In a landscape where online instruction has become more commonplace due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some faculty face challenges associated with operating in an online environment.
Even to those remote instruction veterans, there is certainly an element of frustration that can exist when it comes to finding unique ways to engage students as an online instructor.
The following 5 tips can help you to be an innovative online instructor who engages students:
1. Assess the level of student engagement
This can be done individually or collectively by observing the types of interactions you are having with your students. Consider if your current students tend to want to have discussions or are your discussions like pulling teeth? Are you struggling to get the students to interact with each other or with you?
Classes tend to have a mix of students who have clear preferences for interacting in different ways. Some students consistently turn their cameras on, while others prefer not to ever show their faces. There are students who participate, but you will never hear their voices. These are the students who interact by using the chat feature in the live classroom. Then there are students who prefer to communicate with you, but do not like to interact with their peers.
Sometimes you have to meet students where they are and understand that they may have their reasons for interacting in a particular way. For example, many adult learners are working and going to school simultaneously. Due to work constraints, they may not be able to turn on their cameras or speak with you live, but they are present and interacting in an alternative way. Additionally, many students are at home with their children, while working and going to school. The added complexity of a chaotic environment may not be conducive to them always turning on their cameras or speaking with you. These scenarios don’t mean that you shouldn’t encourage interaction; just don’t allow it to be a barrier in your instructional methodology. Get creative and meet students where they are if necessary.
2. Leverage technology
Evaluate what technological tools you have at your disposal. This can be anything from the classroom platform capabilities that you perhaps are not fully leveraging, to including free tools such as Padlet to add a layer of fun to the online classroom experience. The challenge here is that the online platform used by your school may have limitations, but that does not mean you cannot incorporate a supplemental tool. Supplemental tools can be used for far much more than just posting information or videos. Many platforms use HTML and a simple copy/paste of codes can bring a whole new world of interactive games, pictures, and message thread abilities that promote interaction. If your school’s platform does have additional tools that you are not currently leveraging, get support from a peer or platform SME regarding how you can get the most out of the tools you have been provided with. If integration of tools is possible, but not permitted, consider sharing the supplemental tools with students separately.
3. Get student input
Speak with students about what is interesting to them and tailor your classroom discussions to incorporate topics or tools that are most attractive to the students. Students are more likely to be engaged if the information presented is personally meaningful to them. Remind students that the online classroom should be a safe place for them to share ideas.
4. Encourage student involvement
This can be accomplished by not always being the one to present or share information. Give an opportunity to each student or groups of students (depending on the class size) to screen share or conduct research live. This type of engagement will likely be more meaningful to the students and there is an increased likelihood that the information will be retained due to their direct involvement.
5. Have discussions with your peers
In a remote work environment, it is possible for faculty to become isolated just as our students are. Talk to your fellow faculty members about what they are doing in their classrooms and share ideas. Consider starting a group with this task as your purpose or bring up the topic in a faculty meeting to obtain feedback. After all, sharing information is what we do as faculty. We should make efforts to practice what we preach to our students. The practice of having discussions in a collaborative manner can benefit both faculty and students alike.
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