10 Sep 2021 By: Natalya Bucuy
Today I dug out my high school yearbook.
Here is what my 12th grade advanced Physics teacher wrote in it. “You have a great mind. I was always pleasantly surprised when I graded your tests. You always did so well, while sleeping so much.”
Well, to defend my napping habit I could use the fact that I later became a writer and, therefore, did not have a passion for Physics. But that would go against another point I want to make here. That is, one of my favorite teachers of all time was also a Physics teacher. His name was Mr. Bender and he taught my first Physics class the year before. I never slept in his class.
So what was different between the two? Their teaching styles and the way they engaged students in their classes. One taught the material. And as evident by his comment, students can learn the material on their own, even while sleeping in class. The other engaged his students. He staged fun experiments, told us funny stories, and brought his fun personality into his classroom. And that got him his students’ attention, a spot in my memory, and a positive mention in this article some many years later.
Student engagement is essential in the learning process.
Research has demonstrated that engaging students in the learning process increase their attention and focus, motivates them to practice higher-level critical thinking skills, and promotes meaningful learning experiences. Instructors who adopt a student-centered approach to instruction increase opportunities for student engagement, which then helps everyone more successfully achieve the course’s learning objectives. –University of Washington
When it comes to online learning, things get trickier. Without physically being in the same space, it is more difficult for instructors to relate to students and engage them. Yet, it’s necessary to do so. Some educational programs used remote learning periodically before the COVID-19 pandemic. But, the global emergency forced many institutions to move to fully remote learning and some remain as such more than a year later.
So what can educators do to stay connected to their students and avoid the sleeping in class situation? Here are five ways to raise student engagement in remote environments.
Know Your Path: Assess Needs
Any project in any sphere must start off with a goal. After all, as a baseball player Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you will probably end up somewhere else.” So you must know your educational and student engagement goals. An educator might have a standardized curriculum and lesson plans. But the individual ways he or she will teach and engage with his or her students will depend on those students’ personalized needs.
It helps to think of it as a very personalized customer service. Students are customers, too, after all. The goal is to deliver what the customers want and need, but how you approach the customer can be very personalized. So get to know you students and their needs well.
Educator Nancy P Hemenway of Learning By Designer, LLC recommends starting an online learning experience with a needs analysis.
“Target student individual needs including demographic, diversity, physical, and emotional needs. Knowing how they access, what kind of equipment they have, how they use it – all of these things are essential for successful online learning.”
-Nancy P Hemenway, educator
Break it Down: Think is Engagement Stages
Student engagement in remote environments is not a continuous process. It has its ups and its downs. The experience of online learning itself comes in stages. It is, therefore, wise to shape your engagement strategies accordingly.
Sean McPheat of MTD Sales Training proposes the strategy of thinking in stages.
“When it comes to student engagement in remote environments, you need to think about three main elements. What you do before, during, and after each event. If you forget any of the elements then it will impact your engagement levels. So think about pre-set work delivered via text, one training, chat, or webinar. Within the session think about offering live discussion rooms, polls, quizzes, and chat functionality and after the event think about email tips, live chat support, and discussion boards. There are many ways to skin the cat!”
-Sean McPheat, educator
Dig Deep: Awaken passion
One of the main reasons for disengagement and burnout is a lack of interest and passion in the subject matter. But remember, I never slept in Mr. Bender’s class! So even if the topic at hand is difficult for students to relate to, it is the educator’s job to spark interest in some way.
Dr. Gilda, who has taught an online course for decades, highlights the importance of discovering your students’ passions.
“Want to keep students engaged? Give them a reason to identify with your content. Ask them to explore a burning topic, or a personal theme, or something they’re passionate about. This works for any content matter and discipline. In other words, become a TikTok Teacher. Apply mandated curriculum to students’ real-world lives. Use all three modalities of the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic senses. We have learned during the pandemic that corporate video calls are causing video call fatigue because they have too much content and too little personalization.”
-Dr. Gilda, Author of “Amplify Your Media Presence, Amplify Your Brand”
We know that personalization will work for customer engagement. It works for student engagement in remote environments as well.
Liven Up: Don’t Be Boring
What was the main reason I fell asleep in my second Physics class? There is no other way to put it – the teacher was very boring. So here comes some natural advice for educators. Don’t. Be. Boring.
Fred Fransen, co-founder of non-profit educational institution, Certell offers some insights on staying engaging online.
- The use of multimedia and visuals. Students today are used to viewing a steady stream of videos, pictures, and other visuals. They are comfortable in this environment and learn best with a curriculum that includes this type of media to illustrate lessons.
- Incorporating humor and pop culture. The use of humor and pop culture can go a long way in making all subjects relatable and interesting. Teachers need a curriculum that illustrates complex topics using humor and popular culture, so concepts didn’t seem so disconnected from the students’ young lives. Think Federalism illustrated by a clip from Game of Thrones or Roman history introduced by a gladiator.
- Short readings. In order to compete with other things happening at home and to maximize short attention spans, readings should be digestible. Combined with multimedia, humor, and pop culture, the short readings convey what’s important in a way that students could understand and relate.
- Discussions. The best curriculum fosters discussion. Online classes tend to be shorter than in-person ones. Teachers must be mindful of the time spent introducing concepts vs. discussing the material so students could learn how to reason and think.
Education for Life: Leverage Critical Thinking vs. Content
Let’s face it, in twenty years or even in five, most of the information students learn in school will have left their memories. Unless students use specific concepts in their daily life or work, they will not remember most of the content. (My daily use of Physics possibly begins and ends with mentioning my teachers in articles I write.) Besides that, in the current world, all the information we ever need or want is a Google search away.
And so, what’s always important in teaching is levegering critical thinking and argumentative skills with the actual information learned in class. Students need reasons to stay engaged. If you can awaken and stimulate their brains with relatable skills and concepts, you can increase student engagement in remote environments more easily.
“Professors must not just teach students critical-thinking skills and give them opportunities to put them to use, but they must also inspire them to continue practicing those skills on their own across academic subjects and in all areas of life.”
-Jonathan Haber, Inside HigherEd
Student Engagement in Remote Environments
It’s not easy to teach. It’s even harder to teach from behind the screen. Engaging students in the world of distractions and endless streams of information is no easy task. By applying personal approaches to students’ learning needs, using interactive technology, and reaching in to discover and target their passions teachers can increase student engagement. And not have one single student fall asleep in class.