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Engaging Students is Key to Successful Remote Learning

By Steffen Parker on February 03, 2021 hst Print

Remote learning is a part of education at all levels for the foreseeable and unforeseeable future. Dependent upon an internet connection and device for all participants, the success of remote learning varies widely. It is not measured in how well the educational content is delivered, but in how well it is received by the participating students.

More important than the speed of the connection is the age of the device or the proficiency of the user and teacher. Mastering the technology involved to provide the educational content is only the first step; maintaining the student’s attention and focus remains the crucial one. Accomplishing that when they are surrounded by distractions and sitting in a chair that is far more comfortable than a standard student desk – if they are seated at all – is a bigger issue than the quality of the educational content. The best designed lesson plans in the world matter not if the information is not received.

So how do you engage your students when teaching remotely, and more importantly, how do you retain their attention as you deliver your content and follow your lesson plan? Teachers know their students’ in-school personality and behaviors, but they may not be aware of the challenges they face at home with poor WiFi, out-of-date devices, shared spaces and limited or non-existent parental support. With that in mind, teachers need to be ready to modify their remote class procedures and requirements as the situation warrants. As with all things in education now, flexibility remains a requirement.

Ask students to turn on their cameras and acknowledge each student by name. During the course of the class, notice something about their remote location. Take the time to connect with them as you would if they were in the classroom. And ask them to participate from a seated position (not lying in bed or on the couch). Students should use the gallery view (if available) so they can see all of their classmates, focus and participate. And provide opportunities for students to ask questions of you or their classmates. Asking a classmate a question where a successful answer is assured is a great way to make sure both students are focused on learning.

Send a copy of your class outline to students ahead of time, and ask that they have it available to view on their device during the class. Include items in the outline that draw discussion from students and possibly assign some points to certain students to lead or question. If the students can capture their own copy, they can use it to take notes, using bullets under headings to enter the important points (writing something down greatly increases retention). You also could use a shared version that everyone can edit and ask students in turn to enter the bullet points that help to bring clarity to the topics listed.

Have a list of terms that students need to remember. Enter them as a shared document and have students, in turn, enter the definitions. Have a second student enhance the first person’s entry. Put two terms that are related in some way – similar, opposite, same focus – on each slip of paper and ask students not only to define them, but to determine why you put them together. Repeat and every student will know your list of terms and be able to use them in context without having to have them remember them on a test, and you have engaged each student multiple times in just the first five minutes of your remote learning session.

Use the Chat feature in Zoom and other platforms to have students send you (and everyone else) questions related to the topics being discussed, links they found related to the class, or even photos of projects or props. Consider using the Response feature to have students vote on discussion topics or use the visual icons in other ways. And you can expand student responses by using any of the many quiz, gaming or Jeopardy-like options available online (try Kahoot!). Even something as simple as a Google Survey can be used to inspire students to stay engaged during the discussion.

Just as you would ask students to share their efforts in the classroom, be willing to allow them to Share Screens in your remote sessions. This can include each student showing their classmates their report, slide presentation, latest photograph, latest dance move or a video they created. And asking students to comment on each other’s efforts, in written or verbal form, extends the reach of sharing, but it must be undertaken with clear guidelines. Asking only for compliments or parts that they enjoyed or liked will provide positive reinforcement while keeping every student connected to the task at hand.

Too often, remote learning, due to the lack of in-person contact, becomes a one-way conduit with information only pouring from teacher to student. Having the students work directly with that content through monitoring the class’ progress, enhancing the topics being discussed, and/or adding their own information or commentary, requires their engagement. Their class time will not seem as long when they are a part of the show, and that produces the successes we all hope for in our students.