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21 April, 2020

How to keep students engaged in online classes

Making sure students are tuned in for remote learning comes with a different set of challenges than when you are in the classroom, here are some tips we gathered to help you rock the Interweb:

All of a sudden, an unprecedented amount of instructors are faced with teaching their classes online. In our previous post, we listed tips for working from home. By now, maybe (hopefully) you are getting the hang of it. The infrastructure is in place and your students have access to your – nowadays online – class.

But how do you foster their engagement when building rapport is not as easy as it is when you are in the classroom? To validate this concern, research suggests that online courses have a 10% to 20% higher failed retention rate compared to traditional classroom environments. Also, the human brain does seem to be bad at focusing, by design!

To help you address student engagement while everything is moving online, we have compiled some tips to help you through. A good way to compartmentalise the different challenges is by breaking them down into social, administrative, and motivational.

Tackling social challenges

This might be the most difficult task as the new distance learning environment cannot be switched up with outdoors or social activities when you are stuck at home in isolation. Hopefully, your class has already acquainted themselves with both you as an instructor and their peers. The ice is already broken as opposed to when you’re starting up a new distance course with students logging on from around the world. If not, setting the stage and letting everyone get to know each other is important. Knowing your students will be a keystone in building the trust that will enable their engagement.

With us all distanced by a screen it is important to humanise the experience. Keep in mind that school is about far more than just knowledge acquisition, it provides basic human needs. While safety and food are difficult to migrate online, you can acknowledge this and be present for your students.

Tackling administrative challenges

This new way of learning is a break from everyone’s routines and you need to establish clarity about new ones. Giving your students a sense of structure or school rhythm in a situation where the boundaries between work, studies, and free-time becomes blurred will help them to not only stay productive but also to keep motivated and engaged. The younger your students are, the stronger their need for routines is.

Interacting with your students will play an important part in keeping them engaged. Agree upon when the best times are for contacting you and using what channels. Make sure questions are not left hanging and feedback is timely. Delays will see engagement plummet. Be available – engagement spurs engagement!

Assignments should be clear, concise and easy to grasp. Miscommunication will lead to disengagement if not resolved quickly. In a classroom you can spot when students struggle with a task, now the added time it takes for you to notice this will kill their momentum.

Tackling motivational challenges

Damned be the curse of procrastination. The good thing is, we know this irrational behaviour is basically down to managing the bad emotions connected to the task at hand. This is why we need to keep our students motivated, to keep them aimed at overcoming obstacles they see in their assignments. An easy start is to break your material down in smaller bits. Whether it’s assignments or lectures. Staying focused in front of a screen is even more challenging than in a classroom. Our brain will seize any opportunity to wander off. With breaking your content down, also keep it organised and easy-to-follow.

On the topic of content, we also should mention the endless possibilities you have to mix it up. You can use video conferencing, group chats, discussion forums, quizzes, polls, games, videos, audio, images. A fun example that has gotten a lot of attention recently was a video for a class recorded in the virtual reality game Half-Life: Alyx. While adding interactivity and multimedia alternatives to the course material for IB, IGCSE and GCSE, Kognity does an amazing job and even lets instructors follow their students’ engagement and progress.

Monitoring individual progression will be important especially for your students to get a sense of accomplishment and affirmation. A lot of LMSs and VLEs have features supporting this. Gamification can be used to track progress and also for self-assessment. You can use games, quizzes and badges (D2L Brightspace has a feature that lets your students earn badges). Another fun and engaging way to set up quizzes is with Kahoot, and Mentimeter is a great app for interacting with your students. Do keep in mind that when assignments move online, cheating won’t disappear but rather it will increase. To uphold the moral standards of the group, use a text-matching software like Urkund to make them actively aware of academic impropriety and its consequences.

There are as many different ways to keep your students engaged as there are students in the world. Don’t hesitate to share your success stories, one place to do so could be in our Facebook group Stories of Success. And remember: be positive, it is just as infectious.


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