How to Involve Students during Online Teaching Activities?

Involving students and keeping them interested, is a crucial element of every teaching activity. Apart from the physical distance, online teaching activities may raise a number of additional obstacles for students, making it difficult for them to engage. This Education Tip shows you what you can do to influence that engagement.

Basic Principles

Student drop-out during online teaching activities has several causes. Mostly, these causes are situated on an intrapersonal level, e.g. lack of interest or a short attention span. As a lecturer, you have the means to positively influence/remove these obstacles, e.g. by adapting your teaching style or by showing your involvement and your availability.

The basic principles listed below will help you to optimally engage your students in your online teaching activities:

  • accompany your learning materials with specific and clearly formulated instructions: what is it that you expect from your students, and what can they expect from you? Use Ufora to give your students a clear daily/weekly planning. Chaos and a lack of clarity will cause students to drop out;
  • invest in online (a)synchronous opportunities for interaction between yourself and the students, and between (fellow-)students. That way, they will feel they are not left to their own devices. You might opt for a discussion forum on Ufora or MS Teams;
  • use active teaching methods. These will trigger students to communicate and work together, which automatically heightens their involvement;
  • make sure that all interaction can take place in a safe learning environment, in which you pay attention to mutual respect, sensitivities and personal needs;
  • respond to the students’ interests and social environment: use assignments that are meaningful and authentic, and align them with the students’ foreknowledge and background. Use examples, audio-visual materials, cases, applications or research in which students with different backgrounds may recognize themselves, and which reflect society’s diversity;
  • be aware of the fact that students may have highly diverse backgrounds and profiles that may raise obstacles for them to actively participate. If possible, try to gain insight into the different student profiles in your class. Have you noticed a marked lack of involvement in some students? Be open and welcoming, address them personally and try to come to a solution together;
  • try to avoid being all too impersonal. Make time to tell a joke or a personal anecdote. This will help students stay socially connected. Your enthusiasm about your course material is an important factor in determining your students’ involvement;
  • keep in mind the preceding tips when teaching in a hybrid setting, i.e. when a part of your students is on campus while the other part participates online. It is a common pitfall to lose sight of the online students, so be aware of that. Incorporate into your lecture (a)synchronous moments of interaction using either the Ufora discussion forum, MS Team s(cf. bullet 2), use active teaching methods, etc… .

Below you will find tips specifically for synchronous and for asynchronous teaching activities.

Student Involvement during Syncronous Teaching Activities

Student involvement is easier to procure during live online teaching activities (i.e. synchronous teaching) than in case of recorded teaching activities. The tips below are specifically aimed at synchronous teaching:

  • use an accessible and user-friendly tool: launching a tool that ask a lot of time and effort is sure to discourage students. Please also consider students with functional impairments when choosing a tool;
  • divide your teaching time into different slots and incorporate a 15-minute interaction moment per slot. Usually, this interaction moment will take the form of questions, e.g. an open question included in your presentation, a quiz, etc…;
  • tell your students that you will be asking questions instead of “surprising” them. They will feel prepared and more involved;
  • allow your students to ask at least one question themselves. During synchronous online teaching activities, you can use the chat function, or ask them to take turns in taking the microphone, e.g. by virtual hand-raising in MS Teams. Try to answer those questions in class, ideally during a specifically designated question time. This prevents you from being interrupted all the time;
  • integrate breaks/short moments of silence to let students think about a question, or to regain their attention. A moment of silences always feels longer for the speaker than for the listener, so count to 15 before you resume. You might use those breaks to give students brief assignments and ask them to report afterwards, e.g. using a buzz group in a breakout room;
  • tell your students that they will have to be on the lookout for something specific during class, e.g. a lie or a misconception, and discuss that with them afterwards. This is one way to activate the students’ foreknowledge while at the same time training them for possible MCQ tests;
  • also consider using other active teaching methods, with which you encourage students to contribute, e.g. discussions, taking notes, writing together, etc… ;
  • if possible, work with smaller groups, e.g. by using breakout rooms. It will increase your students’ willingness to actively participate, which will in turn enhance their involvement. At the same time, it gives you the opportunity to take up their questions and considerations. It will also encourage your students’ (language) production.

Student Involvement during Asyncronous Teaching Activities

Working with recorded teaching activities presents a greater challenge to student involvement. The tips below might be helpful in tackling those challenges:

  • keep your recorded sessions as brief as possible. Asynchronous teaching activities, e.g. knowledge clips, usually do not exceed a 5-minute limit;
  • answer incoming student questions – either via a chat session or via e-mail - as quickly as possible. Students will that you are approachable and present to support them during their assimilation process. It will encourage them to process the learning materials. And it will enable you to react fast in case of technical issues, e.g. clips that will not load, etc… ;  
  • allow your students to discuss. Interaction amongst students, and with the lecturer are both crucial elements in guaranteeing their involvement and in creating an optimal learning environment. For instance, give them a timeframe (e.g. a week) within which they ought to watch and discuss your learning materials. In so doing, you will ensure that they (1) watch the material on time, and (2)more or less all start and stop at the same time;
  • incorporate additional learning contents into your learning materials on Ufora for those students who are looking for an extra challenge (deepening). Clearly indicate what purpose those (sub)modules serve, and how students may process their contents. Encourage them to do a little research by giving them specific assignments. For instance, ask them to formulate a research question based on the learning materials (e.g. what gaps are there in this research discipline?) More information on the subject can be found in this Education Tip on dealing with heterogeneous student groups;
  • give your students problems to solve, e.g. by means of a quiz. It helps them to actively process the learning contents, to assess their progress, etc… .  Adding a game element also increases their motivation and pleasure of learning, see e.g. DUGA;
  • incorporate individual and collaborative writing assignments, e.g. a wiki or a blog. This will improve their critical thinking, their writing skills and their collaborative skills;
  • ask students to demonstrate something by e.g. using a video clip, a blog, a podcast… .

Last modified Feb. 22, 2024, 1:48 p.m.