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How to Keep Students Engaged Virtually

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    Roanne James

Remote learning has posed many challenges for both students and teachers. One of the things that continues to plague virtual lessons are the level of engagement from learners. From primary levels to higher education, students may feel like this format makes things less immersive and disengaging compared to traditional, in-person classes. Though educators may hope to simply overcome this wave in the short term, it seems like schools are planning for remote learning well into fall. With online lessons and students the new normal for the foreseeable future, it could be good for teachers to know how to keep their students engaged through the screen.

Make use of digital assets to keep their attention

Numerous studies report that humans now have a shorter attention span than goldfish. Add to that grumbling high-school students who are stuck inside and tired college students who would rather nap, and you’ve got yourself a dilemma keeping their active attention. For this purpose, try to mix up the usual Zoom format if you can. Consider restructuring your lessons and lectures in a way that translates into the digital space. For instance, take a look at school teacher Eddie Cheung who specializes in computer science, physics and math. He, like many other virtual lecturers, have turned to Twitch to emulate the engagement drawn in by the platform’s regular streamers. It's preferable to other video conferencing platforms, and he says it's because of the added features. "If I could do something in chat for them, then they'd feel more comfortable to interact with me. But there's nothing in Zoom. It's only thumbs up [or] thumbs down." With the right visual elements, interactive widgets, and chat features, it should be easier to capture their attention and bridge them toward listening to the actual lesson.

Give your students the support they need

Keep in mind that these students are also going through a rough period of time. Sometimes, reaching out and assuring them that they have not been left on their own can be a big difference. Engagement often comes from providing a support system. Joe Balassi, a student pursuing Maryville University’s online RN-BSN program, said, “I feel like Maryville is really helping me to prepare me for my career path and to become a successful nurse. I’m receiving all the knowledge I need, and I’m also learning how to apply it in a clinical setting.” The support that Balassi is getting can be attributed to the online institution’s practice of connecting their students to the faculty with an active mentorship program. You can adopt that support style when handling your students. Leverage digital tools such as your school’s remote learning platform to build a realized connection with the class. That way, they can get the support that they need to learn and thrive in their education just as they would in an on-campus institution. A good way to know how to best reach out to your class is simply by encouraging feedback. By providing a platform for both critiques and praises, teacher and student alike feels more agency and ownership in the class.

Keep things interactive

Because students are usually in the comfort of their own homes and can easily mute their own mics, it’s easier to zone out and feel like there’s no need to participate. In this aspect, try to make more group activities for the class to take part in and encourage them to keep their microphones on. While it may seem counterproductive, read the room before enforcing a “cameras on” policy. This may actually just serve as a distraction for students when they are busy looking at everyone else or thinking about their own appearance. Another way to keep things interactive is to gamify a section of your class. It gives something to look forward to but still requires them to pay attention. Even the resources you provide can make things easier for them to stay engaged. Ian Guch, a chemistry teacher at Connelly School of the Holy Child, made his own website for chemistry resources and fun projects. He shares, “When you get a bunch of science professors to write a chemistry text, the textbook typically ends up being a very boring, very hard-to-understand science text with lots of irrelevant pictures thrown in.” Going the extra mile for your students by making their classes more immersive could push their engagement up and, more importantly, make their education feel just as worthwhile despite the unusual circumstances. Though teaching style differs, adopting these methods in your own way can help you to produce satisfying results for your class.