4 Student Engagement Strategies for Your Online Classes

Jodie Lee

This year, online classes are paving the path for education. Universities have switched to useful online tools such as Canvas and Zoom, while platforms like MasterClass and Udemy are more popular than ever for self-learning.

If you are or have recently become an online educator, you’ll face some unique obstacles for engaging your students, the biggest of which is not seeing them face-to-face. How do you run a classroom of people who are miles apart from each other? The true challenge is how to keep students prepared, active and driven to succeed while still ensuring that they’re satisfied with the course.

That’s why we’ve come up with five student engagement strategies for your online classes. Help your students flourish in an online environment in these creative and novel ways.

Strategy 1: Steer the Student Experience

As an educator, you’re used to giving instructions, distributing homework and handing out assignments. The unspoken norm is that these are worked on consistently, often in between frequent classes where there are plenty of opportunities to ask you questions.

However, in the digital realm, students may be less motivated or willing to carry out this norm. Though they are still expected to complete assignments and tasks, they no longer have their live facilities, public spaces, social networks or in-person support systems to round out their overall student experience. To empathize with students completing online courses is to understand that they do not have access to other essential experiences that universities and face-to-face classes provide.

Rather than ignoring the issue and assigning homework as normal, there are a couple of things you could implement to supplement their losses. For example, instead of emailed homework, get students to write on discussion boards to demonstrate their understanding of content.

Below is an example of Slack, an online communication software that facilitates dialogue and discussion.

This gives students the chance to respond to and build off of each others’ ideas, the way they would in a non-virtual classroom environment.

Other engaging activities include weekly workshops where students can apply theoretical concepts to short, practical tasks. Encourage teamwork with tools such as Microsoft Teams. Make sure that students continue to gain important soft skills such as teamwork, active listening and collaboration by utilizing activities that go beyond normal take-home assignments.

Strategy 2: Grow a Community

Another way to go above and beyond for your students is to form an online community. This can be a place to extend learning opportunities beyond your online classroom. Some ideas include implementing a discussion board, Q&A forums or collaborative spaces where students can help each other out with the class content.

Although it doesn’t replace the daily student interactions that occur on campuses and learning facilities, it does give a chance for students to come together rather than simply messaging their buddies for assistance.

An example of a great digital tool is Ed, where anyone can generate forums that are moderated by educators, or Kialo Edu for online debates, pro-and-con style.

You can also use Padlet as a board to jot down free-form notes and ideas, much as you would with a classroom whiteboard or wall of Post-Its. Here is an example of the Grid layout which lets students post their thoughts or relevant content about a topic.

Another way to grow a community is to focus not only on how they connect but what they connect about — that way, you can introduce something valuable to the community. For example, many companies run free webinars with well-known experts and brands in their niche. Those webinars are even better when they can connect in an organic way to their products, as edX, one of the leading online learning platforms, does. They launched a series of free webinars that anyone can access, but also, they integrated some paid features, such as purchasing certification in the subject.  

There are endless ways to relate to your potential audience and build a strong community around your brand when you unleash the power of creativity and use it to connect the dots between a community's interests and your company or products.

Strategy 3: Establish a Feedback Culture

If you’ve always wanted to set up a channel for gathering feedback, now is the perfect time to do so. In the absence of face-to-face interaction,  it’s important to know what students are thinking. Without a way for them to communicate their concerns, engagement levels will decline quickly.

To receive feedback, you must first establish a feedback culture in which feedback is both reciprocal and appreciated. Do this by responding to each and every submission from students—or if you can’t, let them know how students can reach out with any detailed concerns they have. A good practice is to respond within 24 hours of receiving an emailed question to make students feel as though they are a priority.

Useful tools for actually collecting feedback from students are online forms. Paperform is an online form creator with hundreds of templates for every need. You can customise your template to reflect your university, subject matter or personal style. Example below:

Strategy 4: Think Outside the Box

There’s more to online engagement than what has been tried-and-tested. Being creative will make your classes memorable and stand out from the pack. Explore tools and softwares that aren’t commonly found in education, and use them to excite your students. Depending on the size of your class, this can be much more inviting than another online Canvas module for yet another one of their courses.

For business classes, use Virtonomics to set up a business simulation where students can develop their entrepreneurial skills or apply their economics knowledge to realistic scenarios. Replace your online weekly quizzes with the interactive quiz tool Kahoot, where students can choose the correct answers from their own devices while the quiz displays on yours. As for younger audiences, any one of the Minecraft Education courses will have your students coding, exploring and building in no time.

An example of a Kahoot quiz

Finally, a novel way to integrate fun and learning into your online classrooms is to use gamification. Gamification uses small rewards after achieving goals to motivate students to keep progressing. You could use gamified productivity tools such as Habitica to keep your students motivated to complete course activities often and on time. There are tons of useful web apps out there, and the only limit is your imagination.

To Summarize

If you’re currently an online educator, you might be finding it a challenge to engage your students or gauge their interest without seeing them in person. Our best student engagement strategies for online learning are there for you to draw inspiration from and integrate into your classrooms. Wherever you students are, you’ll be confident that their enthusiasm is the same as it ever was offline.

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