Engaging Students in Online Class Meetings

This week, the Instructional Design team offered three different training sessions on our new web conferencing tool, GoToTraining. One concern that I often hear when we talk about online class meetings is that it can feel like no one is listening. This sentiment often leads to questions about whether such tools are even effective.

Live online class sessions are just one of the many tools in the toolbox for online and hybrid instructors and are certainly not vital to every course. But they are especially good at creating a sense of the instructor’s presence in the course, which can help students to feel guided and supported. They also give students a chance to engage with and learn from one another. Online learning can feel lonely and live sessions emphasize that “we are in this together.” Finally, live online class sessions can provide students with an opportunity to obtain a common understanding and receive immediate responses to their questions or concerns.

If you want to make the most of your live online class meetings, it is best to regularly engage your students to make sure that they are paying attention and that they have a clear understanding of the content you are covering.

Here are a few tips for engaging your students:

Set clear expectations for how students should be prepared to participate in your online meetings. Students may have previously participated in webinars where all they had to do is listen, or they may assume that it is okay to multitask during your session. If you expect students to be active and engaged participants for your online sessions, let them know that at the start of the semester. Some instructors even award points for class participation.

Have students come to the session prepared with something to contribute. Ask them to come up with three questions related to the week’s materials, have them complete an initial brainstorm activity, or assign a few students to prepare a 2-minute mini-presentation on a course topic for each session.

Plan activities that can pull students back in throughout your session. You can use polls to gather their opinions or use mini-quizzes to test their comprehension. Just like in your face-to-face sessions, it is good to regularly pause and ask if there are questions.  If you notice interesting points made in an online discussion or in submitted assignments, ask students to expand on their contributions during the live session. You can also use GoToTraining’s Dashboard to see who is attentive and address questions to specific students that may have wandered elsewhere.

Keep your sessions as short as possible. The longer the session, the more likely it is that attention will start to fade. Try to limit your online meetings to content that will be most efficiently or effectively accomplished synchronously. If there are pieces of your lesson that can be accomplished via discussion board, recorded lecture, or another online instructional tool, use those mediums instead. Put another way, you can flip your online class by recording the lecture component that students can view on their own time and then host a Q&A or synchronous discussion for only 15-20 minutes using GoToTraining.

Facilitate small talk during the start of the session to improve class rapport and engagement. While you are waiting for all students to arrive for your session or during the first few minutes as everyone is getting setup, take some time to find out more about your students. The entire course will be more enjoyable if both you and your students get to know each other and learn more about the unique knowledge and experiences that everyone brings to the course.

The Instructional Design team is available to brainstorm engagement strategies with you or answer any questions you have about GoToTraining. You can also find more tips about facilitating online meetings from the GoToTraining blog:

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