Engagement in a classroom or with any group or organization is not a fixed process. Conrad and Donaldson in a very practical book provide a number of useful strategies for engaging students in an online classroom. Additionally, their basic ideas can also be applied to many other efforts to engage people in online environments. They describe their overall model as "phases of engagement." The word "phases" is a perfect term because it implies a process that occurs over time.
They describe the four phases as follows:
1. Newcomer-- Getting to know people in the classroom and understanding how to interact.
2. Cooperator-- Beginning to work with one other person on an activity or problem.
3. Collaborator-- Working in small groups to solve problems or discuss issues.
4. Partner-- Leading or initiating activities or projects including making presentations or leading discussions.
Conrad and Donaldson suggest spending about two weeks on phases 1, 2 and 3 and then 10 weeks in phase 4. This is a typical length of a 16-week, semester-long class.
Their book, "Engaging the Online Learner" includes about 100 specific activities for these phases.
There are two important ideas in these suggestions for website and online instructional designers-- 1) think about social processes as a part of design and 2) create multiple opportunities in these various phases to engage participants.