Engaging Marginalized Students in Online Courses: Engaging and Strategic

Engaging Marginalized Students in Online Courses: Engaging and Strategic

Anni Reinking (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 10
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2132-8.ch002
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Online courses are growing exponentially within the field of higher education. However, the variability of engagement, planning, and learning is wide between and among faculty members. Therefore, addressing the issue of wide variability and unclear practices when implementing online courses can be met through upfront planning, including intentionality, and the continuous contact needed for engaging students in online courses is important. Through purposeful planning and responses to questions, instructors can create the illusion of continuous contact for learners to feel heard and valued, which again creates an environment of higher student motivation. Included in the continuous contact is the strategy of providing clear structures to the course in a mutually respectful manner through video and emailed communication. Overall, when courses are designed intentionally, learners will feel valued and have more motivation to engage and learn the material.
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Online courses are growing exponentially within the field of higher education. In fact, nearly 5.8 million people are enrolled in online college courses, with 28% of all college students enrolling in at least one online course (Online Learning Consortium, 2019). With that being stated, higher education faculty and institutions are striving to address the changing desired course delivery method in order to create an accessible platform for many marginalized groups. While there are many techniques and best practices for online teaching, this chapter will discuss three major areas or steps to designing an online course that is accessible to many types of students and learners as the trend for learning online increases. The three steps are planning, implementation, and contact. While this is not an exhaustive list, this list does provide a string of best practices that will reach marginalized populations of students who do not have accessibility to or availability for in person, traditional courses.

Marginalized students, for the purpose of this chapter, focus on traditionally invisible populations in the field of higher education. For example, one researcher completed scholarly work focused on gender in the college classroom. The findings from this study indicated that “a large number (of female students) identified ‘anonymity’ as the most important positive aspect of the online learning environment” (Sullivan, 2002, p. 129). Another group of researchers, Chen, Lambert, and Guidry (2010), focused on the impact of online learning for minority and part-time students, both of which are considered marginalized groups and are more likely to enroll in online courses. The general finding was that there was a positive relationship between an online format and engagement in the learning outcomes. While other research supports the idea that online courses create an environment not only for traditional students, but also for marginalized students, the sense of community within the online forum is still essential. Additionally, it is important to state that online learning may not be for every student (Kauffman, 2015). A self-directed, organized student has a higher chance of success in an online course as compared to a student who requires constant face to face reminders. The freedom to study anytime and have flexible scheduling is appealing to many, but may only truly work (i.e. academic success) for some. However, the steps outlined in this chapter aim to create an engaging learning environment for all types of students.

Overall, this chapter will discuss the process of developing engaging courses focused on planning, intentionality, and contact. We will address the steps and procedures, along with the benefits of these processes through a real life example, a course designed for graduate students focused on working with students and families living in poverty. As a caveat, all of the online courses I have taught are short sessions; however, the processes can be implemented for any length of online course.

Instructor Prerequisites

Teaching online can create a sense of reluctance and unpreparedness to face the challenges, real and perceived, of online education (National Education Association, 2019). Therefore, prior to implementing an online course, instructors need to be well-versed in the technologies need to implement an effective course. The technology knowledge needed depends on the school, learning management system, programs, and other factors that are specific to the place providing the online course.

Regardless, if a course is unusable due to lack of instructor knowledge, barriers are created or reinforced for all students, especially students from marginalized populations (DuCharme-Hansen & Dupin-Bryat, 2007). Furthermore, if there are any real or perceived roadblocks, engagement of students in the course will decrease (Bassett & Frost, 2010). Therefore, instructors learning about and seeking support to implement specific technologies, as it relates to the course, is imperative to the overall success or failure of the overall course.

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