Keeping students engaged in remote learning

When students are engaged, they learn.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

When students are engaged, they learn. 

That’s why engaging students was one of the biggest priorities for teachers in pre-COVID-19 classrooms. Sparking interest and curiosity was the ultimate goal. 

And it still is. But how can we keep students engaged when we’re not in the same room?

We’ve put together our top 4 tips that will help you create an engaging online classroom.

Tip 1. Create your classroom community

When school shutdowns became a possibility, most of the focus was on how to deliver course content online. But before we can do that effectively, we need to think about how we’re going to translate the culture of our classroom to a virtual environment. How will you and your students interact with each other in an online classroom? What new routines will you establish? And what expectations do you have of each other?

When creating your new classroom community, think about the following questions:

  • What technology do your students have access to? Some students might be fully set up with laptops and unlimited wifi, but others may not. Understand the situation of your students first, then you can craft a routine and environment that will be inclusive of everyone.
  • What will be the new normal? It’s really important to establish norms with your students. How will they ask questions during a lesson? How will they contact you if they need help? Remember, your students are new to online learning too, so make sure you’re clear about the way things will work.
  • What are your expectations of students? Defining how students can succeed in this new world is essential. If you expect them to reach out to you regularly, or collaborate with their peers let them know. Most students will want to do well, so give them the information they need to succeed. 

Tip 2. Keep connected

Connecting socially and learning collaboratively are two really important elements of the school experience. So, how do we keep connected as a learning community in a remote learning context? 

First you need to know what technology your students have access to. Similar to Tip 1, you can’t establish routines focused on connection until you know how you can actually communicate with your students. 

Once you have an idea of the technology you can use with your class, you can decide what tools are going to work best and how these will fit into your regular class routine. Some ideas include:

  • Bring your whole class together each day. You could video conference your class each at the same time each day as a way to check-in and keep them on track with their learning. Use this time to do something fun as well, maybe you have a great video to share, or a question you want to ask. Even allowing students to chat to each other using a chat box can be a good way to make them feel connected to their classmates.
  • Touch based with individual students. It’s so important to make sure every student feels supported when they’re working remotely. Prioritise touching base with each of them regularly to ask if they’re stuck or what you can do to help them.
  • Partner students up for peer-to-peer check-ins. You could try connecting students who are working on similar modules and ask them to check in with each other at the end of a lesson to talk about what they learnt and what they found challenging. This doesn’t have to be a long chat, in fact it can be a couple of direct messages, but again students have the opportunity to connect with their peers socially.

You could also ask your students for their ideas. What ideas do they have about how to keep connected and continue to engage in collaborative learning. What will work for them? If at all possible, consider involving students in authentic problem-solving around how to address existing challenges like this which arise from the shift to a more isolated learning context. How can we, as a learning community, be physically distanced but still be socially and collaboratively connected?

Tip 3. Encourage participation

When we think of remote learning, one of the biggest challenges that comes to mind is how we can make sure students are keeping on track with their work. Especially when we’re competing with things like the Playstation and Netflix. Keeping students active in their learning can be difficult outside the classroom, but it’s not impossible. We just need to get creative. 

You could try some of the following:

  • Implement energisers. Energisers are 8-10 minute teacher-led activities that include the whole class. They involve a question or problem that’s designed to spark discussion and encourage students to work together to come up with different solutions. They’re a great way to break up lessons and give students a brain break. Maths Pathway teachers have access to over 200 energisers here. These required no physical materials except a pen, paper, a screen and speaker. You can simply download the PowerPoint file, which includes a handy timer, and get started with your students!
  • Use breakout rooms. Some video conferencing tools have a ‘break out room’ feature that allows you to break students off into small groups for collaborative work. This might be a little daunting to run for a whole class, but you could try it for a short activity or energiser. This is also a great way to keep students connected and collaborating. 
  • Incorporate polls and quizzes. When you’re planning your online lessons, why not include digital tools like polls to encourage participation. You can use live poll tools to quickly capture student’s thoughts, answers or reactions to your content. You could also build some fun quizzes for students to take using a tool like TypeForm. Perhaps you could include some interesting maths facts and ask students if they’re true or false. These should be designed to be fun, not to give students a score.

Tip 4. Make sure students feel supported

Making sure students feel supported is essential to remote learning. By outlining how and when students can access support, they will be less likely to disengage when they get stuck. Instead, they’ll know exactly what they can do to move forward. 

So how will you support your students? You could let them know that you’ll be available online at a set time every day for them to ask questions. This could be through a chat tool, or email, but it could also be through a video conference that they can pop in and out of. Another approach is to invite students to briefly check in with you each morning using whatever medium suits you and your class. 

Again, involving students in a conversation about what they need can be really insightful and a valuable way to shape these kinds of routines.

You might also want to check-in with your students to see how they’re feeling. You could email out a google form at the end of the week to get a better understanding of what is working, what isn’t working and anything that students aren’t clear on. Doing this early on can prevent students from getting stuck in bad habits and routines.

How can we keep our students engaged in a remote learning context? We share our top 4 tips.

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