learning. It may be defined as direct communication, with the telecommunication infrastructure (interactive video, computer, telephone, fax, or other technology tools) acting as the mediating tool. The emphasis is on communication and not technology (which is the tool for communication). There are many types of interaction. There is interaction with instructional content, among peers, or between instructor and students. Most importantly, it needs to have a purpose. This implies that a learning environment has been created and interaction strategies can be guided to support learning outcomes. Interaction can be particularly supportive of:

  • Higher-order learning skills (i.e., analysis, synthesis, or evaluation)
  • Collaboration and cooperation skills
  • The sharing of new ideas
  • Creative thinking
  • Equalizing mutual acceptance

Engaging Online Students

Featuring: Franco Taverna (Toronto), James M. Skidmore (Waterloo), Patrick Lyons (Carleton), Tracy Penny-Light (Waterloo), Shawn Graham (Carleton), Maureen Connolly (Brock ), Anne Trepanier (Carleton).

The Role of the Instructor

Effective interaction must have adequate instructor preparation. Keep the following essential points in mind as you structure your online classroom.

Tips for Assembling Discussion or Project Groups

Learning Management Systems (ie. Brock University’s Isaak-Sakai platform) offer a diverse set of tools to enable small groups. Some instructors allow self-selection while others prefer to assign members based on information about background experiences.


There are two kinds of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Goal-oriented students and those who are experienced with technology may have intrinsic, or inner, motivation. However, most who initially encounter distance education and its technology, or who are inexperienced in the dynamics of group work, will need support, monitoring, facilitating, and feedback. For those who require extrinsic, or outside, motivation, you can attach a small percentage of students’ grades to participation and contribution to encourage perseverance.

Motivation in Learning

Featuring: Dan Gillis (Guelph), Maristela Petrovic-Dzerdz (Carleton), Steve Joordens (Toronto), Joy Mighty (Carleton).

Improving Student Motivation

Featuring: Joy Mighty (Carleton), Dan Gillis (Guelph), Maureen Connolly (Brock), Denise Mohan (Guelph), MJ D’Elia (Guelph), Maristela Petrovic-Dzerdz (Carleton).

Evaluating Participation

Featuring: Shawn Graham (Carleton), Bob Sproule (Waterloo), Franco Taverna (Toronto), Tracy Penny-Light (Waterloo).


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Guide to Teaching with Technology Copyright © 2019 by Centre for Pedagogical Innovation is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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