Constructivism within Synchronous and Asynchronous Online Learning Environments? Absolutely.

Integrated Classroom Student Engagement Technology

I have got something exciting going on!  I have been tasked with helping with the design and development of asynchronous active learning strategies!

Yes! For me, that is indeed exciting.

Paradigm Shift in Higher Education

A recent Department of Education (2017) report revealed that, overall, college and university enrollments are declining. But, at the same time, research also indicates the number of students opting to take online courses at our nation’s colleges and universities is actually on the increase.  In fact, online course enrollments have grown consistently since 2016. Further, predictions are that enrollments in online course are expected to continue to grow by double digits in the future (Ginder, Kelly-Reid, & Mann, Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017).  

That’s good news.

It is well documented that online college courses make college more accessible, attainable, and affordable. Increased offerings of online postsecondary courses have the potential to put a college education within the reach of even the most challenged households (Mayadas, Bourne, & Bacsich, 2009).

However, as a social constructivist totally bought into the theory that humans learn best within active collaborative learning environments (Vygotsky, 1978), I have to stop and ask myself this first question: Is it possible to create collaborative active and engaging learning activities for groups of students who may be hundreds, or even thousands, of miles apart?

The Challenges Facing Online College Courses

Research has noted that the attrition rates for online courses are 10 – 20% higher among students enrolled solely in online courses (Angelino, Williams, & Natvig, 2007).  Further, some MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have reported drop-out rates as high as 90% (Hew & Cheung, 2014) for higher education classes – even when the classes are being given away. This infers that instructional designers tasked with creating synchronous and asynchronous online courses gotta have some skills if they want to be successful.

iClickers: An Innovative Student Engagement Learning Technology

But, technology is evolving to help address such challenges. For instance, I recently learned how easy it is to embed iClicker technology into online Canvas content. As a refresher, iClicker is an easy to use cloud or web-based “student response system and classroom engagement tool.” This learning technology was designed exclusively to enable instructors to engage their students during online and face-to-face learning activities and provide almost instantaneous feedback to improve student performance.

Simply put, the iClicker app enables students to use their desktop computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, or any other electronic advice to respond to instructor prompts and probing exams and quizzes. The technology is so versatile, instructors can:

  • Use iClickers to take attendance;
  • Poll and quiz student real-time;
  • Create study and collaborative learning groups; and
  • Design engaging online synchronously and asynchronously learning activities (“Student Response Systems & Classroom Engagement Tools,” n.d.).†††

And, iClicker technology is user-friendly. Canvas is fast becoming the preferred Learning Management System in higher education. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to learn how easy it is to integrate iClicker technology into Canvas web content. For instance, once the iClicker tool is selected and a remote ID is assigned, instructional designers need only confirm their registration to begin building out engaging content that students can access anywhere, anytime, and anyhow 24/7 (“Registering Your iClicker in Canvas: Canvas Training Center,” n.d.).

But, do iClickers work? Personally, as a scholar-under-construction, I have gotten a little hard to convince without evidence.

Evidence-Based Impacts and Results

Well. The evidence is in. It has been documented that instructional design systems with integrated iClicker engagement activities helped 118 college freshman English students improve their learning progress during both synchronous and asynchronous situated learning classes (Yang, 2011).  Further, a researcher measured and documented learning improvements among 24 second semester college Calculus students and attributed the increases to the immediate performance feedback and data provided by integrated iClicker activities (Lucas, 2009).  Finally, a constructivism-inspired iClicker instructional design system boosted both the factual knowledge and conceptual exam performance of 858 diverse Midwestern undergraduates because of the instructor’s ability to solicit and immediately use performance improvement feedback and input during problem-solving exercises, group discussions, or other activities (Shapiro et al., 2017).

Jennie’s Perspective

I see the integration of iClicker into distance and online course design systems as the employment of an evidence-based strategy to improve student performance and promote the development of metacognitive and critical thinking skills. 

So, to answer my first question: Yes.  I feel instructional designers can create active and engaging activities among groups of students who may be hundreds or thousands of miles apart?

But, that raises a second question: Do I have what it takes to design active , engaging, and effective, student engagement activities for asynchronous online course?

Well. What do you think? 

I’m just sayin’ …


Ginder, S. A., Kelly-Reid, J. E., & Mann, F. B. (2017). Enrollment and Employees in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2016; and Financial Statistics and Academic Libraries, Fiscal Year 2016. First Look (Provisional Data). NCES 2018-002. National Center for Education Statistics.

Hew, K. F., & Cheung, W. S. (2014). Students’ and instructors’ use of massive open online courses (MOOCs): Motivations and challenges. Educational research review12, 45-58.

Lucas, A. (2009). Using peer instruction and i-clickers to enhance student participation in calculus. Primus19(3), 219-231.

Mayadas, A. F., Bourne, J., & Bacsich, P. (2009). Online education today. Science323(5910), 85-89.

Registering Your iClicker in Canvas: Canvas Training Center. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Shapiro, A. M., Sims-Knight, J., O’Rielly, G. V., Capaldo, P., Pedlow, T., Gordon, L., & Monteiro, K. (2017). Clickers can promote fact retention but impede conceptual understanding: The effect of the interaction between clicker use and pedagogy on learning. Computers & Education111, 44.

Student Response Systems & Classroom Engagement Tools. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Vygotsky _____-

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Interactions between learning and development. In Mind and Society (pp. 79-91). Retrieved from

Yang, Y. F. (2011). Engaging students in an online situated language learning environment. Computer Assisted Language Learning24(2), 181-198.

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