5 ways to boost engagement in remote learning

If online teaching is here to stay then teachers need to make sure that remote lessons are engaging, says Fearghal Evans

Fearghal Evans

Coronavirus: How teachers can make remote learning engaging for pupils

As we begin to readjust to the "new normal", we have to accept that remote teaching will be around for some time to come.

Therefore, it is imperative we accept that we have to adapt to remote learning as a teaching method that may last for some time in order to enhance our teaching and the learning of students.

Coronavirus: Getting pupils engaged in remote learning

With that in mind, here are five ways to increase student engagement while remote teaching:

1. Interactive slides

Even the most hard-working students will struggle to sit through an on-screen lecture while resisting all of the distractions that they now have access to – mobile phones, other tabs, WhatsApp and so on.

One way to help keep students engaged is to make your slides interactive. This forces students to actively take part in synchronous or asynchronous learning. As a teacher, it also gives you vital data on who understands and who is doing the work, and you can give feedback instantly to the group or individuals.

There are many programmes out there to help with this, such as Nearpod, Mentimeter or Peardeck. I have worked mainly with Peardeck as I like the ease with which you can adapt existing Google Slides presentations.

You can choose between "student-paced" or "teacher-led" lessons. Student-paced mode proves to be great for independent asynchronous learning or differentiation. The teacher-led mode allows you to engage a whole class during a video lesson and gain instant feedback.

Students can answer questions and match statements or definitions to key words. They can draw or write on slides and you can view and display these with or without student names.

2. Embrace experimentation to ensure variety

One thing I have learned from the pandemic is how quickly the teaching world can adapt when necessary.

Of course, experimentation is hard but the only way to get better is to practise – we need trial and error rather than making excuses.

For example, one of the best new tools I have come across in the past month is Padlet.

For a history teacher, the Timeline feature allows students to explore and demonstrate understanding of chronology, and the Canvas template allows students to group, scatter and arrange content.

This allows them to show connections and gives them the chance to see the bigger picture – an excellent tool for overview diagrams or concept mapping.

3. Provide opportunities for collaboration

Discussion, debate and a chance to figure things out without teacher input is possible in remote teaching – you just have to embrace it.

Zoom breakout rooms have become a major feature of my remote teaching. Combined with other interactive tools or shared documents, they allow students to discuss and explore ideas with friends and classmates.

Whether online learning is synchronous or asynchronous, students not only enjoy the chance to work together on tasks and projects but also benefit immensely from the interactions that discussion provides.

If they record their video interactions, they can engage in more discussion without worrying about noting down all of the details as they will have a resource for revision at a later date.

Most online learning tools allow students to read and respond to each other's comments. For subjects built around discussion, you can, therefore, make the debate virtual, in the same way as you might have done with a "silent debate" in class where the students share their ideas on paper rather than verbally.

4. Flip the classroom

One risk of online learning is that students will spend all hours of the day glued to a screen.

But by setting reading assignments, you can allow students to prepare for online video sessions, so the valuable time you have interacting with students can be knowledge-driven and focused.

Kognity is a fantastic tool because you can set reading assignments for IB Diploma students. The website allows you to check who has completed the assignments by a set deadline and you can assign questions to check understanding.

Another tip is to create short video tutorials to allow students to work independently and to understand instructions.

One of the hurdles for many students is that they do not fully understand the instructions. Keeping things simple helps but even better is if you can record a screencast with a voiceover (Screencastify allows up to five-minute recordings on its free version) where you explain and model the task.

5. Make use of feedback tools

Online learning offers plenty of feedback opportunities – we must embrace them.

Digital rubrics are an excellent way to provide meaningful and uniform feedback as a department.

They allow students to see exactly what they need to do to improve without having to write lengthy comments.

Working online, we are also able to comment on student documents and provide opportunities for student reflection and replies. Question functions in online platforms allow students to reflect and respond to others' reflections.

When students are working on live documents, it is much easier to read their work and give instant feedback than it would be to read over their shoulder while they write in an exercise book in a classroom.

Online work platforms, such as Google Classroom, are organised to allow you to quickly and easily find past work, and students can have an ongoing reflection document or learning diary that they complete through the year.

Online quizzes can also be assigned to provide instant feedback.

Fearghal Evans is a teacher of history at San Silvestre School in Lima, Peru

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