Actively Engaged Online

Actively Engaged Online

Blog posts and YouTube videos can reach thousands of people. For this reason, many scholars and professionals communicate online these days, but students toil away at their desks writing essays that nobody reads. Are we preparing students for time travel back to the 1990s or are we preparing them for the future?

Students need digital literacy. Many low and high intermediate students can watch videos and read short social media posts in English (receptive skills), but can they produce screencast videos and blog posts worth reading? In my experience, no–not without training.

Actively Engaged Online teaches students (and teachers) how to create a blog step by step. Students learn how to describe their program, create an online multimedia glossary, write a listicle (list-article), create a career FAQ talking chatbot, a thought-experiment hypertext narrative, and a screencast describing a website that solves a problem linked to their field of study. Everything is ready to start teaching blogging tomorrow: PowerPoints, quizzes, readings, listenings, and writing assignments with easy to score peer-review evaluations on

Some students and even teachers say, “I’m not good with technology.” No worries. Go slow. Follow instructions and you will be amazed at what you can do.

Listening topics for discussion

Each week, students are presented with a caeer-related topic. Every lesson begins with vocabulary, discussion questions, and a listening which introduces the topic.

Weekly workplace narrative assignments

The first podcast listening is about doing well at school and the role of homework. Students match vocabulary and discuss the topic in pairs before listening to the podcast. In the lab, students take a quiz on the same listening and write a first person narrative illustrating the consequences of academic success and academic failure.

It is surprising how difficult students find narrative writing.

Many students reflexively write an opinion piece, submit it for automated scoring, and two seconds later receive the feedback that they lost points for not writing a narrative. Some students are flummoxed. “What am I supposed to do?” they ask. Tell a story about how you did well at school or–better yet–how you failed. Use past tenses verbs, Use your imagination. Tell a good story.

Reflexively expressing opinions to display knowledge is a lamentable outcome of college education. Students should be able to respond appropriately to the demands of the communication task.

Narratives are undervalued in education. All day long native speakers engage in storytelling. On Monday morning at work when asked, “How was your weekend?” you reply with an evaluative adjective (good, okay, terrible) and follow with a narrative, sharing the events of your time away from work. Narratives are how we learn about each other, invite empathy, and build relationships. Relationships are so important in the workplace. It makes sense that college students preparing for the workplace would learn how to tell a good story.

Business communication involves a lot of storytelling. Middle managers at the head office of an international chain restaurant use narrative to challenge corporate policies, advocate change, and influence stakeholders (Jameson, 2001, Journal of Business Communication). More significantly, argumentation is less effective at achieving these ends. In other words, teaching opinion and argument essay writing in both the A-block and B-block English courses leaves students ill-equipped to influence the business world.

During the weeks that follow, student encounter other workplace narrative writing topics:

  • On the job training
  • Volunteering abroad
  • Internships
  • Office politics
  • Sexual harassment
  • Corruption
  • Human resources
  • Retirement
  • Alienation

Each topic comes with a vocabulary matching activity, discussion questions, a podcast listening, a quiz, and an automatically scored narrative writing task. Students are invited to remember or imagine each step of their career trajectory and the choices that are available to them.

I wish someone had taken the time to explain these elements of the working world to me when I was 18 years old.

Glossary Assignment

After students have created a blog on and written an introductory blog post, the first assignment is to create a multimedia glossary. Students learn step-by-step through the YouTube video below. By the end of the video, they will know how to add terms, definitions, translations, audio pronunciation models, authentic examples of the term in context, an illustrative image, and the part of speech. Once the glossary is complete, students can export the HTML and add it to their blog.

Learning from a YouTube screencast has a double purpose. It is both a listening comprehension test and an example of a screencast for their midterm oral assignment.

Midterm Screencast

I ask students to submit a screencast by week 7 about how to use the to solve a field-related problem. I ask them to use the narrative shaped problem-quest-solution structure. They describe a difficulty that people in their field face, they describe the features of the Virtual Writing Tutor, then they demonstrate how one feature can solve the problem they identified with a plausible field-related example.

Since we use the competency-based approach, I tell students that if they pass the midterm, they won’t have to do the final screencast. Once you have demonstrated the competency, why should you have to demonstrate it again?

Career Summary FAQ and Chatbot

Students in the B-block are not always clear where they are going. This activity gives them the opportunity to learn about their chosen career in terms of salary

Hypertext narratives

What’s a hypertext narrative? It’s a choose your own adventure type of story with clickable hyperlink choices. What’s it good for?

There’s more to critical thinking than checking the reliability of information online. Another powerful avenue for critical thinking is the thought experiment. What might happen if went to the party instead of studying? What might happen if I don’t speak up while my boss is sexually harassing my colleague? What might happen if I accept an expensive gift from the supplier? What might happen if I never start my own business? All of these questions and more can be explored in a hypertext narrative.

Students like how they can use their automatically scored weekly workplace narratives described above. They students who do their homework are well prepared do the hypertext narrative assignment as their final writing project.

What’s the personality of Actively Engaged Online?

The blogging assignments are highly practical. Students are shown step-by-step how to do each assignment. The course requires some research online, but the focus is not on argumentation so much as persuasion using stories. Every week, students discuss topics in groups, sharing their work experiences with each other. And the blog posts elicit a lot of creativity from every student. This is a well-balanced course for all disciplines.

Teachers, get your sample copy

Get a sample copy of Actively Engaged Online by contacting me by email here:

Actively Engaged Online
Actively Engaged Online (101B or 102B – focusing on blog writing, screen casts, and field-related hypertext narratives)


Jameson, D. (2001). Narrative discourse and management action. Journal of Business Communication, 476-511.