Engaging Students in an Online Environment

Hey Coach,

Teaching online can be tough! How can I keep my students engaged in an online environment?

Eager for Engagement

Dear Eager for Engagement,

It’s true! Teaching feels very different without the live, face-to-face interaction found in the traditional classroom. Don’t worry, though! We can still engage our students, even when teaching and learning happens remotely. Many of the best practices we use to engage students in a traditional classroom can translate to an online environment.

Bring a Human Element to the Online Environment

People need other people! Give students plenty of opportunities to engage with each other by sharing their opinions, experiences, and perspectives. (We highly recommend Flipgrid as a quick and easy tool to engage and empower all the voices in your classroom!) Interact with your students through individual check-ins to let them know that their presence matters. Be silly and fun whenever possible. Whether you’re changing your background during video calls, peppering your content with cheesy puns, or playing students’ favorite music at the beginning and end of calls, there are plenty of ways to keep kids laughing while they learn. If you’re looking to build human connections in your virtual classroom, try some of these creative ideas:
You can find even more great suggestions on our Celebrating Community Pinterest board.

Creation over Consumption

Move beyond consumption of content. The same devices we are using to deliver content to our students are also powerful tools for creation. Students can demonstrate their learning by creating digital images, blogs, websites, videos, narrations, slide decks, sketch notes and more. For suggestions, check out this list of Best Tech-Creation Tools from Common Sense Education.

Make Learning Active

It’s tough to engage students if we never let them get up from their chairs. Experiments, using manipulatives found around the house, collecting and analyzing real data, conducting interviews, designing and building, spending time outside - students learn through all of these experiences. Look for opportunities to connect your content to the real world and let students engage in hands-on learning. To get you started, our MakerEd at Home video series offers great hands-on activities! We should be working to bring learning into students’ homes, not just onto their computer screens.

Provide Feedback

Students will disengage if it feels like their completed work disappears into a void, never to be seen again. Always ensure that you are giving timely and responsive feedback to students. There are many ways to provide feedback in an online environment, but no matter the method you use, focus on making that feedback meaningful. Hattie and Timperley (2007) found that the most effective feedback answers three important questions:
  • Where am I going? - The learning goals must be clear.
  • How am I going? - Describe how the student is progressing toward that goal.
  • Where to next? - Students should understand their next steps in order to continue making progress.
We’d love to hear from our readers! How do you engage your students online? Let us know on Twitter by tagging @ksuiteach and #HeyiTeachCoach.

All the Best,

Contributing Coach Anna Bilyeu


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