You may be teaching online this summer or into the fall. During the last few months of school, you probably noticed that it’s harder to keep student focus and attention online than in-person. This is completely normal, but it doesn’t mean we should give up on providing high levels of engagement for our students! Whether your students are online full-time or just for a portion of their week, it’s important to think about what your kiddos need to keep them engaged when they have to be in front of a screen. Find out how to foster online student engagement with these simple tips!
Use videos to improve online student engagement.
Keep teaching videos or screencasts under 10 minutes.
Think about best practices for your classroom. How often do you stand in front of the class and teach for longer than 10 minutes without time for reflection, questions, or a brain break? What about those staff development meetings? How tough is it for adults to stay focused with constant new content coming at them via Zoom meetings and emails? It’s even more difficult for young people. Students will tune out if your teaching videos are too long. In addition, they will struggle to stay focused if it’s just you talking in front of a camera.
Start making shorter, more engaging teaching videos by using tools like Edpuzzle. Edpuzzle not only provides stats to show that students are watching the video, but it also turns your videos into interactive lessons. Students must answer questions in order to continue the video. You can also use premade YouTube, Khan Academy, or Crash Course videos and embed quiz questions for your students. Your kiddos will love using EdPuzzle for high-quality online student engagement through video lessons.
Use synchronous videos for community building and questions.
Rather than spend time on Zoom or Google Meet teaching lessons, send out screencasts or short video lessons prior to your meetings for students to review and complete. Then, when students come to meetings, it can be all about engagement! They’ll be able to ask questions or simply check-in with you or their classmates. Reserve the synchronous times to connect with your classes. This keeps meetings and the prior video lessons shorter for optimal online student engagement!
Improve online student engagement by asking students what they want to learn.
What is the best way to get and keep students engaged online? Ask them what they are interested in and want to learn more about! That doesn’t mean online learning becomes a free-for-all. In fact, in order to increase online student engagement, projects like Genius Hour or passion projects become a way to address cross-curricular standards, especially involving reading, writing, and research.
Genius Hour is when students pose a question that requires research to answer. After coming up with a question, they’ll research to solve the problem and find the answer. Then, they present their findings as a project (maybe a presentation or even by creating a physical project). The key with Genius Hour is spending that precious academic time exploring their own learning projects.
Some examples of passion projects include starting businesses (like a mask making business where students donate to hospitals or essential workers) or a blog about different ways to improve pitching in baseball. Often, students want to connect their Genius Hour projects to future career interests or current hobbies. The possibilities are endless.
This is a project that may be introduced online, but students can definitely explore their passion projects away from the screens. Online student engagement takes off when students can then share what they learned with their peers by posting their projects on Google Classroom, on a class Google Site or collaborative Google Slide project, or during Zoom or Google Meets.
Focus on feedback to foster online student engagement.
Depending on your district or school requirements, you may or may not be giving formal letter grades online. No matter what the grading policy is, start with verbal or visual over written feedback for your students. Before any grades are given, focus on giving your students both positive comments and opportunities for growth.
I’ve found that students are much more likely to listen to audio feedback or watch videos. When I have written comments on papers or typed in Google comments, they tend to get dismissed or discarded faster. Here are some ways to give video and audio feedback.
Try Flipgrid to give your students video feedback. Students can post their own videos and then you can give immediate feedback (you can make it viewable by the student only) to help your students improve. Flipgrid works great for feedback on speeches and even foreign language practice. It’s also completely fine to just record a video and email to your students, but Flipgrid’s platform makes the interaction virtually seamless.
For students that need some additional support, consider video feedback with 1:1 or small group conferencing via Zoom or Google Meet. Set up office hours or offer times for students to request additional help.
Imagine when you can see someone giving you advice to make your own work better. Isn’t it more engaging than just reading a note? That’s why video feedback helps online student engagement when it comes to improving work!
A Google Chrome add-on like Kaizena allows you to give audio feedback to student writing in Google Docs. You can even set up a rubric where you can add grades and scores. Your students need the add-on as well, and then they can listen to your feedback on their paper. When students can hear your voice, they are more likely to take to heart and actually listen to the feedback given!
Keeping students engaged during online learning is not an easy task. Even as adults, spending hours in front of a screen can make you want to click the off-switch on your brain. Imagine how difficult it is for students to stay plugged in. When you can, try some offline tasks to share with your students to get them away from the computer and exploring their own passion projects. Keep video lengths to a minimum, and always try to share your voice to keep them connected. Improving online student engagement is about putting student needs first, and looking at the ways students interact with content online. Try these strategies for online student engagement to help set your learners up for success during online learning.