Active Learning Strategies and Instructor Presence in An Online Research Methods Course: Can we Decrease Anxiety and Enhance Knowledge?

Lisa Ann Rapp-McCall, Victoria Anyikwa


Research methods courses elicit more anxiety than usual for graduate social work students, and the online environment may pose an even greater challenge as the personal interaction between instructor and student is reduced or absent. It is therefore incumbent on research instructors to creatively engage students, reduce anxiety, and foster learning. There is a dearth of evidence, particularly regarding online education, explicating specific teaching strategies. This exploratory study sought to provide some answers. First-semester MSW students were invited to participate in a voluntary, anonymous, online survey at the end of a research methods course to determine which online teaching strategies were most effective in decreasing anxiety and increasing perception of knowledge. Strategies used in the class include asynchronous activities such as discussion questions, PowerPoint lectures, and email and telephone contact with instructors in addition to synchronous class sessions. Three tactics were rated by the 43 respondents as being most helpful for both decreasing anxiety and enhancing the perception of knowledge: personal contact with the instructor either via email, phone, and/or online meetings; the instructor’s synchronous class sessions; and active learning strategies employed during the synchronous class sessions. Implications for teaching and future research are discussed.



Teaching strategies; active learning; instructor presence; online learning; anxiety reduction

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Copyright (c) 2016 Lisa Ann Rapp-McCall, Victoria Anyikwa


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