Creating Effective Student Engagement in Online Courses: What do students find engaging?

Marcia D. Dixson


While this paper set out to discover what activities and/or interaction channels might be expected to lead to more highly engaged students, what it found was a bit different. After first creating a scale to measure online student engagement, and then surveying 186 students from six campuses in the Midwest, the results indicate that there is no particular activity that will automatically help students to be more engaged in online classes. However, the results also suggest that multiple communication channels may be related to higher engagement and that student-student and instructor-student communication are clearly strongly correlated with higher student engagement with the course, in general. Thus, advice for online instructors is still to use active learning but to be sure to incorporate meaningful and multiple ways of interacting with students and encouraging/requiring students to interact with each other.


Active learning, Online teaching, Social presence, Student engagement


This study surveyed 186 students in 38 different courses from 6 campuses to find what types of things students found engaging in online courses. The study found no statistically significant difference in engagement when active and passive activities were considered however suggested that active learning activities could increase student presence. Results suggest that instructors should work towards developing assignments that require students to engage each other as well as course content. Overall results suggest that as student-student and student-instructor communication (presence) are found to be the most important factors in student engagement with a course, the use of multiple communication channels in online courses tends to increase levels of student engagement.

APA Citation

Dixson, M. D. (2010). Creating effective student engagement in online courses: What do students find engaging? Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 10, 1-13.

About the Study

Links to Article
Mode Online
Publication Type Journal Article
In Publication Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
Type of Research Quantitative
Research Design Survey research (qualitative or quantitative), Text analysis
Intervention/Areas of Study Engagement
Level of Analysis Student-level, Cross-institutional
Specific Populations Examined Undergraduates
Peer-Reviewed Yes
Specific Institutional Characteristics of Interest 4-year Institution, Public
Specific Course or Program Characteristics Arts and humanities, Natural sciences, Social sciences
Outcome Variables of Interest Instructional effectiveness, Learning effectiveness, Persistence
Student Sample Size 100-199
Citing Articles,50&sciodt=0,50&hl=en