What makes a course hard or rigorous? Is it the length of assignments (cumulative) or type of assignment and assessment? How does student engagement in a digital platform factor into teaching diverse learners? The optimal expectation is for learners to question assumptions and think deeply about the course content and its application. To accomplish this, some instructors may add additional assignments, multiple articles, and links to external web pages to the courses to enhance rigor and student engagement in online classes. But, what does rigor look like for students? What are the iGen’ers and millennials preferred way of engaging in the online environment and how can rigor and engagement be accomplished in Canvas courses with minimal effort?

Colorful illustration showing the learning process A Look at Rigor

Recent research, Draeger, del Prado Hill, and Mahler, (2014), explored the topic of rigor from the learners’ perspective on various class levels using focus groups, surveys, and interviews. Students identified the following aspects of rigor:

  • possible grades that they can earn
  • level of workload required
  • level of difficulty of assignments
  • interest in the material
  • interaction with teachers (e.g., as enthusiastic/boring, passionate about their subject matter)
  • interaction with classmates (e.g., feelings about group work), and the importance of being pushed beyond their comfort zone

Most of the areas identified were related to time, e.g., students were concerned about which assignments were more time-consuming compared to the grade value.

Thinking about Engagement

In the recent Online Learning Consortium (OLC) Accelerate Virtual Conference hosted by eLearning and Professional Studies, the keynote speaker, Dr. Jean Twenge, Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University, spoke on the topic of iGen’ers and the challenges of engaging them in reading, engaging in course activities, and the overall generational differences of what it meant to be active. As she looked at the generational trends, she saw that students are meeting less frequently face to face, but increasingly on digital devices. Because of this, students are accustomed to:

  • quickly researching and reading information
  • engaging in interactive activities on topics
  • looking for reassurance
  • viewing text-based rather than verbal information
  • having shorter conversations – which are usually quick direct verbal points or short texts

So what would that look like in an online learning environment?

Putting it into Practice

A way to design a course to include rigor and engagement in Canvas can be accomplished in to seamlessly bridge learners to larger tasks and deeper collaboration. There are many possibilities, but here are a few:

  • assign or link to specific chapter locations in the text or eText that bridges to a brief lecture video ending with bullet points and stimulating questions for learners to research and interactive collaboration in written, visual, or verbal forms of expression.
  • post a brief video within a discussion board that stimulates conversation on a topic, which bridges them to a self-test or interactive activity, followed by reflections, takeaways, and an assignment helping them to be prepared for a presentation, quiz or exam.
  • start with a topic, scenario, or current event and have learners use course content to conduct research and develop a plan or resource that provides a solution.