To help direct students in their learning during the pandemic, we as faculty have been tasked with harnessing a range of digital technologies. Acquiring these additional skills has been easier for some, more challenging for others. Faculty at Northern Arizona University, where I teach, moved to a remote and synchronous teaching environment last fall. Below are student engagement strategies shared by faculty who were able to reflect on their successes with remote teaching. These include engagement strategies for synchronous and asynchronous learning, ideas for managing the class in the synchronous and remote learning environments and ensuring instructor presence.
Engagement strategies for synchronous sessions
“Ask a question and have everyone type their answer in chat BUT NOT HIT ENTER. Then give them a countdown and have everyone hit enter at once. If you download the chat, this can be used to assess participation or attendance in the session.”—John Tingerthal, Construction Management
“Each week I have five students do ‘My Favorite Movie’. They present a clip or a trailer, then talk about why they chose the film and give the class a chance to discuss it. This works best when they simply post the link in chat. Very enjoyable and informative.”—Paul Helford, Communication
“A think-pair-share question is asked with a polling tool. Depending on the results, I decide if the ‘pair-share’ is necessary. I usually say something like, ‘We have a range of answers, so you will work in break out rooms to convince your group.’ After a set time, we vote again and hopefully converge on the correct answer. If convergence is not achieved, I will explain why one of the answers is false and then have them discuss again for a minute or so to determine the correct one.”—Edwin Anderson, Astronomy and Planetary Science
Participation ideas for asynchronous learning
“Homework questions are answered in a Google Chat room and graded as ‘participation.’ Students are required to ask at least one question per week either in Chat or the LMS virtual classroom. They self-report how often they participate, but I remind them to be honest because I have the records.”—Robin Tuchscherer, Civil Engineering, Construction Management, and Environmental Engineering
“I hide digital ‘Easter eggs’ in my materials. For example, in a prerecorded lecture video I show a random link for a few seconds to a Google form where they can enter their name, get a code, and get extra credit by entering that code into the LMS. I hide a link to another in my syllabus. A few times a semester I drop a link for them into the comments field when grading to see who’s actually reading the comments. I call these ‘curiosities’ because my primary aim is for students to practice being more curious, but on a practical level they also help keep students engaged.”—Curtis Smith, Boundaryless
“Students are placed into breakout rooms in the LMS and then use a link to a shared Google Slide workspace to draw what their education would have looked like if the No Child Left Behind federal mandate was not in place during their K–12 educational experience. They are able to connect the course materials with their personal experience and have an alternative to a text-based group assignment.”—Samantha Clifford, Anthropology
“A guided notes outline is provided to students before class via the LMS. There are missing words and details where students respond, process, or apply concepts while following as they watch the recording of a short lecture. There is a Q and A section (built into the LMS) where these students can post, share, and ask questions; we go over these questions in the synchronous meeting.”—Holly Aungst, Health Sciences
Managing class in the synchronous and remote learning environment
“Research teams are created at the start of the semester. One person from each team is required to attend in person and log into the LMS virtual classroom as well. The other team members work with the in-person student in break out groups in class. Having someone physically in the class to raise their hand when they have a question makes it easier for them to get my attention and ask questions and hear the (sometimes long) answers.”—Lisa Tichavsky, Criminology and Criminal Justice
“I assign a student as a technology assistant each day. They monitor the chat to let me know if there are questions that I am missing. I found that when all students were remote, I could manage, but as soon as I needed to divide my attention with in-person students, I was missing questions. Students are sheepish about interrupting and tend to ask their questions via chat. Having a student whose job is to interrupt helps me make sure I am not moving on while there are still questions.”—Rachel Neville, Math and Statistics
Ensuring instructor presence
“I log into Zoom on two different computers at the same time for each of my classes so that the students can see the material from one computer’s camera, me from the other computer’s camera, and the students in the classroom from the room camera. Multiple students have told me that they really like being able to see me and the material; it helps them to better connect with the class and the content.”—Melissa Schonauer, Honors
“I send a P.S. email that summarizes the day’s activities and reiterates assignments. At the end of these emails, I ‘invite’ students to attend the next class and ask them to RSVP. This also provides them with an opportunity to ask clarifying questions about current subjects we are exploring.”—Lawrence Lenhart, English
While all these strategies focus on fostering engagement and maintaining motivation, some of the most powerful endeavors entail reaching out to students who are struggling with the new learning format. As an instructional designer, I am witness to the incredible effort faculty are investing in their intentional preparation, transition to accessible content, and altering their assessments to be more authentic. Students notice and appreciate the effort. Please keep in mind that this effort can serve as a model for work expected in the course, in addition to highlighting your concern for your students’ success.
Samantha Clifford, EdD, is an instructional designer with Northern Arizona University’s Online Innovative Educational Initiatives and part-time adjunct professor in the Department of Anthropology. Dr. Clifford has worked in the areas of faculty professional development, academic student success, and international education.