Tag Archives: student engagement

Prepping Students for the Holidays

Dr. Tamara Fudge

Professor, Business and Information Technology, Purdue University Global


The holidays are here, and it is time to prepare your students.  Along with the turkey, holiday gifts, champagne, awkward chat with the in-laws, and (in some places) shovels full of snow, comes the fear that students will somehow forget that they are students, especially those who are in terms that are hit by Thanksgiving, the Winter Break, and/or Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

During certain holiday times, there may be no live seminars, offices may be closed, and some discussion posting requirements might even be altered. Make sure you ask your department chair for specific guidelines about your responsibilities during university breaks or holidays.

Once you have a handle on things, communicate with your students. At the beginning of the term, explain course requirements that are altered due to the official school schedule. Consider providing a calendar (University instructors can upload calendars to Doc Sharing), telling students in seminars, and/or writing an announcement focused precisely on what students need to know about the altered schedule. In the week prior to any break, remind them via announcement, email, and/or statements during seminar.

While you may already be doing these things, you may also want to think about this:   We can do more to do to keep students engaged during scheduled breaks – and to encourage their return.  Below are a few suggestions:


  • Share some fun videos or slide shows related to your course content during breaks. YouTube, SlideShare, The Internet Archive, and other sites have a bevy of options.
  • Include the hyperlinks to these videos in announcements. As a legal consideration, only provide the hyperlinks – do not try to embed the actual videos or slide shows unless you actually are the author.
  • Make it clear in each announcement that these are for their viewing pleasure, related to course content, and not required.
  • You can preset these announcements to show up on future dates during the break(s).
  • Try to choose videos or slide shows that either have captioning or are without audio to ensure accessibility.
  • View the entire show first, just in case there is misinformation or some other nasty surprise waiting for the viewer. Check to see if the comments on the page are appropriate, too.

Create a scavenger hunt.   Use your course’s email or other Virtual Office functions to ask some questions related to the classroom or course content. Students can reply to the email or posts with their answers.

  • Post three questions, but on separate days during the break.
  • Whoever is first with correct answers for all three questions will be given kudos in seminar, or if you really want to get fancy, make a cute certificate in PowerPoint and send it to the winner via email.
  • Tell the students well before break that you will be doing this activity and that it is not required but should be fun.

Email a greeting to the class that acknowledges holiday celebration.

  • Include an image and keep it brief.
  • Keep Winter Break messages rather generic to avoid proselytizing any particular religion or belief.
  • Blind Copy (BCC) when you email the entire class, or you risk a plethora of unwanted reply-alls. It is also prudent to protect students’ personal addresses by not sharing them widely.

While the video/slide show announcements and scavenger hunt might not work for everyone, they show the students that you are still engaged with them during the break, and knowing about it ahead of time might entice some students to regularly check the classroom. The email greeting can be done with any course and shows students that you acknowledge the break and appreciate them.

And so as we approach the busy holiday season, think of other ways to stay connected to your students as you help prepare them for the holidays!



Discussion Boards: Many Happy Returns!

Dr. Bruce Kuhlman, CFA, CAIA, Graduate Faculty, Kaplan School of Business

How do you make students feel comfortable and confident in an Internet classroom? There is no physical classroom that facilitates students talking among themselves or with the professor before, during, or after class. When students are spread all over the globe and never physically meet, there is no sense of team as in “we’re all in this together.”

© 2014 Jupiterimages

© 2014 Jupiterimages

Until recently, my primary approach to this puzzle was using the only real tool we online instructors have: written communication. In the KU College of Business there are discussion board requirements for professors, which specify minimum participation in a set number of days and the number of responses per unit. Rather than aiming to meet the minimum requirements, I try to respond with follow-up questions to all of my students’ posts, including their responses to me and to one another. This is quite time consuming, but the effort is well worth it. The stair-step patterns in my class discussion boards demonstrate clearly that students like it when I am on the discussion boards everyday, usually multiple times per day. They seem to watch for my responses and are quick to reply. The back and forth is wonderful because you know they are paying attention to what you say.

I understand that this sort of thing would be very difficult with undergraduate classes of 40+ students, but the principle is the same. The more students feel connected to the professor, the more comfortable they are expressing themselves in discussion boards and in class assignments. They feel the professor truly has their best interests at heart and is there to help them, not just facilitate the class and grade papers. This also makes them more likely to ask for help when they need it!

It is to this end that I have instituted another practice that seems to increase participation and openness in the online classroom. In my welcome email to students, sent out before the class starts, I provide my telephone number and ask them to call me. I have only done this in two classes so far, and the actual call rate is only about 50%, but talking on the phone seems to have brought us closer together and made the class more personal. I intend to continue this practice and will keep you posted on my progress. If you have something special you do for your students, I would love to hear it!