3 Ways to Increase Student Engagement When Teaching Virtually

No matter whether you’re teaching virtually or in person, keeping students engaged is one of your highest priorities. The more engaged students your students are, the more they’re likely to take away from your lessons. Keeping students engaged can already be challenging enough in person, but teaching virtually offers its own host of challenges.

Because you can’t see what your students are doing on their screens, there are more opportunities for them to get distracted. But rather than try and police them, focus on making your lessons more engaging. That way students will feel compelled to pay attention and learn. Here are three ways you can increase your students’ engagement during online lessons. 

1. Prerecord Example Material

Demonstrating tutorials on a lesson’s subject matter is an important and fundamental part of teaching instruction. Demonstrations can also be great for keeping students engaged, as they provide concrete material to focus on. However, this is only the case when they’re done well. Student engagement will likely decrease the longer you spend fumbling around on your computer, and in this day and age, you might lose their respect because technology proficiency is often seen as a fundamental skill.

Don’t risk interrupting your lesson flow. Whether you’re teaching spreadsheets in Excel or editing in Photoshop, pre-record your tutorials with a screen recorder. By pre-recording your lessons, you can guarantee your information comes across in a way that makes sense and avoid making presentation mistakes. You also decrease the chance you’ll run into technical errors by doing the work ahead of time. 

Additionally, and perhaps best of all for you, you’ll have reusable material on hand. By pre-recording your tutorials, you’ll have material you can use for future classes. You’ll slash your workload. Plus, your students will be more likely to stay engaged because they can access clear, well-prepared demonstrations that enhance their learning experience. This also ensures consistency and quality in your teaching while giving you the flexibility to focus on facilitating discussions and addressing individual student needs.

2. Leverage Breakout Sessions and Peer Collaboration

Keeping your students engaged online can be hard work, but it’s not work you have to do all by yourself. In fact, you have a resource right in front of you that will help your students stay more engaged — each other. Leverage the social nature of people by regularly breaking your students into small groups or pairs to tackle activities. This will change the pace of class and allow students to engage with each other, keeping engagement higher.

Breakout sessions are one of the best tools you can use to facilitate small-group or partner collaboration online. These sessions divide your full class Zooms into smaller groups of your choosing. This will allow students to practice materials together so they can learn from each other. You’ll also have the ability to drop into any breakout session to make sure everything’s going smoothly and students are staying on task. 

Just make sure to change up your session groups. Some students will get along with each other better than others. Regularly rotating student partners or groups will help balance out different learning styles and social preferences, enabling students to engage with diverse perspectives. It also provides an opportunity for students with varying levels of proficiency to collaborate and support each other. Breakout sessions are a great tool to include in your arsenal that naturally activates students’ excitement for learning together. 

3. Gamify Your Lessons

Engaging in games and play is a natural part of childhood and growing up. Even as adults, people engage in play through sports, personal challenges, and other competitive activities. And these days, over 90% of children ages two and up play video games, with three-quarters of American households owning a gaming console. So take advantage of students’ gaming tendencies and gamify your lessons. 

One way you can gamify your lessons is by narratively contextualizing their beginning, middle, and end. Create a compelling storyline that immerses your students in the lesson. Perhaps there’s an evil troll that needs to be defeated and each math equation correctly solved takes a point away from its health pool. Or maybe there’s an android who wants to feel and your students can craft sonnets to bring his cold robot heart to life. To gamify your lessons, think about your lesson’s learning objectives and how they can be narratively contextualized and rewarded. 

Additionally, you can also take advantage of the competitive nature of games to drive student engagement. Systematize your gameplay by including leaderboards. Public leaderboards encourage students to out-learn each other while personal scores encourage students to one-up their own high score. When fostered correctly, competition can help keep student motivation levels high, encouraging consistent engagement with learning materials. 

Change It Up

The digital age has only reinforced the sentiment that “variety is the spice of life.” Algorithms aggressively market different and unique experiences, sensations, and ideas every day. Digital developments can make teachers’ lives more challenging, as they now must compete with algorithms hungry for human attention. This difficulty is amplified when teaching online, as entertainment and engagement are always just a tap, click, or swipe away.

Rather than fight these distractions, embrace them. Change up your lesson plans by incorporating technologies like screen recorders or breakout sessions to improve engagement. Take it one step further and gamify your lessons to play into the modern students’ familiarity and enjoyment of gaming. Teaching is already an incredibly challenging role. Take advantage of technology to increase student engagement and make your life a bit easier in the process.

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