Engaging Learners

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Topics of Discussion


Active Learning

Active learning is a process whereby students engage in activities, such as reading, writing, discussing, or problem solving that promote analysis, evaluation, and creation. It moves students from passive learning, such as listening to a lecture, to becoming engaged agents in their own learning. Active learning is a key component of student-centred learning at Mohawk College.

How it Works

For learning to be active, students must be at the centre. The educator's subject matter expertise presents and frames the new knowledge and/or concepts, but students should be immediately and meaningfully interacting and engaging with those new ideas. The role of the educator moves from lecturer to facilitator to deepen and extend students' learning.

For newer educators (and even those with years of experience) active learning can be scary. Faculty must move from a place of comfort (e.g. lectures, PowerPoints, step-by-step videos) to something new and untested. The lesson changes from a basic 60-75-minute lecture followed by an assignment to multiple, five-minute introductions followed by 15-20 minutes of controlled-yet-chaotic, student-driven exploration and integration that ideally ends in reflection or resolution. Hence, the learning becomes active as learners are engaged in the learning versus passively listening to a lecture.

Luckily, there is an ever-growing pool of strategies and resources to support active learning. This can include PBL (problem-based learning), case studies, polling, debates, jigsaw, minute papers, mind mapping, storyboarding, and think-pair-share are a few tried and true active learning instructional strategies. (See Durham College's CAFE website for a description of some of these.) Even though it's approaching middle-age, Angelo and Cross's 50 CATs is a great resource on active learning strategies.

Online learning also has many opportunities to incorporate active learning. Interactive activities using H5P or other digital tools can be an effective way to engage learners online.

Designing Active Learning Activities

Active learning activities work best when they have a structure. These structures should be proven in research and action, and springboard from a Community of Inquiry model.

Each activity can be broken into separate and somewhat distinct parts:

  • Trigger: A trigger can be anything small that gives learners an idea to start working from. This could be a quote, a short video, a cartoon, a quiz game, a pre-test, an online poll, a statistical point to ponder... just to name a few!
  • Exploration: Exploring the concepts can be an individual or a group activity. This can include critically analyzing a view, dissecting a case study, locating supporting or contradictory resources, or critiquing concepts, with prompts and guidance from the educator. (See Durham College's CAFE website for a description of some of these activities.)
  • Integration: Once students have explored the concept, it's time to integrate that learning. This can include contributing to a critique, participating in a debate, proposing alternatives, predicting what happens when a variable is changed, or much more. This is often the aspect of the activity that is assessed, whether it is a diagnostic, formative, or summative assessment.
  • Reflection/resolution: Good learning activities provide students with time to reflect, reconcile, and resolve their learning. This could be as simple as a muddiest point, minute paper or quick quiz/poll. It may also be part of a larger assessment.

Framing activities and intentionally developing and connecting the various parts supports learning as a process.

Use at Mohawk

Active learning can be incorporated during the lesson planning process, whether during a full course re-design or simply when planning out a class. Active learning can also impact assessments in a course. Multiple choice quizzing and standard final exams are not often part of active learning experiences.

There are certain learning spaces more adaptable for active learning at Mohawk College. For example, Fennell campus has some classrooms with more flexible furniture and technology options.

MyCanvas also offers many opportunities to incorporate active learning in hybrid, Hy-Flex or fully online learning communities.

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Communication with Learners

Effective communication is the cornerstone of a successful learning environment. As technology continues to transform education, educators and instructors have a wide range of tools at their disposal to connect with their learners. We will explore the various methods of communication available to educators, specifically focusing on email, Outlook, announcements, inbox messages, and chat functionalities within our learning management system, MyCanvas.

Email and Microsoft Outlook

Email remains one of the most widely used methods of communication in educational settings. It provides a reliable and formal channel for instructors to reach out to learners. Email allows for detailed messages, attachments, and the ability to reach individuals or groups of learners simultaneously.

By using Outlook, instructors can organize their communication effectively. With features like categorization, folders, and rules, instructors can streamline their communication process and ensure that learners receive relevant information in a timely manner.


Announcements within an LMS like MyCanvas are a powerful tool for mass communication. Instructors can utilize announcements to broadcast important updates, reminders, or changes to the entire class. Announcements are prominently displayed on the course homepage, ensuring that learners see them when accessing their online course materials.

The ability to attach files or embed links within announcements further enhances their effectiveness. Instructors can share supplementary materials, provide links to external resources, or direct learners to assignments or discussions relevant to the announcement's content. Announcements also allow for engaging visuals and formatting options, making them visually appealing and attention-grabbing.

Inbox Messages from MyCanvas

Inbox messages, also known as private messages or direct messages, offer a more personalized and private mode of communication within an LMS like MyCanvas. Instructors can send individual messages to learners or create group conversations to facilitate discussion and collaboration.

Inbox messages are particularly useful for addressing specific learner concerns, providing feedback on assignments, or engaging in one-on-one conversations. Learners can also use this channel to seek clarification, ask questions, or request assistance. The private nature of inbox messages allows for confidential discussions, fostering trust and open communication.

MyCanvas Chat

MyCanvas Chat is a real-time chat feature integrated into the LMS, enabling instructors and learners to have instant conversations. It supports both one-on-one and group chats, promoting collaborative learning experiences.

MyCanvas Chat is ideal for quick questions, brainstorming sessions, or facilitating live discussions during virtual classes or office hours. Its real-time nature encourages active participation and promotes a sense of community among learners. Additionally, instructors can create separate chat channels for different topics, assignments, or groups, further enhancing organization and facilitating focused discussions.

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Student-Centred Learning

Student-centred learning is a key part of creating a strong learning environment at Mohawk College. This is the process of starting with student needs first. It gives students the chance to learn in a way that is meaningful to them.

Learning environments can be both face-to-face, online or a hybrid of both. Creating a student-focused learning environment starts right when you set up your classroom culture.

Building a Learning Community

A learning environment is about more than just course outlines, learning plans and lessons. According to the Student Experience Research Network (SERN), "Belonging is a vital ingredient for learning and well-being." When students have a sense of belonging to their learning environment, they can devote their attention and energy to learning. This is at the core of student-centred learning.

What can educators do to build a community and foster a sense of belonging among students? Here are some suggestions for building community the first three weeks of class:

  • Get a class list with pictures on it
  • Ask students to complete their MyCanvas profile and add a picture
  • Create a short welcome video in MyCanvas
  • Offer positive reinforcement
  • Create a discussion board in MyCanvas for students to interact with each other
  • Arrive "in class" 10 minutes early so students can get to know you informally - and let them know you'll be there
  • Set aside a specific time where you are available to answer questions (virtual or in person)
  • Humanize your course with humour, sharing fun facts and more
  • Foster community through the use of ice breakers, group discussions, and other community-building activities
  • Collaborate to form a set of classroom norms or expectations - any actions that will reinforce trust and respect among each other

Student-Centred Teaching Strategies

Even before a class begins, an educator can work to develop a relationship with the students. Arrive early, take time to greet students as they come in. That can seem like a challenge as the teacher is trying to get technology up and running to start class on time, but even a 'hello' and a moment of eye contact goes a long way in establishing a connection.

It is important to foster a classroom atmosphere of mutual respect, acceptance, focus, and enthusiasm for learning. It is also important to establish rules for behaviour, including mutual respect.

Active learning strategies can also engage students, manage attention, and encourage attendance. Activities such as "Think-Pair-Share," "Minute Papers," or "Muddiest Point" can help engage students, encourage higher order thinking, and provide feedback to the teacher on how well the students are doing. (See Durham College's CAFE - Learning Techniques page for a description of some of these activities.)

"Flipping the classroom" is another teaching strategy that has proven to be effective. In a "flipped" classroom, the "lecture" content is delivered online, often in the form of a video or narrated presentation, while face-to-face classes are used for what would traditionally be considered "homework" such as worked examples, case studies, group discussions and real-life applications with the guidance of the teacher.

Teaching Large Classes

Teaching a large class, especially in an immense, tiered lecture hall can be challenging for many educators. While it is tempting for teachers to rely on the traditional lecture approach to large classes, there are a variety of strategies that can engage students and enrich their experience in a large class.

Active learning strategies and tactics in the large class can be difficult, especially in a fixed lecture hall, but are just as important, if not more important, than in smaller classes. There are a variety of electronic and web-based tools which can support active learning in large classes. Classrooms have wi-fi connections which can support web-based tools.

MyCanvas is an excellent platform for delivering video content in a flipped class and can help in monitoring whether students complete pre-class assignments.

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