Engaging students is hard enough when in the physical classroom, but luckily, it turns out that the tricks you use there might work just as well online. And perhaps surprisingly, incorporating tried and tested working methods to engage students in learning is not the rocket science it might seem to be at first glance. Try these seven simple strategies!
Developing skills for teaching and learning online has not just become important recently, when so much has changed due to the pandemic. Blended teaching, which is basically the same as what we now call hybrid learning, isn’t anything new – and most importantly, it isn’t going away. In fact, all signs point to it being the future of learning. We’d like to help you learn how you can improve your students’ engagement, no matter whether you teach at a K-12 or college/university level.
Student engagement in online learning – what works and why
Most of the factors that work in a standard classroom setting, and that you probably use on a daily basis in your work as a teacher, will influence student engagement in online learning, too. You should always start by creating a safe and well-structured learning space for your students. You can prepare a sort of welcome video, in which you introduce yourself and describe what the course is about and how you envision the student-teacher relationship. Remember to ask your students questions and give them choices. Letting them work their own way will make them more open to engagement.
“When students compare traditional classes with hybrid classes, they feel hybrid classes are more interesting, because students can learn the learning material first, including watching videos, doing quizzes, while in traditional classes students just listen to lecturers’ lectures in class, which makes students feel bored.” – source
Thanks to educational technology, active learning methods can be easily and effectively moved to the online realm and used in online and hybrid teaching. Most strategies that you can incorporate into your non-traditional classroom will require some basic tech-savviness but most of all – your engagement, creativity and maybe some general knowledge of how the Internet works. Doable, right?
So, let’s get down to specifics. Check out these seven student engagement strategies:
- Be present
- Create interesting learning materials
- Provide 1-to-1 sessions
- Assign some group work
- Create an online forum for discussions
- Provide and ask for a regular feedback
- Challenge students
#1 The number one rule of engaging students in learning – be present
Being present for your students can be really tricky when it comes to online and hybrid teaching. And yet – at the end of the day, it’s what will open the door to most of the other ways to increase student engagement. Creating an environment where you’re available, understanding and helpful will make your students more open and motivated to communicate. Putting yourself out there also helps students retain knowledge from your lessons. Building a connection with your students increases their engagement in learning online.
How can you be more present?
- Personalize your educational materials (by adding your own touch or even creating some on your own – you can, for instance, record your own instructional videos).
- Be honest and let yourself make and talk about mistakes – it’ll make you more approachable.
- Start your own little traditions, like 10 minutes of relaxed conversations about anything school or non-school-related every week or so – just to help your students make a natural connection with one another (and you!) and open up a bit.
- Show an interest in your students, learn about their lives a bit, let them express themselves without being judgmental so they can feel seen and heard. This can be done online, too!
- Make turning your cameras on a rule during your online meetings – it’s as important for your students to see you as it is for you to see them.
#2 Engage students with interesting educational materials
This may sound cliche, almost as if it should go without saying, but it’s really important to give students something more than a plain lecture packed with facts and instructions only. What can you do instead? You can either prepare or find materials regarding the topic that are easier to digest, or even designed to be a little extraordinary. This will be perfect if your goal is to make your lessons more interactive, and will naturally encourage student engagement.
- Start using videos in your online or hybrid teaching – they’ve been proven to be valuable and engaging in education.
- Let technology help you – start by taking a look at this useful teacher’s tool kit for better online and hybrid learning.
- Use varied media in your classes – when teaching online, you’re in no way limited to just talking your way through a virtual conference. You can also use a digital whiteboard to present information and solve problems together with your students, show pictures and charts, play clips, podcasts and YouTube videos. Go wild!
- Use the Internet to find materials that could be helpful for your course. Everything is out there, all you have to do is find it!
#3 Organize 1:1 sessions with your students
The next engaging strategy for online learning needs no introduction. 1-to-1 student-teacher sessions are crucial, especially when it comes to students who are having some difficulties and progressing slower than others. Giving them special attention and arranging some extra time to walk them through topics they struggle with will be beneficial to their understanding and will definitely increase their engagement. 1-to-1 sessions are also the perfect opportunity to build a connection with your students, an opportunity that you don’t really get that easily when in the physical classroom.
Easier said than done? Not necessarily! Follow these tips:
- No time to spare for 1-to-1 sessions? Make short slots at the end of your classes for students who want to have an individual chat or a video call with you. If you take 10 minutes out of your class for such sessions every once in a while, you needn’t worry it will do the rest of the class any harm. In fact, you can occupy the rest of your students with group work or a video in the meantime (or assign a video for them to watch at home).
- If you can, designate a special time during your week for students to join you for short 1-to-1 sessions. Just like office hours in a college!
#4 Increase student engagement with group work
This is something that you would normally do when in the brick-and-mortar classroom, and thankfully, there’s no reason to stop doing this activity while online! Well-planned group work can be the perfect opportunity for students to polish their social skills and learn to cooperate with one another. What makes this a strategy for increasing student engagement? Peers tend to learn better from each other, and being part of a group will motivate them to complete the task. If a student has a role that lets them put their greatest strengths on display, they will be happy to participate.
Engage students with group activities:
- Start with a thorough description of the task and help students get into groups. Think up a list of roles, but let students choose their own role so they can identify with it better.
- Create digital whiteboard projects for students to work on in their groups and supervise them all synchronously. This way, you can have control over their cooperation and make sure everyone is participating.
- Show students how they can meet up with each other online using a secure conferencing tool or a school LMS (like Canvas, Microsoft Teams). If you create links to meetings and set up the times beforehand, you can also join them at any time to monitor student activity and check if they need your help with something.
- Always make sure that all of the students are participating in the group task.
#5 Start an online class forum to engage students in discussions
Some students have a much easier time typing out their thoughts, rather than saying them out loud in front of the whole class. An online discussion space can be a great opportunity for everyone to participate, give their opinion, get to know the views of others and learn the rules of polite conversation. This kind of learning activity also gives students a chance to think about a matter and form their thoughts and opinions at their convenience – without the pressure of having to answer all of your questions right away.
How can you incorporate this student engagement strategy to your hybrid teaching?
- Use safe and reliable tools that are approved by your school or by other teachers. You probably won’t have to find anything new on your own – your tool can be a platform (like an LMS with a forum) that allows you to create an online discussion board.
- You can also use social media to create shared spaces (groups) for your classes.
- Create topics and threads connected to your course or the topic of particular class.
- Encourage students to come up with their own ideas or topics if they’d like to start a discussion.
#6 Feedback as an engaging activity when teaching online
Providing regular feedback is important in any teaching environment, and it’s also important that your students learn to take it as well as give it. When it comes to hybrid and online teaching, giving regular feedback is extra important, and it will also help students get more engaged in their learning. Why? Put simply, because it can help them adjust, gain more confidence, better themselves and communicate their concerns. If you can make them feel cared for, they will be more keen to engage in online learning. And of course, it is vital for you to get feedback from your students as well.
Some good practises for feedback management sessions that will benefit your students’ well-being, motivation and engagement include:
- Always be as sensitive and constructive as you can be. Communicate your expectations clearly but try to assume that your student doesn’t have bad intentions.
- Give your student time to improve and set reasonable deadlines with them.
- Praise your students for a job well done, good behaviour, etc.
- Ask them questions to try to come up with new ideas that can help them deal with an issue if need be.
- Remember that student-teacher feedback sessions should be conducted 1-to-1.
- Make feedback regular and expected.
#7 Challenges will engage students
Engagement in online learning may sometimes increase if you simply require more of your students. Hear us out! Some children become more motivated if challenged. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should push too hard or make them feel pressured, but being a good teacher also means knowing how to require effort. Challenging students is an opportunity for them to learn how to take risks whether they win or lose, and then move on and try again.
Find out more about the benefits of challenging younger children.
How can you engage students in online learning by challenging them?
- Ask your students to record their understanding. They can do this with an online whiteboard like Explain Everything.
- Ask open questions and have everyone say something. You can give them a moment to prepare beforehand.
- Let students choose how to complete a task or an assignment. Some students may want to come up with their own ideas on how a task can be done, or even want to do something more.
- Know your students and try to help them fight their insecurities and weaknesses by giving them more tailored challenges.
Keep calm and engage students online
Teachers and students are among the people most impacted by Covid-19. We know how hard it is to adjust to this new teaching and learning reality. But thanks to technology, we can keep education going! Just take one step at a time, and remember that online and hybrid learning don’t have to be complicated, and succeeding at them is definitely not impossible!
If you need more insights on student engagement strategies, take a look at these useful resources:
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