The fall 2020 semester was a learning experience for educators worldwide. With the COVID-19 pandemic moving face-to-face classes online, student enrollment took a hit. But as found in Gosfem’s survey of over 3,400 students in higher education, community building and active learning practices play an essential role in student retention. Since learning no longer takes place in a physical classroom, the need to increase student engagement through active learning is of utmost importance in online course delivery. Here are our top tips for ensuring students don’t check out of your synchronous class in the winter term.
Three ways to keep students motivated from a distance
Consider joining your synchronous online class 10 minutes before it starts so students can get to know you informally. In a study of a large undergraduate biology course in a traditional classroom environment, learning names made students feel more valued and comfortable seeking help from their professor. Make community building a pillar of your online classroom by actively getting to know the names and unique backgrounds of students, which you can do by showing up early—and letting them know you’ll be there on a consistent basis.
The importance of flexibility in online course delivery cannot be overstated. As per Karen Costa, Faculty Development Facilitator at Lumen Learning and founder of 100 Faculty: do not force solutions upon students, but rather, let students explore their options on their own. Put simply, online learners should be able to decide whether they want to have their webcam on or not. Allowing students to have their webcams off, or permitting virtual backdrops while using video conferencing software, shows empathy and concern for students’ non-academic lives. Plus, it can help combat Zoom fatigue after a full day of online learning.
Humanizing learning, as Michelle Pacansky-Brock, Faculty Mentor, Online Teaching and Learning at the California Community College system, puts it, is where instructors increase the relevance of coursework that motivates students to attend class week over week. Humanizing the classroom may also increase online student engagement and retention rates.
To do this, consider incorporating some asynchronous e-learning elements that students can view on their own. Share a lively welcome video at the start of the week or make a course announcement in your learning management system (LMS) prior to the first day of online class. Your announcement might discuss your background, your availability to meet via office hours and how students can contact you. You may also want to share a fun fact or two about yourself and a call to action for students before the live class starts—like asking them to come prepared with a fact about themselves or one thing they want to get out of your class.share share share share share share share
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