Strategies for Engaging Students in Synchronous Sessions
Engaging students in synchronous content can provide a list of challenges. However, these challenges can be approached in ways that are advantageous for both student and instructor. The following is a write-up of suggestions and ideas.
Throughout the information here, building trust with students is imperative. When you ask students to turn on their cameras and engage they are more likely to do so if they trust you and the environment in which they are in. With that in mind the following information is designed to take that into consideration each time.
- Create Virtual Office Hours: Many students are worried about having their face and background seen by a large group of individuals. Allowing for you to have virtual office hours lets them be able to turn their camera on with just you and get comfortable with you seeing them. Host open office hours/scheduled hours to build that relationship with students.
- Synchronous Virtual Backgrounds: An issue that students have is that they do not want people to view what is behind them. A solution to this is in both Zoom and Microsoft Teams (both supported software at UNL). In Zoom this is called “Virtual Backgrounds” in which a picture or GIF can be placed behind the student and their backgrounds are not visible. In Teams this is done by blurring the background or changing the format that the students are seen in a different view. Some of these views are only accessible at six or more participants however. Using these may alleviate some of the anxiety students have.
Before Class Strategies
These ideas are designed to give you some ways to engage your students and build relationships before the class meets.
- Be Your Authentic Self: What this means is that sometimes your presentations may go awry. Maybe you have a pet or loved one walk into the room and are caught off guard. Maybe you are having technical difficulties. Being open and honest with your students builds that connection. Often students love seeing pets that happen to wander into the camera! Don’t be afraid of your personal home life maybe intermingling with your professional one as well. Within reason of course.
- Show Up Early: Showing up early allows you to engage some of the students that are there early as well. Ask them how their day is going or other small talk. This way they see you as a person that is an instructor, and not an instructor only.
- Wellness Check: Ask your students how they are doing. These go a long way when showing that you care about their course material and how things may be going for them. Other instructors and students are handling the synchronous content differently. This may also give you an idea of what other instructors may be doing for you to implement tactics in your course.
Here are some example questions:
- “How is your homework/study load with your other courses right now?”
- “Anyone have questions about assignments or upcoming assessments in this course?”
- Opening Questions: Have your students prepare questions themselves. This could be from the previous lecture that they had questions on, or, you could send your notes for the class ahead of time. The one thing worth mentioning is that students tend to be apprehensive of asking questions in-person. Especially on Zoom and in the chat where it is there for an indefinite amount of time. So to combat that, you could create an assessment called “Muddiest Point.” Muddies point allows students to express the area they had the most difficulty via a submitted assignment, and therefore, not in front of the class. This also allows you to see what area your students may be struggling.
These ideas are designed to give you ways to engage your students during the course. These are also based off “best practices” or good ideas for educational experiences. Variety is the spice of life, as the saying goes. Interspersing some these in around 10 to 15 minute intervals will help keep your students engaged.
- Just-In-Time-Teaching Polls: A well-used assessment type is called formative assessment. This means getting quick information about how your students are doing during the course. One way that was done in-person was via clickers. Zoom has that function integrated directly into it. You can create polls ahead of time for you to release to students. The feedback is instantaneous and lets you know what your students are learning. It can be both anonymous or you can see who submitted what answer.
- Breakout Rooms: I am sure by now many have been in or created breakout rooms. Breakout rooms are great way to have your students engage one another in smaller groups. Many times people are hesitant to engage as large collective but are much more willing to engage in sub-groups. Have students discuss a topic. Let them know they will need to select one representative from their group to give a summation of what they discussed. You can also join breakout groups to help facilitate the discussions.
- Collaborative Workspaces: Collaborative workspaces help students work and get more familiar with each other. In Zoom and Teams there are a few options. However as of writing this they are a bit finicky. Other ideas include Microsoft Online and Google Documents. You can have your students work synchronously together. Ask them to assign themselves a color so you know who is writing what in the groups you assign.
Just because the class is dismissed does not mean you cannot set up engagement for the day or next lecture. The following are a list of suggestions that you could do after the end of the class.
- Ask your students what they want to do: Course autonomy, or the ability for the student to have some control over their course, has shown to promote student engagement. Maybe ask if they want to present or do group work. Create a poll and let them vote on what they would like to do.
- Create A Questionnaire: You could ask for their opinion on how the course was conducted. What did they think of the group work? What did they think about the presentation? Check in and see what your students think. Maybe they will offer up some solid suggestions.
- Muddiest Point: As talked about earlier, Muddiest Point allows for students to discuss what they enjoyed the most but also what they had the most difficulty with. You can see if there is a pattern with the students and address it next time you have class.