What does “student engagement” really mean? Student engagement is defined in the National Survey on Student Engagement as follows: “the more students study a subject, the more they know about it, and the more students practice and get feedback from faculty and staff members on their writing and collaborative problem solving, the deeper they come to understand what they are learning.” (Kuh, 2009: 5)

What does this look like in online courses? For most courses, the answer is much the same as in a face-to-face course: practice and feedback lead to deeper learning. For this “quick tip” we’ll highlight some ways that you can increase student focus on your synchronous lectures so that their practice out of class can be better aligned to your course goals, as well as how you can solicit feedback from your students about their synchronous learning.

If you’re using Zoom for synchronous lecture, there are a few things you can do to boost student engagement.

First, make sure that you have frequent checks for learning, even if your students have their cameras off. Every 10-15 minutes is a good rule of thumb.

  • Ask students to post questions in the chat (best for smaller classes). You may need to budget for a few minutes to let students think and then type.
  • Ask students quick comprehension questions that they can answer using the thumbs up or waving reaction emojis (good in any size class)

Second, review your visuals to make sure that your slides are truly engaging. You don’t need lots of fancy images, nor should you have paragraphs of text on each slide. The same rules for high-impact slide presentations in the classroom apply in the virtual classroom.

Next, ask students to complete lecture engagement engagement logs. These can be simple guided notes documents, or they can be more complex tools that help students focus their attention on the learning goals from a specific session or broader unit. These are especially useful if students will be working in groups and need to compare notes, or if some students are unable to attend a live session and you expect them to catch up from a colleague. A key in these documents, and all good teaching documents, is making your goals clear and transparent. You can put the goals for your class session or unit on the engagement logs, or remind students of them during the lecture itself.

Finally, ramp up the energy in your class by bringing lots of energy into the session yourself. This could look like:

  • If you are able, stand while you lecture and move around your teaching space.
  • Use hand gestures and other emotive communication beyond your normal speech
  • Speaking with energy, excitement, and passion
  • Telling stories rather than reading from notes

Learn more about these tips.


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