Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Is engagement the same for face-to-face and online?

I will be taking part in the HERDSA panel “Is engagement the same off and online?” (Wednesday 19th April 1pm, Sydney time). So are my thoughts on the subject:

The question should be: "What is engagement? How do we know when we have achieved it?"

Engagement is the same for face-to-face and online. The challenge is to make person-to-person connection with the student, more importantly *between* the students, and ideally with an external client. This can be done online, just as, or more effectively, than face to face.

For eight years I have been helping with the Techlauncher program at ANU. This has hundreds of students in teams of a half dozen, working on projects for clients, from academia, business, industry and government. It was designed for face to face delivery. Clients give 60 second pitches competing for students, in an intensive two hour session, on campus. Teams form and then work for a year on the project.

The format worked fine. But in 2016 I suggested Canberra's universities should be ready if a regional crisis kept international students off shore. I argued international and Australia students could work together online.

In 2019 I described flipping the classroom activities for part of Techlauncher, and adding a pure online option ready for an emergency (Worthington, 2019). This was implemented for COVID-19 in 2020 (Worthington, 2020). There was no change to the course content, or assessment, replacing classrooms with Zoom rooms. A key part was the use of a Learning Management System (Moodle), online forums (Piazza), and specialist project management tools (Slack), which are routinely used for running software development teams spread around the world.

This semester I have been mentoring a dozen interns, doing individual projects at workplaces in Canberra, and across Australia. Most of those in Canberra have opted to come to the campus to talk face to face. But this is not an option if they are in Perth, and Zoom works fine. One who was in transit between workplaces Zoomed from a car (not driving). The shaky-cam made me slightly sea-sick, but otherwise this worked okay. ;-)

The key part of the student engagement is for the teacher to be trained in how to teach real world relevant skills. It helps if they have been trained to do this using online courses. I had the advantage of training at TAFE, and online universities, in these skills. We need to have our teaching academics routinely exposed to these tools and techniques, to get them away from the nonsense of lectures and exams.


Worthington, T. (2019, December). Blend and flip for teaching communication skills to final year international computer science students. In 2019 IEEE International Conference on Engineering, Technology and Education (TALE) (pp. 1-5). IEEE. https://doi.org/10.1109/TALE48000.2019.9225921

Worthington, T. (2020, April). Responding to the Coronavirus Emergency with e-Learning. Athabasca University. https://news.athabascau.ca/beyond-50/responding-to-the-coronavirus-emergency-with-e-learning/

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