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We Designed the SI Cloud to Drive Online Student Engagement — Here’s How

student preparing exam and learning lessons in school library, making research on laptop and browse internet

For higher education (and really for most areas of society), this past year and a half has been a period of disruption. 2020 did more than just rapidly change the way we teach; it changed the way we think about traditional in-person institutions.

Sports went on without massive crowds. Businesses are pondering the future of traditional offices. And, while most colleges are committed to reopening their campuses, we are likely going to see even more remote learning and hybrid programs emerge, now that schools have witnessed first-hand the benefits they provide.

In other words, remote learning is here to stay.

With more and more instructors considering online instruction, we wanted to address the number-one concern we hear: outside of a traditional classroom, how do we keep students engaged?

Engaging students is one of the core challenges of online learning, and one of our main focuses during course development, but it’s important to note that distance learning has progressed well beyond email communication and uploaded Word docs. With today’s technology, engaging students from a distance is easier than ever before, and we regularly hear from professors that their online students are just as engaged (if not more so) as their on-campus counterparts.

One reason for this is that we developed our state-of-the-art learning platform, the SI Cloud, specifically with student engagement in mind. Here are some of the features designed to capture your student’s curiosity and immerse them in the course material.

a student views the SI cloud learning platform on a laptop

Our Three E’s of Learning

All of our courses progress through three main stages, which we adapted from the evidence-based 5E Model of Science Instruction. Our three E’s include:

  • Exploration, during which the student examines the learning objectives while identifying what they already know and what they don’t yet understand
  • Experimentation, during which they complete the lab
  • Evaluation, during which they complete a final assessment that grades them on what they’ve learned

At its core, this structure mimics the process and pedagogies of a traditional, in-person laboratory course, easing the student’s transition into a new style of learning. However, our SI Cloud learning platform takes further steps to ensure the student is getting the most out of the material.

In Cloud, students are free to seamlessly toggle between the first two sections (Exploration and Experimentation) while conducting their experiment, allowing them to revisit and review key concepts when necessary. Furthermore, when students answer a question incorrectly, the Cloud provides immediate feedback. Following evidence-based educational practices, the system tells the student where to find the correct answer in the course content so they can review the applicable terms and concepts.

By continuously nudging students to make connections between the course material and the laboratory procedure, as well as the course as a whole, the SI Cloud encourages them to immerse themself in the lesson, as opposed to just clicking through a series of modules.

An Intuitive and Interactive Interface

Engagement comes from excitement, and nothing kills excitement quite like trying to figure out a complicated new platform with poor UX.

That’s why we enlisted the help of a variety of experts when designing the SI Cloud. Working with science professors, instructional designers, user experience experts, and world-class developers, our team developed a user-friendly interface that can integrate with your current LMS. Featuring an accessible user dashboard and straightforward lesson breakdowns, the platform is simple to navigate for both you and your students, ensuring a seamless experience that lets you focus on the course, not the tech specs.

Furthermore, we’ve enhanced many of our lessons with a host of interactive features, such as live data tables, helpful animations, and even virtual dissections. Moving beyond the monotony of assigned readings and dry textbook passages, these interactive lessons are designed specifically to draw your students into the material.

a student looks at his mobile learning platform while holding his child

Opportunities for Instructor Customization

While we’re proud of the platform we’ve developed, the ultimate driver of engagement is YOU. Educators are the ones who inspire students every day, and we don’t want to take away your ability to make this course your course.

One of the SI Cloud’s greatest assets is its Instructor Notes tool, which allows instructors to add text, photo, and video at any point throughout our lessons and procedures. Link a relevant local news story, add a helpful infographic, or upload a video of yourself singing the “The Elements” —whatever the situation, the Notes tool enables you to add to our course and make it your own.

The Cloud also features a custom lesson authoring feature, which is an intuitive tool that lets you develop your own lessons to be inserted anywhere into an existing course. The CLA tool gives you full authorial control over your content and allows you to design a wide variety of interactive exercises.

Ultimately, you know how to inspire your students. The goal of the SI Cloud is not to replace your instruction, but to amplify it.

Encouraging Flexibility and Independence

While traditional educators are understandably concerned about student engagement in an online setting, we have regularly heard from instructors that not only are their remote students just as engaged and successful as their on-campus students; some are even more so.

What they find is that the freedom and flexibility afforded by distance education encourages students to take ownership over their learning. Ocean County College professor Marc LaBella discovered this when he started teaching remote lab science courses using SI’s lab kits, which we examined in our free case study:

“LaBella has found that because of the flexibility and independence they offer, the [lab kits] actually increase student engagement. Instead of taking instruction from a professor at the front of a lecture hall, students in these online courses are forced to take ownership over their own learning. Without an instructor constantly watching over their shoulder, ready to answer any question at the raise of a hand, students must regularly solve problems on their own. That ability to think critically is a key component of a science student’s education.” (To read more of LaBella’s story, view and download our case study here.)

The SI Cloud takes that sense of freedom even further. Compatible across a variety of mobile devices, the platform allows students to complete their assignments anytime, anywhere, giving them the independence and flexibility they need to thrive.