Student Engagement at a Distance

Distance education has been rising throughout the world thanks to computers and the internet.  Traditional on-campus classroom environments have been the norm, and, until the 1980’s, really the only possibility.

The history of distance education is longer than you might expect.  In 1922, Pennsylvania broadcasted some of its courses through radio.  In 1953, the University of Houston offered the first televised college course.  In 1965, Wisconsin tried out a telephone-based learning program for physicians.  In 1976, Coastline community College became the real first “virtual college” with broadcasted courses only.  When 1980’s hit, various online programs began to appear throughout the U.S and they became somewhat successful due to more personal access to computers on the rise at the time (Online Schools Center, online).

Many universities are now offering online education as a way to reach more students, and it’s becoming more popular.

But traditional classroom environments offer in-class teachings and lectures as well as many engagement programs such as orientations, maybe a lounge for discussions and study, on campus counselling, clubs and groups, and even child care.  With distance education, what is offered for student engagement?

You might be surprised to find that there are various programs that distance education offers to aid in student engagement.  At Athabasca, there is social engagement and academic engagement offered through various programs and services.  Here is a look at some, many brought to you by the AUSU.

The Landing

The landing is a social site for posts and discussions. It can be accessed online at It is a place where students and invited guests can share thoughts, ideas and ask questions, sort of like a message board.

You can post messages but if you want other features, you will have to log in. There are blogs, photos, polls, and the wire.  Students can upload files to share and engage in discussions about their homework.  There are groups that you can join and create wikis.  It is a nice place to share and meet other students.

The new Athabasca Student Mobile App

You can download this app on your smartphone or tablet and can instantly have access to other students through a student wall, and chat with friends, among other things.

This is a great way to keep connected with other students and be informed about new things going on with Athabasca.  You can even have your own calendar and access information about your assignments, as well as manage your classes.  There is also a tour option where you can virtually see your campus and learn about what is offered.

The Voice Magazine

This is another way to reach students and engage.  Any student can write articles for students to read.  Students can voice their opinions about life, school, and more.  A lot of information is available about how to manage home and school, and other aspects of university life.

Contests and Surveys

These are other ways that are used to engage with students.  They offer information or services and giveaways to get students more active in something or involved in the online community. Some contests are posted on the Facebook page and on the Athabasca website. Surveys are usually sent through email and there are also the course evaluation surveys, which are a good way to help inform Athabasca about your feeling about the course and tutors.

Contact form Tutors

I have noticed some tutors contacted me to say good luck or asked me how things are going.  At the start, they usually send you a welcome message as well.  This type of communication by your tutor can be encouraging as it offers an aspect of reality that is sometimes missing form distance education.  This type of academic engagement is important.


Yes, Athabasca has an official Facebook page where students can get up to date information about some events at the university. Their link is, but there are a number of other groups as well. Often made by students, these groups include general contact groups for students and others, study groups, individual course groups, and even groups devoted to only current students. Students can join the groups, ask questions both to the editors of the Facebook group or others within and get replies, and perhaps get help or discuss course work.  Contests and other events are posted on the official page as well.

Virtual student engagement is not impossible.  There are many other ways that are being used to engage with student of distance education.  New ways are being developed as well.  Things like face-face meet-ups or skype conferences are just some of these ideas.  The future is wild and almost anything is possible.

Online Schools Center.  Retrieved from: