10 Ways to Engage Your Students Online
Have you had times when you were teaching an online class and no matter what you tried, you simply could not get a response from your students? Expect engagement and participation—otherwise, why are they called “students”? Here’s a list of great ideas to engage virtual students.
1. A strong introduction. Online courses have the reputation of experiencing high truancy rates as the courses progress. Some of this can be curtailed by ensuring that you start strong. In typical face-to-face classes, teachers often spend the first meeting allowing students to tell their fellow classmates a bit about themselves. This practice is just as important as reviewing the course agenda and should be maintained in the online setting as well. As the first assignment, have students submit a post to the group outlining their interests as related to the course and outside the course as well.
2. Face-time. The best way to facilitate introductions is through a video. A majority of participants will have at their disposal the capability to record and upload a short video introduction, likely via their smartphones. The value of seeing one another’s faces and hearing each other’s voices, although it may not be the primary mode of communication throughout the rest of the session, is invaluable. This practice initiates a sense of community learning, no matter the physical location of each participant and, when repeated throughout the duration of course, maintains that sense of community.
3. Foster communication. Do not hope that online discussion will blossom as it normally would in a physical classroom; ensure that it does blossom by setting clear guidelines and allowing opportunities for it to happen. As a facilitator, you should not talk the entire time. Give students avenues to chat with one another, discuss ideas, and ask questions of each other. This allows them to benefit from the group’s experience and make connections. If the class uses posts, establish minimum requirements for how and when participants are expected to contribute their thoughts about and reactions to assignments, including a minimum number of responses that must be made to other students’ posts, in order to facilitate a dialogue.
4. Surprise, you’ve been called on. Alert all students that they will be called upon randomly to answer questions, make a comment, and provide a point of learning. All must stay alert and pay attention. You can use this like an energizer tool. Ask students to disclose something about themselves to the group. This can be done at different times throughout the session. You might say, for example, “Tom —tell us something about yourself and about a current event from ….” In a small group, put participants’ photos or names on a slide. Use the pointer to indicate who should speak next. As a rule of thumb, provide an opportunity for participants to respond to a question or participate in an activity every fifth slide. Vary how you ask students to respond so that they don’t become complacent.
- Give me a green check mark if you have finished reading or if you agree with this, or a red “X” if you need more time or don’t agree.
- If you are okay with this, give me a smiley face.
- Can you chat what you think of this idea?
- Can one of you raise your hand and give me an example of a situation like this that might have happened to you?
- Pose a polling question, ask participants to elaborate in a chat box, and then call on someone to unmute his or her phone and expand on his or her response.
5. Foster learning between students. Your engagement will help ensure that students continue to check in with the ongoing discussions even after they have completed their participation requirements. But feel free to make explicit your expectation that participants follow the discussion even if they have nothing more to add at that time. Part of the advantage of the in-person learning experience is the opportunity to hear and consider the contributions of others, whose insights may be just as valuable as the teacher’s. This benefit can be lost in the online setting if students check out of the discussion once they have fulfilled their minimum required posts.
6. It’s my turn. Give separate small groups responsibility for some part of the content: the opening, the review of topics or debriefing of the learning, “how to remember” the content, action steps, and the close. They will stay engaged if they are truly a part of the agenda. Get involved. Give each student in the class a separate book or portion of the task—one that is peripherally related to the lesson or for which the student can become the subject matter experts (SME) on the topic to be addressed. So, for example, if the lesson is on climate change, find books or articles that mention that topic. Then call on students or ask them to comment as to what their books say about the topic. Ask SMEs for comments in their areas of expertise.
7. Make it personal. Always have a smile in your voice and an energetic tone, and make personal connections with participants right away. Keep a list of students who have signed onto the online class so that you can welcome them by name. Refer to them by name if they have questions. Send meeting materials,handouts, and assorted props in advance to each participating group. Boxes may be opened at a signal from you so that all groups see the information for the first time together. Add a surprise, for example a noisemaker, to be used for celebrations of right answers and mini contests.
8. Engage mentally. Check for students’ understanding of the material. Pause periodically to give them time to think. Polling the students is an excellent way to check for understanding after a point has been introduced. By leaving time for questions at the end of the session, you can also check for their understanding. Challenge the students to find one new idea during the online class. If you have the option, use multiple presenters. The change in voices will keep the interest level up. Keep the students’ attention with frequent slide movement: transition, zoom in, annotate, or highlight slides every 30 seconds.
9. It’s the end. End on time; if you don’t, you’ll lose them anyway. Bring closure to the session by asking students to raise their hand and share the one most important takeaway from the lesson. Watch to see who responds; if someone is not responding, consider calling on that person to share a key item.
10. Between session engagement. The session ends, but your engagement should not. You want your students to continue to be engaged in the topic. As an instructor, you can post readings, videos, and discussion questions ahead of time.
Stay current with discussions on the discussion board in order to make connections, further dialogue, encourage and praise good work, and pivot the course of the conversations as necessary. Expect students to apply their new skills between sessions and ask them to report at the next session. Use projects or between-session assignments to build engagement as well. Assign team tasks and projects. Encourage virtual teams to use tools such as Skype, Zoom, or Slack for real-time communication and a video that the team can use for a meeting.