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7 Tips to Enhance Student Engagement in the Virtual Classroom

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Student engagement. It’s a struggle that instructors regularly list as their top concern in surveys on teaching during the pandemic. Though maintaining students' attention, curiosity, motivation and passion for learning has been a topic of interest for instructors for some time, these challenges are more pronounced this fall with digital fatigue, distractions at home, lack of one-on-one interaction, and connectivity challenges. student engagement blof.png

While most instructors now have some experience teaching classes online, having done it once before during the Spring semester, many continue to seek new and innovative ways to support student engagement. 

There’s no shortage of ways that instructors can facilitate the joy of learning and connect with their students, and we’ve curated some of the ones that we’ve seen work successfully using the technologies and methodologies that we know best.


At the Start of and During Class:

Ask the class content-focused opening questions: Retrieval practice is a great way to begin each class, as it allows students to activate knowledge from either pre-class activities or a previous class. There are a few variations of this, including using opening questions on your lecture’s first slide, and removing it from view after a few minutes to encourage students to show up on time. You can also choose to give students credit for answering the opening question orally, in writing, or with a student response solution like iClicker

Help students to focus by engaging with technology: With a virtual environment, it’s easy for students to get distracted with other content, texts and games on their phones and laptops. The new iClicker Focus feature helps students to self-regulate their behavior to stay engaged solely with the iClicker app for the duration of the class.

Chunk out content: Research indicates that students’ attention declines throughout the lecture. This can be compounded in a remote environment, with distractions making concentrating even more difficult. Chunking out information in seven to ten minute increments helps reset attention spans. and beginning each content segment with a polling question, helps activate students’ thinking by requiring them to engage with the content. This can be done using a variety of question types, and with a click of a button using iClicker’s diverse question types (i.e. anonymous, short answer, target, etc).

Administer low-stakes, formative assessments: Frequent formative check-ins offer students an indication of their performance, giving them an opportunity to improve their knowledge and grades ahead of exams. You can accomplish this synchronously or asynchronously with  iClicker’s Polling or Quizzing features in class or by using the Assignment feature that students can complete outside of class sessions. The feature can be used to support asynchronous learning or “flip” your in-person class sessions.

Create an on-screen action: Whether teaching synchronously or asynchronously, you can move beyond static, text-heavy slides by incorporating illustrations, YouTube videos, 3D modeling software, interactive presentation software, or even memes. You can also add questions in your lecture videos (with iClicker’s Assignment feature) so students can answer questions on their own time.

Ending Class and Outside of Class:

Pose a reflective closing question: Learning research suggests that awareness of learning enhances it. In addition to demonstrating how well students understand the concepts covered in class, they can also be an opportunity to clarify any points or provide additional resources for students.

Have your students set learning goals. By offering a series of shImage1_Marisa.pngort, assignable surveys students can reflect on their learning progress at key points across the semester. You can do this using a survey of your own creation or with Macmillan Learning’s new learning platform, Achieve, which offers an Intro Survey that asks students to consider their goals for the class and to think about how they plan to manage their time and learning strategies. Later, Checkpoint surveys get students to reflect on what's been working and what has not so that they can decide to make changes on their own. Each survey that students complete also generates a report that gives you a bigger picture of how your class is doing beyond their grades.

There are a lot of tips here that reference our new digital learning platform, Achieve, and with good reason. During the spring 2020 semester, instructors using Achieve reported their students were more engaged both in and outside of class when they compared to other classes they were teaching without Achieve. More information about Achieve’s performance during the pandemic is being studied now, and you can find our research up to now on our Learning Science page. There's also no shortage of research on the positive impact of iClicker on course outcomes.

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