Incorporating Checkpoints to Increase Engagement (#NEELC14)

On November 6, the Instructional Design team attended the day-long Northeast E-Learning Consortium Conference at Villanova’s Conference Center. This year’s theme focused on student engagement. The sessions included strategies and ideas for engaging today’s diverse students across a variety of course formats (traditional face-to-face classes, synchronous online class meetings, asynchronous online experiences, teleconference classes, and even gamified learning experiences). 

This is the second post in a blog series on our key takeaways from the day’s sessions. Contact us if you would be interested in applying these ideas and strategies into your classes!


Looking for an easy (and effective) way to connect with students and promote engagement? Here are three techniques for adding low-stakes check-in activities. Any member of the Instructional Design team would be happy to help you incorporate these strategies in your course. Please send us a message and tell us how we can help!

Adding Periodic Checkpoints

For Dr. Hofstetter, making thinking visible is key to coaching students in their Zone. Throughout the semester, he uses “checkpoint” assignments where students reflect on their goals and he can coach them in their learning. These short reflections aren’t worth a lot of points, but they give Dr. Hofstetter the chance to identify missing elements in projects, address errors in thinking, or provide students with additional resources that may help them build stronger projects. Because students submit their checkpoints electronically in Canvas, he can use the feedback tools available in SpeedGrader to engage students in a discussion about their learning.

You can add a checkpoint assignment to your Canvas course by creating an assignment and setting the submission type to on paper or online (text entry, file upload, or both). Once you publish the assignment, you’ll be able to access SpeedGrader to provide feedback.

speedgrader feedback
Example feedback in SpeedGrader.


Using Assignment Feedback to Check in with Students

Jocelyn Sirkis, the director of professional development at the Community College of Philadelphia, sees each assignment as an opportunity to connect with students in her online courses. Using multiple activities that aren’t worth a lot of points, Ms. Sirkis provides students with opportunities to succeed in the course and avenues for having quick “conversations” with her. Because she’s using Canvas to support her courses, she is able to provide feedback in written, audio, and video forms. This audio and video feedback allows her to use technology to make her online class feel a little more personal.

You can start providing audio or video feedback for your assignments with the Canvas SpeedGrader. Click on the name of your published assignment to access SpeedGrader, and then look below the Add a Comment box. Find the webcam icon, click on it, and begin recording your media comment.

speedgrader record audio video
Accessing the media recording feature in SpeedGrader.


If you’d still like to provide written feedback, but you’re tired of typing, click on the microphone icon to the right of the webcam icon. This allows you to use the speech to text tool.

Checking in with Polls and Surveys

Dr. Michael Castrilli, Villanova University faculty member and Director of Education and Professional Services at Decision Lens, uses both polls and surveys to check in with students. During web-conferencing sessions, Dr. Castrilli uses polls to keep students active and check their understanding of the material. In addition, he schedules a mid-semester interview to connect with students and ask about how they feel they’re doing in the course.

Dr. Castrilli also uses surveys to gauge student perspectives and gather data on the effectiveness of the activities and resources he uses in his course. These surveys help him view his course with new eyes and provide him with information about what works and what doesn’t.

If you’d like to incorporate polls in during web-conferences with your students, check out GoToTraining’s polls tool. In addition to polls, GoToTraining provides an evaluation tool to gather feedback from students after the session ends.

If you’re interested in using a survey as a way to check-in, you have two wonderful options at your disposal: Canvas surveys and Qualtrics. You can build a survey in Canvas by clicking on Quizzes in your course navigation menu. Click on the blue + Quiz button and choose either an ungraded or graded survey from the Quiz Type drop down menu. All of your survey results will stay in your Canvas course. If you’d like to gather information over time and analyze that data, then Qualtrics is the better option. If you’re unfamiliar with Qualtrics, learn Qualtrics in 5 Steps.

What types of techniques do you use to check in with your students? Tells us about it here!

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