By Alicia Hill
It is impossible to deny the growing shift toward online education. Even some of the most traditional universities now offer online courses, with degree programs that are entirely online or a hybrid.
However, teaching an online course can be challenging when it comes to creating and maintaining that important teacher/student connection. So below are six strategies for increasing student engagement in the virtual classroom from high school to higher ed.
1. Have Students Post a Picture and an Introduction
This is a straightforward online engagement strategy. On the first day or during the first week of the course, ask students to post a picture of them, followed by a brief description of their hobbies and academic goals.
This helps students and the teacher get a better sense of the personality of others in the class, much like they would in a traditional classroom.
2. Utilize a Discussion Forum
This is perhaps the most important of all student engagement strategies. In a traditional classroom, students learn well by engaging with other students and the professor. Asking questions, receiving feedback, and externally processing the material helps students to better understand and to better retain the information.
There are many different ways to use an online discussion forum. Teachers can provide a discussion question for the week and ask each student to answer the question in the online forum. Students can then respond to minimum number of classmates by a particular deadline.
Another option is to divide students into discussion groups. You can change the discussion groups a few times throughout the course so that students have the chance to interact with more of their classmates.
Teachers can still pose a discussion question and require each student to answer the question. Then, each student can respond to each member of the discussion group. This strategy can facilitate a discussion that may even be more elaborate than one in a traditional classroom.
3. Provide Video Lectures
Many students learn best by hearing or watching someone talk to them. Your video lectures do not have to be elaborate documentaries, but you should utilize videos in order to accommodate a wider variety of learning styles.
Videos can be as simple as you giving a traditional-style lecture. You can also post relevant YouTube videos or clips of movies. All video content should be relevant to the course topic for the week, and it should be related to any discussion questions posed to the students.
When used well, videos can be one of the most crucial online engagement tools available.
4. Maintain Your Deadlines and Expectations
If an online class devolves into chaos, or if students do not engage in the discussion forum, it is likely because they do not take deadlines seriously. If your syllabus says that you will deduct five points for every day an assignment or discussion post is late, then actually deduct those points.
This does not mean that you cannot be flexible on a case-by-case. It does mean, however, that you take yourself and the class seriously, and that you expect students to invest in the class. If the class falls onto their backburner, their grade will be affected.
5. Include a Major, Media-Based Project
In the traditional classroom, students often have either a series of major exams, papers, or presentations to complete throughout the semester. In the online classroom, exams are not usually the most effective way to test students’ understanding of the material.
A far more effective student engagement technique is to require students to develop a presentation that utilizes online media. You can design the project requirements in whatever way makes sense for the course.
After students complete their research, they can present their findings using either PowerPoint or Prezi, or by posting a video. The videos can then be as creative as students desire. The students can make a miniature documentary, or they can simply video themselves presenting their research.
If you desire students to engage with each other, you can require that presenters provide discussion questions after their presentation that their classmates are required to respond to. This strategy utilizes the discussion board technique, and it can create conversation that might not happen in a traditional classroom setting.
6. Provide Routine Feedback
Make sure that you as the teacher interact with the students as much as you would in a traditional classroom. Respond to their discussion posts. Provide feedback for their media presentations. If a student emails you with a question, try to respond within twenty-four hours.
This is important for at least two reasons. First, when you provide routine feedback, you show that you care about your students and their educational development and that you take their education seriously. Additionally, you make yourself more approachable. Students who feel that they have a dedicated and approachable teacher are more likely to invest in your class by focusing more on lessons and actively entering discussions and providing feedback.
Second, routine feedback maintains an important element of traditional classroom learning. In the traditional classroom, students have easy access to their professors. If they are confused or stressed about something, they can speak with the professor after class. Students can receive immediate feedback in a traditional classroom.
Likewise, during class discussions, the teacher can interject if the students seem to misunderstand the material. This is a major part of why class discussions are important. In the online classroom, teachers have to intentionally provide feedback. The teacher is required to sit down and type a response.
You certainly do not need to comment on every student’s discussion post. However, Interacting with the students regularly can help them better learn the material and feel more personally engaged in the course.
While online education can be an excellent choice for many students, it can require a bit of a learning curve on the part of the teachers. Obviously many of the same teaching strategies for the traditional classroom are not applicable. Utilizing these tips can help both young-adult and adult educators engage students in variety of online class scenarios including business, professional, trade, career, instructional and even motivational and hobby classes.
Making some slight adjustments to course structure and utilizing the online engagement tools available can go a long way in making your online classroom a successful learning environment.