In this post, read about an online course that has great pacing and momentum to keep students engaged until the end. What follows is a description of five momentum-building activities from the course, as well as an interview with the instructor. Erin Ratelis developed and currently teaches HWM 335: The Worksite Health Environment.
Five Activities That Build Momentum in HWM 335
1. Photographs on the Discussion Board
What it is: Students take photographs of their health environment and post them to the discussion board in the first activity of the course. Erin shares what her environment looks like as well.
What I love about it: This activity does double-duty: an intro to the health environment and a social connector. By sharing their living environments in the context of the course, students are bridging the social gap that often comes with asynchronous online learning. This builds momentum by starting the course off with an activity that is exciting to students and inspires them to learn more in the weeks to come.
2. Book Club
What it is: Students read the book Nudge on behavioral economics. Each week, three to four student facilitators run the discussion on a new chapter in the book.
What I love about it: Students get a different view of the discussion board and learn what it’s like to facilitate! This activity builds momentum by offering students a new way to approach discussions, and it follows a book that’s a quick and fascinating read.
3. Field Trips
What it is: Students go to a store and take note of 10 ways that consumer marketers influence purchasing decisions. They then share their findings on the discussion board. In another lesson, Erin takes them on a video tour of a company that designed its worksite health environment to motivate employees to make healthy choices.
What I love about it: Students are challenged to take their learning outside of the LMS and into their everyday world, creating a more meaningful experience; the field trip activities provide “something new” to keep students interested and engaged.
4. Guest Speaker
What it is: Erin invited an expert with 20 years of experience in the field to record a guest lecture on consumer marketing in the retail environment.
What I love about it: It adds value to the course, builds momentum by introducing someone new for a week, and creates joy by introducing a speaker who loves his career and loves sharing with students.
5. Final Project with Milestones
What it is: Students synthesize what they have done and learned from all the lessons into a final project. Students role-play as a consultant to “help a fictitious client create a workplace environment that makes healthy choices the path of least resistance.” They are introduced to the project early on and have milestones to hit along the way to make sure they are on track.
What I love about it: Students are given a framework or scenario to work within so the project is not overwhelming; the checkpoints along the way are essential to a fun yet challenging learning experience (opposed to the stress of creating a final project without checkpoints). Momentum carries students through milestones to a project they can be proud of.
Interview with Erin Ratelis
Here’s what Erin has to say about designing her course, teaching online, and what she’d like to try next. You can learn more about Erin by reading her faculty bio.
When you developed the Worksite Health Environment course, you were a first-time online instructor. Can you tell me about your approach to developing a course for the first time?
Yes. First, I identified the objectives for the program and then worked through my curriculum flow. Once I was able to identify all the topics I wanted to cover, I was able to bite-size them into week-long formats. Then the fun really began—thinking about creative, experiential ways to supplement the content.
What advice would you have for other first-time instructors?
Focus on low-hanging fruit—what content do you already have that you can leverage for your course? Build on it and then take a step back and see where you have gaps.
What did you learn after the first offering of the course?
I learned that students really enjoy the non-traditional elements of the course (field trip-based learning, book club, etc).
How did you come up with the ideas for some of the learning activities in your course? What was your inspiration?
My inspiration is always “outside in” thinking. I like exploring fields outside of health promotion for inspiration (like consumer marketing, architecture/design, behavioral economics). Also, I do my best to come up with ways that help students experience the academic insights from the course in a very tangible, real-life way. For example—assessing their own home health environment and taking a field trip to a favorite store to see how retail marketers leverage the environment to influence purchase decisions.
Can you talk about the design of the final project and your use of milestones?
Milestones were deliberately set as part of the final project from day one and that proved to be a very solid decision. They allow me to give students feedback every step of the way. My students turn in more thoughtful, high-quality final projects because of the milestone approach. The proof: milestone 1 versus final project submission—almost always, I see a substantial improvement in quality and depth of thought. I don’t want a student to score poorly just because the student doesn’t fully grasp the final project requirements. I take a fairly prescriptive approach and guide students every step of the way.
What’s your favorite activity in the course? What about your students?
One thing I enjoy doing is emailing my students weekly doses of “inspiration”—I find news articles that support class learnings. I like to make things as current as possible for the students. The students really enjoy book club and being able to read a non-textbook.
What are the biggest challenges you face teaching this course?
Trying to engage students who are “going through the motions”, and finding ways to challenge students who are fully invested in the course.
Is there anything you’re curious about or want to try in your course, but haven’t had the time yet?
I’d like to try a live session with students—perhaps present a mini-lecture, take Q/A, get to know them a bit more.