Remote learning is still a relatively new routine that both students and teachers are becoming accustomed to. Many learners are attending school totally online in a remote setting, whilst others are completing at least some of their coursework online in a hybrid setting. As the face-to-face educational learning model transitions to an increasingly online format, teachers are grappling with boosting student engagement. Even though it is different than being in a brick and mortar classroom, online learning can be a very meaningful and productive experience for learners. Creating a virtual learning environment that effectively engages students is a significant component of successful teaching and learning. There are several strategies available that can increase student engagement during virtual learning.
Building community and engagement through synchronous meetings
Building strong relationships with students and being aware of their individual needs is a crucial first step for successful learning, regardless of whether it takes place in person or remotely. When students connect with their teacher and feel a supportive bond, they will be more likely to attempt challenging content and be motivated to master the learning objectives. Incorporating synchronous meetings where students and the teacher meet live at the same time on a video platform can help to build strong relationships and enhance student engagement. When learners have the opportunity to interact regularly with their teacher and peers and feel part of a supportive community, they will be more engaged in their learning. Synchronous meetings can help students feel better connected to their school and decrease feelings of isolation. There are several video platforms that teachers can use to conduct synchronous class meetings, including Zoom and Google Classroom, the latter of which automatically generates an easily accessible Google Meet video link for each class you create within the platform.
To increase student participation during synchronous video meetings, there are several strategies you can use. You can hold larger class discussions with the entire class to cover major concepts, and then separate students into breakout rooms and provide a prompt, problem or question for smaller groups of students to collaborate on, similar to a classroom “think-pair-share” activity. This allows more timid students who tend to not speak out loud in front of the whole class the opportunity to interact with other students in a secure environment that is less overwhelming. Incorporating social-emotional activities into live meetings that help students to get to know each other by discussing personal experiences can also help build a sense of community. As the instructor, acknowledging student triumphs and planning activities that promote student inquiry and discussion is most likely to encourage online participation.
Create clear expectations and class rules
It is essential to create and consistently uphold clear classroom guidelines and rules so that students know what is expected of them in the virtual learning environment. To ensure learners understand the class expectations and rules, have them posted within the online platform you are using so that students and parents can refer back to them regularly. Clearly explain and model appropriate online communication and behaviors to learners, such as proper conduct during video meetings and acceptable email and messaging language in the chat. In order to reinforce this idea, a teacher could show video examples of what appropriate online conduct does and does not look like. One helpful online tool you can integrate into your classroom to facilitate organized communication during synchronous meetings is the hand-raising feature, which allows students to click an icon that displays a raised hand if they have a question. Using this function means the lesson is not interrupted, and the teacher can address student comments and questions in turn.
Another way to ensure students understand the expectations in the virtual learning environment is to create a consistent schedule that is posted online with links to the learning objectives and assignments, and daily videos that clarify the expectations. Be sure to discuss due dates and late work policies so that grading protocols are fully understood. Since the nature of online learning is very different from in-person learning, in that students are dealing with navigating technology, meeting several deadlines and other variables, you may need to communicate your expectations and announcements even more so than you would in the traditional classroom to ensure understanding. It is necessary to ensure that students are aware of the consequences if online expectations are not met, and you may need to reach out to both the student and the student’s parents to resolve any ongoing issues.
Increasing student engagement asynchronously
Delivering content creatively in an asynchronous format where students can work individually at their own pace greatly increases learner engagement and helps build skills and knowledge. There are several virtual classroom tools available that can facilitate the asynchronous learning process, including G Suite for Education and Hāpara. G Suite for Education offers many tools such as Docs, Slides, Forms and Sheets that allow students to demonstrate their understanding. Teachers can create assignments and record asynchronous lessons using the G Suite tools, and then post, grade and offer feedback through the Google Classroom platform. Students can view the recorded lessons posted within the virtual classroom, and then demonstrate their knowledge of the content by writing documents, creating multimedia slideshows, completing online quizzes, etc. Teachers also have the option to record their live sessions, which can be useful to post later so students who missed the lesson or who need to refer back to the material can easily access the information.
Teachers can measure student engagement online by monitoring when students turn in assignments, providing commentary and constructive feedback on student work, and responding to student questions. Hāpara further eases the management of G Suite tools by organizing all student work into one location in Teacher Dashboard. It means that rather than searching every class and sorting through past assignments to find a missing task or to review student progress, you simply click on an individual Student Tile to see all of the student’s files in one easy-to-find location.
Hāpara’s Student Dashboard also helps students remain engaged in online learning by allowing them to log in to one central location to access all of their online coursework and communicate with teachers and peers. Rather than having to sign in to several different classrooms or other websites and scroll through numerous older assignments to locate necessary materials and announcements, students can access all of their coursework through the Dashboard, which even sorts assignments according to due date, so students can prioritize which assignments they need to complete first.
Maintain consistent communication and feedback
Another essential component to increasing student engagement in the virtual classroom is to communicate with students on a consistent basis and offer timely, constructive feedback. One major benefit of synchronous sessions is that learners have the opportunity to receive immediate feedback from an instructor and their classmates, so it is important to offer regular live meeting times or set office hours in which you are available to meet and talk with students in real-time. The chat feature is a particularly useful method to get students involved during synchronous meetings, especially for the students who are apprehensive about speaking out loud in class. For example, the “waterfall” strategy is when the teacher poses a question, and students type their answer in the chat, but they do not submit their answer until the teacher prompts everyone to hit enter at the same time, resulting in a cascade of student answers in the chat. This can serve as an entertaining and non-threatening activity that can involve all students in participation.
During distance learning, communicating with learners through email, discussion boards and providing commentary and feedback are essential ways to engage with learners. In Google Classroom, a teacher can create a discussion board by posting a question, and then have students respond to the prompt and to each other. This technique further develops the concepts being studied and gets students more involved in the online learning process.
When a learner submits an assignment, teachers can make suggestions and provide feedback by inserting comments on the digital assignments within Google Classroom, and students can respond within the same platform. Hāpara Teacher Dashboard makes student communication even easier by allowing teachers to click on an individual Student Tile, and from there, the teacher can send direct messages to students or access their work to provide feedback.
Students can also collaborate together in groups in order to boost their learning engagement by communicating with each other through email and chats. Hāpara Workspace allows teachers to create student groups, which enables students to collaborate on projects together. Teachers can assign Google files to students from Hāpara Workspace, and students can then collaborate on documents and message each other, offering another way for learners to team up and learn together with their classmates.
There are so many ways to get students more involved in the virtual learning environment. By implementing creative strategies to boost online student engagement, teachers can help students develop both their skills and understanding during distance learning.
About the author
Lindsee Tauck studied English Literature and Curriculum and Instruction at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana. She has been involved in education for over 12 years, and has taught in a variety of locations, including: Chiapas, Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and south central Los Angeles. She has lived and worked in San Diego, California since 2010 and currently teaches high school English in Chula Vista, California.