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In general, academia tends toward the emotionless, focusing on the content of ideas over feelings. But we are emotional beings, and emotions impact everything we do. Why wouldn’t emotions play into our experiences teaching and learning online?
In fact, we can be intentional in the way we incorporate emotions into the design and teaching of online classes. Emotions are powerful. Let’s put them to work for us to create more engaging online experiences that inspire our students, motivate them to succeed, and help them learn and remember content much more effectively.
A good way to start designing for emotions is to think carefully about the impact you yourself have in your online class. Deliberately strive to convey a positive attitude, enthusiasm for the content, and optimism about your students’ success. Here are a few things you can do to create positivity in your class.
First, reveal your personality. Regrettably, online classes still suffer from a tendency to be very impersonal. It can be hard to remember that there are real people behind the names we see in class.
Students, too, struggle to see us as real people. Simply showing something of who you are, will help them connect with you more deeply. They’ll engage more with you and the class. They’ll be more responsive to your communications ranging from assignment instructions to feedback to announcements.
To do this, include a “meet your instructor” section. Provide a brief biography that includes both professional and personal interests. Post a photo of yourself, whether it be a headshot or a picture of you out doing something you enjoy. Or, create a slideshow video set to music with several images of you. This will really paint a picture of who you are. There are several online websites that help you create professional-looking videos from your still photos.
In addition to sharing about yourself, post frequent announcements to encourage and motivate your students. Send a message to each student saying you hope all is well and to contact you with any concerns. You may think you’ll get inundated with replies, but this is rarely the case. You may hear from two or three students who legitimately need additional support. But the personal interest you convey through such a message will build buy-in and better engagement for all.
Make an effort to publicly recognize and praise your students, too. You can do this in online discussion forums. Highlight good contributions. Call students by name when you reply to their posts. Try something like, “You make a good point, Jason. Have you considered . . . ?” Students love knowing that you are paying attention to what they think, and they’ll respond with increased effort.
Finally, there’s no better way to engage your students in their learning than to share your passion and allow them to explore theirs. What interests you about your content? Do you see connections to current events, pop culture, or historical trends? Weave in these references to things beyond class boundaries. If you find it interesting, chances are your students will too.
Build on this by asking them to find current resources (blog posts, YouTube videos, tweets) that apply class concepts in the outside world. Harness your students’ ability to curate engaging content. The very act of finding something that relates to class material, is current, and interests them will motivate students to engage in a meaningful way.
Here’s another idea: create discussion, blog, or journal prompts that allow students to process content in a way they find irresistibly interesting. In her online first-year seminar class, one colleague of mine asks students to write about what superpowers they would choose and why. She argues that her students are still thinking about literary themes and character qualities. But adding this element of creativity and fun makes the work enjoyable.
Enjoyment is an emotion, and we can use it to great effect. Create activities that are fun and that help your students achieve learning objectives. You’ll see enthusiasm and engagement like never before.
The fact is, emotions have a significant impact on our online classes whether we realize it or not. If we don’t intentionally engage students’ emotions, the result is often a dry, boring, and demotivating experience. Instead, we can strategically include emotions to attract and retain the attention of our students, thus improve understanding and retention.
Flower Darby is a senior instructional designer at the Northern Arizona University e-Learning Center.