The Student Who Has Disappeared…

A colleague of mine recently asked me for tips on what to do when an online student stops logging into the course. Unfortunately, this is a familiar situation even in a face-to-face course.

Here are a few best practices for connecting to and/or motivating online students:

  • First and foremost, begin with building community in your course from day 1. This starts with an icebreaker that and continues in many ways throughout the course. Read: Social Interaction and Presence in the Online Classroom
  • Pedagogically, I recommend using groups/teams to build community and build in accountability to the team.  Feeling a ‘sense of community’ is rated very highly by students who are persistent in online learning (Diep, Cocquyt, Zhu, & Vanwing, 2016).
  • By day 3 of the course, send personal email to each student who has not logged in and tell them you “miss them” and want to be sure they are not missing out on what their peers are saying/doing.
  • Throughout course, check the Learning Management System (LMS) logs frequently to ensure students are logging in daily (esp in summer course). If they have not logged in within last 48 hours, send them a personal note.
  • Encourage students to add their cell phone number to their LMS profile to receive class announcements/emails via SMS (text) to their phone (optional of course).
  • Integrate real-time (synchronous) time. Facilitate a 1-1 session with each student; have them sign up from a selection of various times/days.
  • Contact your Dean of Students Office (or similar) to report your concerns for the student.

Again, these are many of the same best practices we apply in the face-to-face environment. (Note that summer session is typically a very different “semester” due to summer and compressed time frame.)


Diep, N.A., Cocquyt, C., Zhu, C., & Vanwing, T. (2016). Predicting adult learners’ online participation: Effects of altruism, performance expectancy, and social capital. Computers & Education, 101, 84-101.

Teams vs Groups in Learning


IMG_8805 by MGoBlog, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic Licenseby MGoBlog




What do you think — how should we refer to student groupwork,  “groups” or teams”?

Although there are many common group-based activities in learning, such as study groups and collaborative learning in the classroom, the importance of assigning group work with more formal learning groups, such as a group project or assignment, requires a higher commitment level. In this context, formal learning groups should be called Teams! An insightful takeaway at the POD 2014 (Professional Organizational Development) conference in the session, Transforming Students from Groups to High-Performance Learning Teams, was that if you want your students to work successfully in groups, you should always refer to them as teams, not groups. This session, facilitated by Cheelan Bo-Linn from the University of Illinois Center of Innovation in Teaching and Learning, focused on not only the why in calling our learning groups ‘teams’, but also the how as a pathway to successful learning teams. Two things we need: one, prepare our student teams, and two, have regular team check-ins.

Why Teams? When forming formal learning groups it is important to understand that each individual member of the team is focusing on the same outcome, therefore they have a vested interest in the same goal. Team also speaks to a sense of “membership”, and/or belonging. Bo-Linn compared learning teams to a specialized team, like a football team; a team works to win and there can be some competitiveness amongst teams. TEAM, she said, stands for: Together Everyone Achieves More. Our “teams” during this session took a natural path to competitiveness when simply working to play a memory game!

How can we create successful teams? Begin with a good size for learning teams, about 3-5 people per team. Then consider these five steps: (1)Team member introduction of self,  (2) Goals for effective teamwork, (3) Teamwork checklist, (4) Mid-point feedback, and (5) Final feedback/evaluation.

First, have each team member provide an individual introduction of self to their teammates. Focus on points such as:

  • Responsibilities (personal and professional)
  • Interests (this helps develop commonalities and differences that can connect team members)
  • Strengths brought to the team
  • What team members would like to know about me
  • What I hope to gain from team experience
  • My expectations of my team members

Second, have students create a Team Contract where they work together to discuss team goals and expectations and on the following:

  • attendance
  • communication
  • timeliness
  • workload/collaboration
  • effort
  • contribution of skills and resources
  • contribution of ideas
  • other

Third, have your teams work on a Team Checklist, which focuses on areas that may cause trouble, such as lack of clarification or procedures, not listening, allowing some to dominate, not compromising, team member doesn’t contribute on time or at all, respecting feelings of others.sample of a team contract

Fourth,  create a Mid-point feedback form (midway through a specific project or semester) that focuses on the specific goals and expectations for effective teamwork that teams discussed on in step two, the Team Contract. This should include a self and peer feedback section. If teams are having trouble, this is where you guide them back to their Team Contract and what they had agreed to do as a team.

Fifth, the final feedback form provides a reflective piece, as well as a useful evaluation of the team process, a critical skill in today’s world.


In preparing your teams to be successful, you might discuss some of the following:

  • the benefits of working on a team (words like like diversity, skills, perspective, workload are some they tend to crop up)
  • the downsides of working on a team (words like conflict, personalities, workload, skills also tend to crop up)

The idea here is that there can be many things that can be considered both a benefit AND a downside to working on a team.  Take workload for example. A benefit would be that a team could distribute the workload amongst team members instead of one individual taking it all on. A downside could be that on a team, workload distribution could be distributed unevenly.

Pareto Principle: 80% of the team problems are due to 20% of the issues


Tuckman’s Developmental Stages of a Team

Mobile Learning Scavenger Hunt

mobile learning

Mobile Learning Scavenger Hunt

Kimberly Vincent-Layton
Humboldt State University, Department of Communication
June 2014

In the last few years, I have been slightly obsessed with mobile learning for two reasons. One, I have three daughters (two in college) who spend every waking moment on their mobile devices (iPhone, iPads, laptops) – how can I connect to them? Maybe it’s a case of, you can’t beat ‘em so you may as well join them? Two, I am a “technology-geek” and work full-time in instructional design, while teaching part-time for the Department of Communication. Those reasons are extremely intertwined, of course. We use our mobile devices for communication!

For the last two semesters, I have been having a lot of fun (and success!) with my Mobile Learning Scavenger Hunt lesson in my public speaking class. Students absolutely love it! When we approach the final course topic of persuasion, students typically get caught up in trying to figure out which of the four types of reasoning to use in their speech, and often neglect the very important aspect of appealing to their audience. I tell them, you can use all the fancy persuasion and reasoning you want, but if you can’t appeal to your specific audience, it is all for nothing. In order to be an effective speaker, it is important to consider the emotional impact we have on our audience, as well as relate our ideas to their emotions, needs, and values. In order to do this, we need to find out what is meaningful to our audience so we can relate to them.

The goal of the Mobile Learning Scavenger Hunt lesson is to work together as a team to discover and capture a variety of objects and/or visuals that include motivational appeals. In 80 minutes, students scour the campus looking for objects/visuals that appeal to needs and values, capture them using a mobile app of their choice, publish, and submit the URL to our class online discussion forum. We use the last 20 minutes of class to share and reflect on all the team videos. Some favorite apps have been Animoto, YouTube Capture, Flipagram, Instagram, and Vine. We discuss: is the object/visual effective/persuasive to the target audience?  What motivational appeal is it an example of? Students are required to provide written feedback in the online discussion forum on at least one team’s video before our next class session. After two semesters of this activity, students had significant improvement in appealing to the audience needs/values in their persuasive speech. Additional benefits include: building community, collaboration, learning new technologies.

To create this lesson, I used a mobile learning lesson template that I created a few years ago after completing my SLOAN-C Mobile Learning Mastery Series.  The template includes everything from the goal and outcomes of the activity to the various technology considerations.  The template can be modified for any mobile lesson.

Check out the full lesson on Motivational_Appeals mLesson. Happy mobile-ing!


Online Study Groups

word cloud using words related to groupsStudy Groups

As an online student, you may feel a bit “isolated” at times, because you may not physically see your instructor or classmates. Getting involved in a study group can bring you more connected to your classmates, as well as support you in class activities and assignments. Studying in groups offers students an excellent opportunity to exchange ideas and to gain new perspectives on the course material. In the online environment, meeting in groups may look and feel a little different than the face-to-face classroom. Your group may decide to create a Facebook group to “meet” and discuss course assignments/projects. Or maybe you might “meet” via Skype, GoogleHangout, or GoogleChat. How about using a mobile app such as Wiggio? The overall idea here is that there is an endless amount of online tools to support your groups; be sure to find the best-fit for your group.

5 Reasons to Join a Study Group

  • learn on a deeper level
  • make more efficient use of your study time
  • improve your listening and presentation skills
  • gain new perspectives on the material
  • learn to collaborate productively with classmates

10 Study Group Success Tips

  • Keep group size at 3-5 people
  • Set a regular “meeting” time
  • Communicate
  • Set clear goals for each study session
  • Establish ground rules for staying focused
  • Study group members must actively participate in the class
  • Rotate the leadership for balance

Where is my group member?

How many times have you been asked this by students who have been assigned groups/teams for your class? In the face-to-face class this can happen, but in the online environment it can be even more challenging.

You’ve done a very thorough job setting up the groups, providing a first discussion that requires members to discuss how they will communicate, set deadlines, “meet”, and work through challenges such as late work and non-responsive group members.  However, there is still problems with group members not responding to their group mates.

Here are a few strategies that you might try to help the process along, without ‘doing in for them’.

  • Add the “The Survivor Clause” in your syllabus (Bond, 2012). This clause allows group members to vote out their non-responsive group member with instructor approval.
  • Create a group contract.  The very first group assignment should be the group contract, which would focus on all the details that a group needs to address to be successful. Group members should negotiate how they will communicate, “meet” on a regular basis, meet deadlines, and how they will address a “group breakdown” should a group member not come through with their obligation.
  • Create group roles. For example, a group leader that rotates each week (alphabetical by last name) so that each student has the opportunity to be in a lead role. Suggest a back-up plan if the group leader fails to take the lead, i.e.: a hand-off to the next group member alphabetically.
  • Instructor presence. Post in each of the groups’ discussion forums the first week to let them know you are ‘there’. After that, lurk, but don’t stifle conversation.
  • Set posts to automatically send emails.  If possible, the group discussion forum should be set to automatically send out an email to all group members each time someone posts. This helps encourage participation as students realize activity is going on in their group.
  • Encourage competition. Some friendly ‘competition’ between teams could be a motivator. Think of a group activity activity that could be designed as a competition and encourage students in a competitive manner.
  • Recognize exemplary work. Summarize the weekly activities, particularly the group ones, in an email or post to the class.  Point out exemplary work by groups as a way to encourage all students.
  • Give it reason and value. Remind student the purpose behind group work. Out in the “real world” work is most often done in groups and not always with your friends (Taylor 2011). Group work is not essential, but it is valuable when you combine multiple perspectives.
  • Create a Tips List for Successful Groups.
  • Build in individual accountability. This can be designed in a variety of ways. Some ideas include: partial credit given individually and group, a group member “rating card” submitted by the group leader each week indicating group member contribution, individual quizzes, etc.


Bond, Torria. Where’s Waldo: The Missing Group Member. July 2012.

Best Practices for Designing Group Projects. Carnegie Melon 2013.

Taylor, A. (2011). Top 10 reasons students dislike working in groups … and why I do it anyway. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, 39 (2), 219-220.