Increase Participation and Engagement in Student Introduction Posts through Narrative

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It can be difficult for students to connect with each other and with instructors in web-based courses. A number of strategies, design-decisions, and activities can be used to alleviate this issue (Vonderwell, 2003). One commonly used activity is the introduction post – the digital correlate of the in-class introduction. The instructor creates a discussion thread with instructions for the student, typically asking students to post their name, major, hobbies, and perhaps an interesting fact about themselves, although information may vary. This not only helps the instructor acquire a better sense of the students in her or his class, but also allows students to become better acquainted with one another, understanding the similarities and differences of those who will be going through this class with them.

However, it can be challenging to generate participation in these posts. Of course, instructors can always assign a grade for participation, but that may muddy the experience. From the perspective of many students, it may seem unfair to be graded on something that feels like busy work, as it is not related to the courses content, and seems unlikely to help them in the professional world.

While assigning a grade for discussions may appeal to a student’s sense of duty, instructors may, instead, appeal to a student’s sense of enjoyment. Incorporating narrative into the introduction posts is one such method. Here, students are instructed to write a piece of a fictional story at the end of their discussion post. The first person to respond to the thread should begin the story. The next person must continue the story. The third person will continue from the second person, and so on. Students are told that they have free reign over the story’s content and direction, and are encouraged to have fun with it, and think outside the box.

Link to example artifact(s)

  • Instructor: Joseph Fanfarelli, University of Central Florida
  • Course Title: DIG 3171: Tools for the Digital Humanities

Example student post

The attached example displays the full, joined narrative from a Tools for the Digital Humanities course. 55 out of 83 students participated. File:Full Narrative From DIG 3171.pdf


This strategy has been effective in several courses, including those on graphic design, web design, web coding, and a digital humanities course. Observational methods have shown increased student participation, and willingness to share. The creativity of the stories is reflective of high levels of effort, likely as a result of engagement in the activity. Interestingly, students frequently incorporated characters and themes from earlier in the story, not just those presented in the previous student’s post. This is evidence that students were going back and reading the posts of others. While there is no definitive evidence that the corresponding introductory content was read, it is reasonable to assume that the likelihood was higher than it otherwise would have been. These results suggest that the incorporation of narrative can be beneficial to the introduction post process without turning it into a graded assignment, and without increasing instructor workload.

Link to scholarly reference(s)

Vonderwell, S. (2003). An examination of asynchronous communication experiences and perspectives of students in an online course: A case study. The Internet and Higher Education, 6 (1), 77-90.


Fanfarelli, J. (2016). Increase participation and engagement in student introduction posts through narrative. In B. Chen & K. Thompson (Eds.), Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository. Orlando, FL: University of Central Florida Center for Distributed Learning.

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