When students feel they have a personal stake in a learning outcome, when learning offers meaning and insight beyond getting through the course, or when students can control the conditions of their learning, they are likely to be more engaged or involved in the process. As the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory defines it

Successful, engaged learners are responsible for their own learning. These students are self-regulated and able to define their own learning goals and evaluate their own achievement. They are also energized by their learning; their joy of learning leads to a lifelong passion for solving problems, understanding, and taking the next step in their thinking.... Engaged learning also involves being collaborative—that is, valuing and having the skills to work with others.

Like those elements of CL focusing on interpersonal dynamics, engaged learning is based on a social/situative epistemology. Engaged learning therefore also complements the “turn” in composition theory in the 1980s and 1990s, wherein writing was re-envisioned as a social act, as sets of strategies shaping and being shaped by community practices. (See Writing Groups/Writing as a Social Act.)

Engaged learning requires pedagogical strategies that allow students to feel they control their own learning. These include

➢ giving students decision-making opportunities or allowing them to formulate “ground rules” (Bates & Poole, 2003, p. 37)
➢ assigning collaborative work, for students are often energized and excited when “engaged with each other [emphasis mine] in an active way to construct something meaningful and substantial” (Shneiderman, 1993)
➢ encouraging students to take ownership of their ideas and thus responsibly question “their own and other students’ position” (Bates & Poole, 2003, p. 32)
➢ assigning “real world” or client-based projects—or at least, designing assignments that not only the professor will see. Knowing that others will benefit from their work also raises students’ awareness of such rhetorical dynamics as audience, purpose, context, and genre appropriateness.

If as writing teachers we hope students will take responsibility for their learning, exercise autonomy, and feel they have a stake in the outcome besides a letter grade, then we will clearly benefit from incorporating engaged learning strategies in online collaborative writing assignments. (For more about interrelations between engaged, responsible, autonomous learning and online teaching, see—"Riding a new paradigm”).

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References:

Bates, A. W., and Poole, G. (2003). Effective teaching with technology in higher education: foundations for success. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL). (2004). Meaningful, engaged learning. Retrieved 22 April 2007 from—http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/engaged.htm

Shneiderman, B. (1993). Education by engagement and construction: experiences in the AT&T Teaching Theater. Retrieved 12 Jan. 2006 from—http://www.inform.umd.edu/UMS+State/UMDProjects/MCTP/Essays/EngagementAndConstruction.txt