American Public University System is running a monthly webinar series on teaching online in comunity colleges. More information and links to past webinars is available at http://www.apu.apus.edu/lp/webcast/community-college-series/. Also a link straight to the slides. (APUS as a side note, is doing a lot of research on teaching online right not. This is a way they have for sharing back to the teaching community. APUS has approximately 90,000 students, many military.)
This month's webinar was "Continuous Engagement: Why it is Important to Effective Online Education" by Mary Dershiwsky. Mary teaches for APUS and Norther Arizona University, Statistics and Teaching Research. She had many great ideas for continuous engagement which I tweeted as I listened, but will also summarize here.
First Week: login several times a day so there is minimal time lapse between student posts and questions and your replies and answers. Set up an introduction area and personalize your replies to each individual student. Work on humanizing yourself and on creating connections between yourself and your students. Post an affirming announcement two or three days into the first week. Lots of focus on the positive.
As the term progresses: Consider a "Winner's Circle" area where you comment on student achievements. Mary also uses a "Words to Lead By" discussion area which sounds like it is for encouragement and positive thinking. Mark up assignments with what students did right. -- Again, lots of focus on the positive. --
Keeping everyone moving: Use a weekly assignment to ensure everyone logs in. This can be a very short quiz, a discussion, a "minute paper" (recall and apply). Consider hiding "Easter eggs" in your announcements or discussion posts with extra credit. Students who find the Easter Egg can email you to let you know they found it. Post a weekly wrap up which also sets the stage for the next week.
A goal is to humanize yourself and your students. Respond to them by name so they know you are talking to them and so they are personally asked to re-engage with the material and the course. Humanizing yourself and the course also helps reduce student test anxiety.
From short discussion after end of presentation:
Students didn't particularly like talking head videos. They preferred narrated power point slides. Voice Thread is a good tool to use for developing those. It is good to have an photo of yourself, so they know who is talking. For talking head video consider Jing or Viddler.
Mary is speaking next month also - highly recommended!