Eastern Florida State College Logo

EFSC Boosts Student Engagement through Authentic Collaboration

Cocoa, FL

4-Year Public, Medium

Feature Highlights
  • Course Discussion Boards
  • Tags for Student Mentions
  • Milestones
  • Video Creation & Annotation
  • Chat Portals
  • Polls and Q&A

About Eastern Florida State College

Eastern Florida State College (EFSC), located in the heart of Florida’s Space Coast, is a co-educational public institution established in 1960. Up to 20,000 students take courses annually on one of EFSC’s four campuses in Cocoa, Melbourne, Palm Bay and Titusville, or online through Eastern Florida Online.

As a nationally recognized leader in online education, EFSC awards Associate and Baccalaureate degrees through its 250+ online course topics. Blending quality, accessibility, and flexibility to meet the needs of every student, Eastern Florida Online serves a large student population, including many working adults and part-time students. Many online courses across disciplines use Harmonize, integrated with the Learning Management System, Canvas, to provide an engaging online learning experience for students.


Eastern Florida Online Continues Building Virtual Classroom Experiences to Improve Student Engagement

Eastern Florida State College saw online enrollment grow to represent 53% of overall enrollment by the spring of 2022 because of the impact of COVID-19. While that percentage has returned to a more traditional balance of campus and online courses, Eastern Florida still projects robust online enrollment for the 2022-2023 academic year. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Eastern Florida also utilized live online and other emergency remote teaching modalities but has since returned to traditional online delivery. 

The majority of students at EFSC, nearly 70% per the National Center for Education Statistics, are enrolled part-time — putting a considerable number of students at-risk for potential attrition. Despite that risk, EFSC achieves one of the highest graduation rates in the Florida College System and among similarly sized colleges nationwide.

With such high distance learning enrollment, the institution seeks to deliver an online experience that empowers its online instructors, supports students more deeply in their learning, and provides the flexibility, equal access, and high-quality learning opportunities on-campus students experience.

To foster that classroom-like sense of community online, Eastern Florida Online looks to:

  • Enable faculty to be active agents in their online courses 
  • Empower both faculty and students with ways to interact and communicate authentically
  • Introduce intentional collaboration into coursework

As a result, EFSC strives to create a distance learning experience that translates into stronger student engagement and retention.


Instructor Enablement

For Eastern Florida Online, engaging students in their online learning starts with better support and mentorship for faculty. Since 2019, EFSC maintains an Online Steering Council, which includes academic technology staff and faculty representation, to explore emerging technologies, quality standards, and professional development for online learning. EFSC offers a variety of online course design, delivery, and student engagement training.

In addition, EFSC is in the process of implementing Quality Matters training for faculty and Academic Technology staff. Quality Matters (QM) is a non-profit quality assurance organization helping institutions improve online course design and deliver high-quality online offerings.

With more formal professional development in online course design and delivery, Eastern Florida Online sets in place quality standards for its online learning experiences. Coupled with using Harmonize to facilitate the online learning experience, EFSC instructors create virtual classrooms comparable in experience to the on-campus class.

Student Engagement

Student engagement means finding ways for faculty to engage online students in their learning more naturally and authentically – just as they do in the physical classroom. 

To do that effectively, Eastern Florida Online implemented Harmonize, a learner collaboration platform, designed to facilitate and better engage students in their online learning. Focused initially on engaging students through multiple check points, called milestones in Harmonize, and supporting a variety of learning styles through multimedia capabilities, Eastern Florida Online continues to find additional ways to engage students.

One of those ways includes using Harmonize’s discussion boards and the social-media like feature of tagging. Like social media mentions, tagging students in course discussions is a way to get learners’ attention.

“Tagging speaks to their world. We use it because they respond to it. We also have faculty use chats, Q&A, polls, video and inline media for discussions, and we’re getting the best, most meaningful conversations we’ve ever had,” said Andrew Lieb, College-wide Chair for Career and Technical Programs.

Instructors also use milestones, or check in points, to build in opportunities for students to collaborate with one another on different assignments. These milestones create another avenue for authentic points of interaction — important for building connection in an asynchronous online environment. 

To meet its mission, Eastern Florida Online creates a thriving online learning community for its large student population — giving all online course participants the opportunity to connect and collaborate like on-campus students do, while still learning in the ways and at the times that worked best for them. 

Favorite Features

Discussion Boards

Building discussions into the natural flow of courses allows cohesive discussion around relevant coursework while exposing students to diverse perspectives, similar to in-classroom experiences.


Intentionally guide students through a series of interactions designed to practice 1:1 & small-group collaboration.

Text-like Chats Portals

Provide students with a familiar communication channel in which to provide & receive feedback.

Tagging & Reactions

Gets students’ attention, is familiar from social networking, and draws out meaningful inputs from students.

In-app Video Creation & Annotation

Give students a multimedia-based way to communicate and produce assignments and respond in discussions.

Q&A Forums and Polls

Allow students easy access to communicate with instructors and each other.

“There’s a better way to teach fully online, asynchronously. If you’re tired of meaningless discussions and little engagement, it’s time to find the learning tools that allow you to engage your students authentically and to show you’re there for them. Harmonize does that.” Andrew Lieb College-wide Chair for Career and Technical Programs, Eastern Florida State College
Andrew Lieb

Improvement in Student Discussion Activity

Andrew Lieb found that the tagging feature within Harmonize discussions increased the quality and quantity of student replies and conversation got exponentially better and more frequent.  Because of the tagging features, ability to reply through in-line media, and social-media like reactions of the course discussion boards, students can feel connected to each other as well as the instructor and get a chance to learn in a low stakes environment.

Feedback from student surveys midway through and at the end of courses consistently indicates that Harmonize discussion boards are the best and ‘most favorable’ way to engage them in discussion. Regular and substantive interaction has come to the forefront of online education and Harmonize discussions are a great tool to meet those standards.

Significant Increase in Student Collaboration

Instructors have found that milestones and using text-like chat from right within a course has made collaboration more meaningful.

For example, in one online math course at EFSC, the instructor creates a grid that lines up with every one of the course competencies that needs to be covered in the curriculum. Each week, he then creates a list of students aligned to the competency being covered. Using multiple milestone prompts, he asks them to pull material and formulas from the text, explain their process, do sample problems, and then get feedback from others and the instructor on whether the problem was done correctly. 

These milestone practice sessions have increased student participation and collaboration in a discipline not traditionally known for collaborative work. 

Additional easy-to-access and familiar communication capabilities, like in-app chat features, enable students to work together at any time. Facilitating collaboration this way provides students with the opportunity to share richer feedback and gives students more opportunities to interact with one another and improve on their work.

A More Inclusive Classroom to Power Student Success

By leveraging technology meant to build community outside of the classroom, EF Online untethers learning from a specific time and space, and in the process, has built an engaged online learning community.

When students experience the diversity of thought within their virtual learning community — similar to how they would on-campus in class — they begin to share a sense of belonging and connection that results in stronger engagement. Students become better equipped to solve problems, think critically, and take a more inclusive approach to communication — all of which has served to prepare them for transfer or to enter the workforce.

Better Accreditation Preparation with Engagement Insights

EFSC is up for its SACSCOC re-accreditation in 2024, and as part of its Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), the institution is focusing on improving online student success. For part of the QEP, EFSC is considering using Harmonize’s Engagement Insights to demonstrate increased student participation and engagement in online course offerings.

With this student activity tracking in Harmonize, EFSC can identify students whose engagement drops so instructors can intervene more quickly. Being able to identify earlier the students who might be struggling or require additional support could contribute to better course completion rates.

By increasing access to collaboration and communication opportunities among students and with instructors, Eastern Florida Online has been able to build a positive online learning community that mirrors the face-to-face classroom experience. 

The significant increase in engagement continues to support student retention at EFSC, which has helped the institution achieve one of the top graduation rates in the Florida College System and rank high among similarly sized colleges nationwide.