While many students and staff have moved back to on-campus classes, online classes in Zoom and Teams are still very much part of the current learning environment, and no doubt will continue to offer a flexible alternative for many students. Online learning comes with its own unique challenges in helping students to stay engaged during class. Here are some simple ways to keep students tuned in and ready to contribute when you’re teaching online.

Start with housekeeping

Housekeeping at the beginning of the session with an explanation of why students should keep their cameras on is very important. It embeds the mindset to students and helps them develop the habit of coming to class with their camera on. I try not to be forceful, however it is essential for students to know staff expectations and how we run the class effectively. Reasons you can explain include, but are not limited to:

  1. In order to keep the online classes interactive and maintain teaching quality, it is important for all the students to keep their cameras and microphones on.
  2. It is not just about the teacher delivering the subject content, but also class engagement and group discussions in order to be successful in the subject. Working as a team is needed, and team work requires their collaboration, which includes showing their face to their tutors and peers.
  3. To familiarise themselves with their tutors and peers, a blank screen with just their display name will increase the difficulties of their learning experience. In the past few years, after explaining why we prefer their cameras on, students provided feedback that it works very well. After explaining the expectations of tutors, student feedback informed us that they had feelings of responsibility and engaged better in class.
  4. Keeping your camera on will help to ensure the class is accessible for everyone. Read blog posts from UTS students Bettina Liang and Jackson Tait to learn more about the role that visuals play in maintaining an inclusive learning environment for all students.

Ways of showing care to students

  • Express your eagerness of not wanting to just know them by name, but also wanting to remember their faces, so that when they come back on campus, you can say hi to them in-person instead of passing by each other as strangers and not knowing them.
  • Remembering students’ names can be hard, but doing so shows the students our care. In response, it can dramatically increase student collaboration and class engagement online.
  • You can also try pausing when students turn off their camera in the middle of class. Ask a question such as the following: “I can’t see you on the screen, is everything okay?’. This way, students will slowly develop a habit of sending you an individual text message explaining why they temporarily turned off the camera, or why they can’t keep their camera on.
  • Ask course-relevant questions when you can’t see the students faces on the screen. Pick the students with cameras off to answer. When they are answering the question, encourage them to turn their cameras back on.
  • Set one of the marking criteria as Ability to manage class expectations and progress for weekly development, including preparation and presentation of progress week-to-week.
  • If there is a group assessment – set an individual contribution statement addressing the individual contributions of each member to the project.
  • Explain clearly their class engagement and work in progress will be marked as part of their assessment submission.

Feature image by tirachardz.

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