Empower Me! An Online Student’s Perspective

Empowering students is a critical part of education and there is room for improvement in the United States. Students need self-worth, motivation, determination, and persistence to thrive in a course, and often times those traits come out of student empowerment. Giving students the opportunity to shape their education, develop their lessons, and apply it to their own path is essential because it encourages critical thinking, and gives lessons that can be applied outside of the textbook and the classroom, and eventually applied to their career. Being a passionate student about this topic, I have much to share and a few suggestions too.

In 2017, I graduated from College of the Canyons (COC), a California Community College, with associates degrees in Mathematics, Computer Science, and Physics. After that, I transferred to Cal Polytechnic, San Luis Obispo where I am now majoring in Computer Science and minoring in Entrepreneurship. I have been taking online courses since I was in high school and I was also employed at COC as a member of their Open Educational Resources (OER) program. From these experiences, I have gained a great deal of insight about how to engage and empower students in the online environment.

When students feel valued in a class, they will see it as a meaningful experience. But where do you start with this lofty goal? Start by reflecting on a few questions about your class.

  • “After the class is over, what can students share with future employers?”
  • “How might this class affect students’ career paths?”
  • “Am I making assignments that nurture the learning abilities of the students?”

If you struggle to answer these questions, ask your students. They love to give input and opinions, and just want to feel important to the class. Asking students for input is a great way to empower them!

9 Tips for Empowering Your Online Students

Here are some additional suggestions.

Have your online students:

  1. Create their own prompt for an assignment
    • Provide a rubric you will use for grading, and give students the freedom to craft an assignment around the rubric after you have approved the plan.
  2. Create their own test questions
    • This is a great way to see if  students understand the material and get an idea of what they think is important in the class.
  3. Give input on the course at  the beginning and the end.
    • Asking for student feedback immediately is a great way to establish a trust and convey that you are here to support your learners. Some suggestions for week one include: What do you expect from this class? What do you hope to learn? .
  4. Teach some of the lessons in the class (using Canvas Groups )
    • One of the best classes I took had groups of four students teach the class every day for the last half of the quarter. This was great because each group had to know their material well to teach it.
  5. Find resources for the class
    • Students can find great resources, and having additional relevant resources is always a good idea, especially for students who struggle.
  6. Run a socratic seminar  
    • When students facilitate discussions about topics  they are more engaged. Act as the guide of the conversation and requires each student to speak at least once.
  7. Seek out scholarships, competitions, grants, and more.
    • For every topic in school, there is always a way to get students more involved. Encouraging them to apply for an opportunity and let them know you believe in them! . If they are successful, they will have something to  show off for a lifetime.
  8. Help write materials for future courses
    • When students know their assignments are not ‘throw away’, they are usually more willing to invest time in the topic and deliver something that will last. Plus, they may be able to deliver it in a way future students will  understand a bit better
  9. Connect with their community
    • Local companies are always looking for help. Connecting students with local businesses gives students a chance to understand a career and be considered for a potential employment opportunity.

How do you empowering your online students? Leave a comment below so we can keep this list going!

Join Natalie for her keynote presentation at Can•Innovate, Friday, October 276th – a free, online conference!

Posted in Articles, CanInnovate, Course Design Showcase, Rubric Section A, Rubric Section B, Rubric Section C, Student Perspectives.

Natalie is a current undergraduate Computer Science student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and a student Open Educational Resources advocate.


  1. Hi Natalie.
    I really enjoyed your ideas because they confirm what I have assumed as I go through my Online Certification Program; my students know more than I do. I plan to ask for their input on a frequent basis because I am scared to death right now of teaching online next semester. I have been a face-to-face instructor for over 30 years. Because of COVID-19, I have to pass this certification program.
    Your ideas for student empowerment are great. After reading about your ideas for student empowerment, I realize how important it is to connect my discipline of Spanish to employment and scholarships. I like to tell my students that their college experience is the first chapter of their professional portfolio. You are so right about motivating students to write materials for future courses. I love it when I have been able to tell my students that I want to use their work as a future model. Thank you for sharing your wonderful activities.

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