As we all settle into our new online reality in COVID-19, it’s important that just as we mustn’t become complacent about social distancing, we shouldn’t become complacent about online learning either. As the novelty wears off for students, and academics frustrations with new technology diminish, how do we avoid classroom fatigue and keep our students engaged and actively learning?

Making it interactive

Apart from your own special magic that you bring to your virtual classrooms, there are a number of useful authoring tools designed to facilitate and maximise online interactivity in both Canvas and UTSOnline. It’s easy to get started and adapt existing materials using authoring tools such as H5P and Kaltura media. Interactive activities and media are a great way to scaffold learning materials and encourage students to apply their understanding online via interactive videos, quizzes, games, presentations, and more. While they may take a little extra time to initially set up, the long-term dividends are worth it.

Whether you are teaching in Zoom or Teams, make the most of the platforms interactive tools like polling and whiteboard. Use breakout rooms to facilitate collaborative learning and open discussions. Try backchanneling. Backchanneling involves setting up a space online for students to post questions and comments during a lecture or before a class. Use tools like Comments Box or Discussions in Canvas or Channels in Microsoft Teams. Another good way of getting students to work together online is by Collaborative notetaking or creating class wikis to help build up a shared body of knowledge.

Maintaining presence

While academics are doing a good job of creating online presence, many students have a tendency to hide behind their screens. Encouraging them to also engage in online presence is vital, not just to save academics from having to teach into a faceless and silent classroom, but also to facilitate their own dynamic and vibrant online classroom. Ask students to turn on their videos or at least have their name and photo up on the screen if they have limited bandwidth. Visibility stimulates participation and accountability – and also breeds connection and camaraderie.

Useful tips

  • Use fun icebreakers to get the party started (e.g. you could ask everyone to introduce their pets online).
  • Ask open-ended questions that elicit critical debate or use prompts to encourage lively discussions. A prompt can be a dilemma, a controversial statement, two disparate viewpoints, a set of results, a photograph…anything that prompts analysis, reasoning and an exchange of views. Don’t be afraid to be controversial!
  • As you get to know your students, try to link their education, prior knowledge and personal experience to the course content; tailor it to them both personally and collectively.
  • Keep it real by contextualising the content in terms of our current circumstances where possible and relevant.

Remember, whatever tools, technology or pedagogical approaches you choose to take, you are the arbiter of your online classroom, so don’t be afraid to bring your own personal flavour to that space and time as you strive to keep it interesting and salient for your students. I mean, really… what could possibly go wrong!? (And if does, that’s okay!) Simply more lessons learned.

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