Best Practices In Engaging Online Learners Through Active And Experiential Learning Strategies (2017). Stephanie Smith Budhai & Ke’Anna Brown Skipworth. New York: Routledge, 99 pp. $34.95, 978-1-138-67068-6

Rusty Dolleman, Academic Advisor, University of Southern Maine, [email protected]

Many of us are familiar with the “lecture/discussion board” format that is common to online courses; however, as online learning has continued to develop, so has the pedagogy around how to make the most out of the online environment. Best Practices In Engaging Online Learners Through Active And Experiential Learning Strategies, by Stephanie Smith Budhai and Ke’Anna Brown Skipworth, is a useful book that makes a case for the importance of active and experiential learning as a way to enhance the online experience, encourage student success, and improve retention.

Although the authors’ main audience are online instructors, their ideas are important for advisors as well.  One of the more useful facets of the book are its examples of how current concepts such as “gamification” and “experiential learning” might be applied in an online environment.  Advisors often serve on committees that inform pedagogy, and being able to effectively advocate for up-to-date teaching practices will benefit students in the long run.  The book is also generally well-researched, and advisors who are not familiar with online formats will be able to get quickly up to speed on the field as a whole.

Many advisors also teach, and Best Practices contains useful suggestions about how to engage students “beyond the discussion board,” as the authors put it (1).  The authors do a particularly good job of laying out best practices for online group work, which can be a major problem area for busy adult students.  Little tidbits like making sure groups contain an odd number of members (thus ensuring that a group will not be “split” on the best way to proceed) help make the book more than just a general overview. The diversity of the book’s examples are also a strength: although there are plenty of technology-based recommendations--including an interesting take on how Minecraft could be utilized within a Design discipline--the authors are careful to include plenty of “low-tech” options on how to make courses more engaging and accessible.  There is an entire chapter on how to integrate Experiential Learning such as Internships and Service Learning into an online course for example, as well as suggestions about how field trips and scavenger hunts “In Real Life” can help engage students.  The strongest sections are those aimed at giving students a sense of ownership over the course content, such as online vlogs where they share their findings/process with their classmates.

There are a few problems with the book.  The illustrations/diagrams do not add much, and many of them are generalized images that come straight from Shutterstock.   Another more serious issue is that the writing often seems to assume that all students are equally adept at accessing and using online technology.  One danger of this is that some of the software suggested by the authors (Zoom, for example, or Voicethread) might end up being a barrier for students who are not particularly adept with technology.   Because of this, Best Practices might be most useful for advisors/instructors working with graduate students or those in highly specialized programs where students already display a high level of technological adaptability.  That said, Best Practices is a useful read for any advisor wanting to get a sense of where online teaching is as a discipline right now, as well as the available tools. 

Posted in: 2017 Book Reviews
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