Pearson How to engage your students online

How to engage your students online

When teaching students who are not in the same room together (maybe not even the same time zone) it can be difficult to create a sense of community or connection with their classmates. However, there are some steps you can take to encourage them to share and learn together.

Discussion Forums

Discussion forums work especially well if your students are based around the world as they can interact at a convenient time for them. These forums can be spaces to share thoughts, questions, and unique perspectives with classmates, encouraging social learning and giving you a space as the educator to also be present.

One way of ensuring productive discussions is by setting clear ground rules and expectations. For example, if you want to encourage more meaningful discussion rather than comments, you can set a minimum word limit and request students cite their evidence or stats in their posts.

Setting deadlines can also mean students know they have to share their response within a week or so and more voices are heard.

Post an open-ended question or discussion topic that relates to the module content to offer a chance for students to have an open debate. This is also a place for you to facilitate the conversations. If the students seem reluctant to get involved try posting first as it can encourage others. You can then check-in regularly to ensure the topic is on track and answer any potential questions.

Use the forum as a jumping off point for future classes, potentially providing a summary of any key topics or issues raised in the forum in your live sessions.

Live sessions

Running some live sessions is a great opportunity to get your students together at the same time in the same digital space. But how can you optimize your live sessions to encourage student engagement?

Firstly, make sure you are picking a time that will best suit your learners and consider any potential time zone differences. It’s also always good practice to make sure the time and date are clearly communicated, as well as any joining instructions and what platform is being used for the session.

Avoid the session becoming a one-way transmission by planning activities and encouraging learners to work in groups to discuss the course content. Using the polls, voting features and chat box available on some platforms can also make it feel more like an in-person classroom session. Making sure you pause regularly to check in with students or to invite questions can also be useful when encouraging engagement.

Having your webcam on is another great way to support presence and in some instances it might encourage students to do the same. However, having the camera on may not be feasible for all learners. Not everyone has access to a webcam, and some may not have a comfortable space to participate in webinars or may feel uncomfortable having their camera on. Furthermore, if you’re having trouble with poor internet connection it can sometimes be improved by turning cameras off.

Group Activities

Group work can help greatly in creating a sense of connection and community among your students, getting them involved with projects like presentations, research activities and group portfolios. This will give them a chance to get to know each other and offer peer support. However, there can be blockers to effective group work online, especially if you have students in multiple time zones or the guidance on the project is unclear.

One step you can take to help maximise engagement is by setting clear ground rules and expectations. Be direct about how you expect your students to work together, how they can communicate and organise themselves, and what format you want the final work to take. Most likely this will be the students’ first-time doing group work entirely online, so the more guidance that can be provided, the smoother the process will be.

You may also need to plan longer durations for students to complete group work online than in person. A simple task could take days to complete if it is being passed between students digitally, especially across different time zones.

Allotting credit for the activities which goes towards the final grade will also encourage engagement from all students. Group work can be very involved, and a lot of time and effort will be expected from students. Many will approach the task with more positivity and engagement if they know they will receive a portion of their final grade for their hard work. Keeping this in mind, it’s good to be clear about how the group work will be graded.

As online activities can take longer than attending in person, providing time scales will help keep groups on track. Having check points and deadlines throughout the semester can help students monitor their own progress and ensure they are moving forward as expected.

To check in with your groups and help tackle any obstacles in their projects using spaces like the discussion forums, chat boxes and live sessions are a great way to maintain communication. Live sessions can also be useful for groups to provide regular updates, share successes or problems with the wider cohort and gain feedback from you.

 Looking for resources to support student engagement with your online course?

Pearson’s course design experts can help. Their specialist knowledge can assist you in creating an immersive and engaging online course that is accessible to all students. Discover what Pearson’s course development service can do for your institution and get in touch for a consultation.

Brought to you by