A Legacy of W.K. Kellogg

Student Engagement in an Online Environment

Cal Poly Pomona's Cal Poly Pomona's Learn-By-Doing Philosophy is fully as relevant to online or hybrid courses as it is to face-to-face courses. Students need to get vigorously involved with content and have their learning facilitated through a combination of information acquisition, doing activities, and then reflecting.

Guide your students away from the computer and into the world. They can go on individual field trips, see places, attend talks and performances, talk to people, and use their own life activities as learning opportunities. You can also incorporate Service Learning options and integrate real-world problems into your online course. Then, students can come back to the computer to reflect on their experiences with online course technologies.

Discussion Board (S|S, S|C)

The discussion board can be a great tool or a dud – depending on your prompt to start the discussion. Have other ways to grade participation besides the discussion board (so the board isn’t about compliance more than engagement).

Here are some good resources on discussion boards:

Here's a tutorial on using the Blackboard discussion tool.

Blog (S|C, S|S)

Blogs provide learners with a personalized space to post content that their classmates can comment on. As with any writing assignment, design is key; students need pertinent topics to dig into. As with other forms of online engagement, your active involvement as instructor is important to keep students going.

Here are some good resources on using blogs effectively:

Here’s a tutorial on using the Blackboard blog tool.

Journals (S|C, S|I)

Journals provide a self-reflective space for private posts. In contrast to blogs, only the student writing the entry and you, the instructor, can see the journals. Use an online journal the same way you would use paper journals with your students.

Here’s a tutorial on using the Blackboard journal tool.

Bb Wiki

Blackboard Wikis provide a space for your students to collaboratively build content. All changes are tracked, so content additions can easily be traced to their authors. Here’s an excellent article on using wikis in class.

Here’s a tutorial on using the Blackboard wiki tool.

Bb Groups

Blackboard Groups allow you to offer a private online space for student groups to work independently. As with any group work, assignment design is critical[5]:

  • Keep groups small and heterogeneous
  • Create group tasks that promote strong interdependence
  • Make the assignment personally relevant
  • Create tasks that fit skills and abilities
  • Allow for a fair division of labor
  • Give students control
  • Encourage peer instruction and evaluation
  • Set up mild “competitions” among groups

Here's a tutorial on using Blackboard groups.

Bb Group Assignments

Along with facilitating students to work in groups, Blackboard Group Assignments allow one assignment to be submitted for a whole group.

Skype, Facetime, Google Hangouts, & Adobe Connect Meeting (S|C, S|I, S|S)

These tools can be used for synchronous online class sessions, online office hours, or meetings for student groups.

Search Lynda.com (log in with your Cal Poly Pomona credentials) for tutorials on Skype, Google Hangout, Facetime, and Adobe Connect Meeting.

To get Adobe Connect Meeting, email connect@cpp.edu and request an account. Note – students can’t get Adobe Connect Meeting on their own.


If you have face to face time, real-time polling is a good way to encourage participation. In the online environment, you can still use polling and surveys.

Here are some of our favorite polling tools: