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How to Boost Student Engagement During Virtual Lessons

Promoting student engagement has always been important, but it’s taken on a whole new meaning during remote learning!

Teaching virtually has a steep learning curve. Have you ever found yourself staring out at a screen full of black boxes (AKA students with their cameras turned off)? Ever wonder just how engaged they really are?

Monitoring student engagement isn’t quite the same while teaching virtually. Not even a little.

In-person, you’d scan the classroom with a quick peek to see who’s paying attention. A short walk over to a student’s desk was usually enough to get them back on task.

But how do you monitor a black box? Teaching virtual lessons is a whole new game. It’s a learning opportunity for everyone involved and we need all the tips we can get! Here are my favorite tools for teaching online. Some of them are game-changers!

It’s pretty easy for students to look like they’re paying attention… while they’re actually looking at other windows open on their screen. They may look like they’re taking notes… But they’re really texting their friends and browsing Instagram.

And that’s just what you can actually see from the students with their cameras ON. You can’t be sure what the camera-off students are doing. They may not even BE there for all you know! So what can teachers do to promote student engagement during virtual lessons??

How to Boost Student Engagement During Virtual Lessons

There are a few ways to check for student engagement and participation during remote lessons. Here are a few strategies I’ve found helpful to boost student engagement online:

  1. Frequent check-Ins
  2. Engagement Accountability
  3. Small-Group Activities
  4. Positive reinforcement

1.  Frequent Check-Ins to Assess Student Engagement

Hello? Anyone there?

Make sure you’re students are actively following along, make frequent requests to access their level of engagement. Something as simple as a “thumbs up” request would tell you who’s paying attention.

Apparently, a “yes/ no” function exists on Zoom, but I don’t have access to it yet (Why Zoom? WHY doesn’t everyone have access to the same functions?). So, instead, I use the “thumbs up” for yes and the “clap” response for no. It works and lets me see who’s with me.

You can take polls, ask for responses in the chatbox, or use the annotation tool to request student feedback. I like providing a scale and other visuals for students to interact with using the stamp tool (one of the annotation tools). Be careful though. Once you enable annotations, students will be able to draw on the screen. If you think that will be a problem, maybe skip that idea!

I made a PowerPoint slide with the scale below to poll students on how they felt about taking their classes online. They used the stamp annotation tool to mark their response anonymously and we discussed it afterward.

2.  Engagement Accountability

After suspecting that a few students were less attentive than others, I decided to hold them accountable. I had been monitoring student engagement all semester but began keeping data. This data will now be counted toward their final grade.

My data sheet isn’t anything fancy. It’s just my students’ names with columns to add in the dates and activities I used to monitor engagement. If it’s something you can use, grab it for free below:

3.  Small Group Activities to Encourage Student Engagement

Not everyone feels comfy speaking to the whole group in person or virtually. These students tend to participate more in small group activities.

I use Zoom’s breakout rooms to split students up into groups to work on assignments. I pop into each group to check in on them to make sure all microphones are ON and that they are actually having an active discussion.

  • Tip # 1: When creating your breakout rooms, Zoom gives you two options. You can either have students automatically pushed into the groups OR you can require that they click the button to join. Requiring them to click gives you the opportunity to see who’s paying attention! Whoever doesn’t click probably isn’t actively engaged in your lesson.
  • Tip #2: Go in disguise. Okay, this one’s silly but I love it. When I join the breakout groups, I wear a costume. Why? Well, it started out as a joke that I was in disguise spying on their conversations. Now it’s just for fun and gives students something to tune into.
  • Tip # 3: Use the costumes as an engagement tool. Students who miss a class can take a makeup quiz to earn points. The quiz includes questions you would only be able to answer if you watched the lesson recording. I always include a question about my costume to see who paid attention to the replay.

4.  Positive Reinforcement for Your Most Engaged Students

Do you have students that go over and beyond your expectations? The ones that show up to your virtual meetings prepared and ready to go? Reward them!

We use positive reinforcement with our students in person, so why wouldn’t we do the same virtually? I’ve heard of teachers using virtual behavior charts to reward their classes as a whole and I love that idea!

I now teach at the college level, so instead of virtual stickers, I reward my students with points towards their final grades.

It was my suspicion that some students were not completing the reading assignments, so I decided to reward the students who did. I set up a HILARIOUS extra credit opportunity that students would only know about if they clicked on the reading assignment link.

Students were asked to show up to class a few minutes early and make an animal noise. Honestly, it was the funniest thing and they were cracking up. Those who were in on it got 2 extra credit points towards their final grade!

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