Awaken your students’ interest in your online course

Are you struggling to motivate students in your online class? Angeles Carolina Aguirre-Acosta provides strategies to generate greater motivation and participation

Angeles Carolina Aguirre-Acosta 's avatar

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Monterrey Institute of Technology

Technologico de Monterrey
22 Jul 2022
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Happy online university student

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Online courses bring a variety of challenges, from providing support to students and having a user-friendly platform to finding the requisite academic resources and tech, both of which are key to us successfully meeting the challenge of providing quality virtual teaching.

In addition to these challenges, in asynchronous courses almost all of us will by now have experienced disinterest from the participants in our virtual class. This can manifest itself as receiving no questions from attendees, a sea of turned-off cameras or low participation in class activities, among others. This can lead to us questioning whether our strategies are adequate and asking ourselves: is there something missing in my teaching practice? Is the teaching method acceptable? Am I explaining things clearly? Am I even a good teacher?!

Such moments are then often followed by these questions: how can we make the course more interesting for our students? How can we motivate them? How can we increase participation?

Here is my attempt to answer, or at least help with, that second set of questions:

Know your students’ needs

Get closer to your students to find out how to better interact with them in the virtual classroom and make it more attractive for them to participate in this type of space. This can be done by having interviews or meetings with students. You could carry out a survey in Microsoft Forms or create a virtual wall in applications such as Wakelet, Mural or Padlet. Besides familiarising you with their expectations, it will make students feel appreciated and seen, knowing that the teaching team is assessing their needs and actively trying to create a better teaching and learning experience.

Use gamification strategies

Gamification offers a variety of advantages, many of which involve motivating and increasing student participation through moving from a traditional educational context to a game- and challenge-based environment. Academic objectives of gamification include reinforcing a topic or concept, demonstrating skills and competences, critical analysis and problem-solving.

In my courses, such strategies have resulted in greater motivation and interest from students as they seek to meet the challenges or missions to achieve a final “reward”. Recently, we used an “escape game” in which students must demonstrate the skills and competences developed in the course to overcome each challenge. This obtained favourable results in terms of active participation of students and in the evaluation and recommendation of the course.

Plan ahead

Using the opinions of your students along with your own previous experiences, work out early what you want to keep and what you want to add to your class. Consider what has worked for you, while also thinking about new practices, tools, strategies and content, among others.

Design a schedule and make a plan to work on your virtual course before delivery. You can use applications such as Trello, Asana or Microsoft Planner for effective management and organisation of the different activities that you will have to carry out to meet your work plan and deadlines.

Find a colleague who will support you via reviews of the content and technology. An added bonus of this type of exchange is that new ideas and proposals are bound to arise and could very likely improve your plan and design.

Remember you are not alone

Be sure to communicate with your colleagues to share experiences, practice, motivation strategies and effective interactions from your respective virtual classrooms. Listen to your colleagues’ ideas – you will undoubtedly find a method or system you can apply in your own classroom.

Never forget that your colleagues, directors, peers and students can be framed as a support network – if we reach out and ask questions, they will help us in many different ways. This brings us to the most important lesson of all: always remember that you are not alone. We’re all in this together. Even if our classes are different in content, there are many similar practices and situations that all us teachers experience.

Finally, I invite you to try new things. Don’t be afraid to experiment. It can create value for your students. And always share with others what has worked for you and what has not. Everyone’s contributions are significant as we all find our way in the world of virtual teaching.

Angeles Carolina Aguirre-Acosta is a tutor professor of educational innovation and digital learning at Monterrey Institute of Technology, Mexico.

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