Creating dynamic, interactive content is about more than looks or fun – it’s about good pedagogy. Using dynamic and interactive content promotes social-emotional learning, increases engagement, decreases cognitive load, and learning science supports these assertions.
Mental Health and Wellness: The Public Health Agency of Canada defines Mental Health as “the capacity of each and all of us to feel, think, act in ways that enhance our ability to enjoy life and deal with the challenges we face. It is a positive sense of emotional and spiritual well-being that respects the importance of culture, equity, social justice, interconnections and personal dignity.
Ways that we can affect social-emotional learning and mental health and wellness fall in to three categories:
- Active Learning & Engagement
- Stress Management
What is a mentally healthy learning environment?
- Identity-affirming social-emotional learning (SEL) instruction, and
- Supportive teacher-student, student-student, and home-school-community relationships
Personalize your online spaces. Try Canva to build some fun banners.
You can also make presentation (with animations!) in Canva. I like to use these presentations because I can instantly share them via an embed code so they upload perfectly in my LMS or class webpage with any animations I might have included intact.
Adding these sorts of element is about more than pure design too. Did you know that willingness to read increases when colour visuals are used? So incorporating presentations and visuals not only make the page look better, it encourages more engagement. Furthermore, these sorts of elements along with others like call outs or block quotes can help guide your students through the material in the same way you would in class.
Identity-affirming social-emotional learning (SEL) instruction
Identity-affirming instruction includes
- Student-Centered Teaching
- Cultivating Diversity as a Resource
- Classroom Relationships
- Caring Classroom Environments
How can we build Identity and Relationships online?
While this is not an exhaustive list, voice, choice, and autonomy are great starting points. There are a few ways to support voice in an online learning environment, one is by using discussion posts. Discussion posts can also be very adaptable – they can be for the whole class, or for smaller groups. Smaller group discussions can also be set up according to student choice and interest or used as peer support/editing/feedback groups. Either way, smaller groups encourage building relationships at the same time. Additionally, individual discussion areas can be created to facilitate teacher-student discussions. This can be an area for students to ask questions or to post reflections and get teacher feedback. Discussions can be created via breakout rooms for synchronous online learning or through chat discussion areas included in Learning Management Systems like Brightspace/D2L.
Using tools like calendars and checklists can give student autonomy by allowing them to be in charge of their own schedule. Furthermore, they help students not only stay organized but also help them build responsibility and self-regulation skills.
Brightspace/D2L has a wonderful tool called Intelligent Agents. Essentially they automate processes for the teacher, but by doing that they can help keep students engaged and build relationships. When criteria set out by the teacher is fulfilled, the agents automatically sends an email to the student. The messages that are sent are customizable by the teacher and so can help to build relationships at the same time as sending reminders to students. Once the agents are set up, they run in the background helping to keep students engaged and informed. The Intelligent Agents can be programmed to do many things, some examples are:
- Remind students who have missed a deadline
- Congratulate students who have done really well on a quiz
- Check-in with students who haven’t logged on in awhile
- Inform students they have completed all tasks on a check list or have incomplete tasks on a checklist
- Indicate that a student is half way through a course
- And many more
Active Learning & Engagement
Active learning is an instructional method that engages students in the learning process beyond listening and passive note taking. You might be accustomed to the various strategies that encourage active learning in the face-to-face classroom, but what do they look like asynchronously online?
Think-Pair-Share can be accomplished in an online course via small group discussion areas. Students can discuss a question over a set period of time, for example, a question is posted Monday, students post their thoughts by end of Tuesday, then students read and respond to their peers by end of Wednesday. Small group discussion areas as touched upon earlier, can be used for peer review. Students can be directed to annotate an article or review and comment on a case study.
Quick writes and frequent reflections can be built into any lesson and submitted to an online journal or portfolio for later review while building in practice where students get immediate feedback – a quick quiz that is automatically marked for example or thinking questions where students can then reveal the answer to gauge how well they know the material – are all great strategies that promotes active learning and a growth mindset at the same time.
How about gamifying? Adding gaming elements can instantly engage students. This can be as simple as incorporating a badging system to a more in-depth activity like a digital Escape room. Both ideas can be readily accomplished using release conditions. Badges can be set to be presented automatically upon a learner achieving a certain set of criteria (completing all activities in Unit 1 for example), while that same criteria can be used to open subsequent challenges in an escape room scenario.
Engagement can also be as simple as using elements like tabs, accordions, flip cards and others that encourage action and interaction from the student. The student is no longer just passively reading through material; they need to do something like open a tab or click a reveal button. This disrupts monotony and encourages engagement.
One way to decrease stress online it to provide wellness spaces or zones.
Wellness Zones are areas within your online space that can provide students with information to support their wellness. One way to do this is by building a widget with links to self-help information like mindfulness techniques, coping strategies, handling stress, and emergency telephone numbers. I created a widget for my online classes using Canva. I used a logo template and created an image with a title. I then added icons around the central image. You are able to add links to images in Canva, so I then added a link to each icon. Each link opens a separate source leading students to various materials from breathing techniques, to a list of 50 self-care ideas, to a Coping Skills Toolkit, to a video about stress, to a listing of emergency numbers like the Kids Help Phone, Crisis Services, Addiction helplines, or Suicide prevention hotlines. Once the widget was created, I shared it via an embed code that I could use in Brightspace/D2L or on a webpage. Using the embed code allows the links to remain live, furthermore, if I happen to need to change any of the links, that change is translated through to my widget – no need to re-upload.
Cognitive load refers to the amount of working memory resources used or the amount of information that working memory can hold at any given time. There are three types of cognitive load: sensory memory, working memory, and long-term memory.
Adapted from Atkinson, R.C. and Shiffrin, R.M. (1968). ‘Human memory: A Proposed System and its Control Processes’. In Spence, K.W. and Spence, J.T. The psychology of learning and motivation, (Volume 2). New York: Academic Press. pp. 89–195.
Information from your sensory memory passes into your working memory, where it is either processed or discarded. Working memory can generally hold between five and nine items (or chunks) of information at any one time – young adults’ working memory holds even less. If working memory is bombarded with extraneous information, or if it has to do a lot of work to sort or make sense of that information, then it hasn’t room left for the information that is actually important. For example, picture the above diagram with no labels and a legend instead. Presenting the information with no labels takes more work to process, thus more working memory.
Understanding neuroscience and how we process information is key here. We process auditory and visual information separately so they don’t compete with each other like two visual items would. Visual information like pictures, diagrams, labels and explanatory text take more working memory than a diagram with narrated explanation for example.
Competing visuals is also why it is important to not have cluttered online pages. White space is the friend of cognitive load. Many Learning Management Systems have templates and using them is a great way to ensure adequate white space and eliminate clutter. Careful examination of how you are presenting your information is required as well. For example, can you add in more auditory elements to support the visual elements?
Templates also promote consistency and easy navigation which goes a long way to reducing cognitive load. We don’t want students using large portions of working memory to navigate an online space because it takes away from their ability to understand the material being presented in that space. Being consistent by using templates lessens the workload caused by navigation.
Considering cognitive load and reducing it is paramount to learning effectively but there is a dual benefit: it also is a key element in helping to reduce stress.
Dynamic, interactive content is a necessary part of a successful online course. Active, engaging learning, reduction of cognitive load, lowered stress, and supporting social-emotional learning and mental health address the needs of the whole child, not solely the academic outcomes, and that is why it is important to consider the design, the content and its presentation in the form of teaching strategies in creating a well-rounded, successful online course.