Engaging students in an online class

I was interacting with teachers in a webinar where we were focussing on the importance of setting up academic goals for the schools. While talking about this goal setting, teachers usually have the objective of improving the average scores, providing personalized experience, completing the syllabus as per the timeline etc.

When I start this discussion on goal setting, after getting the usual inputs from the teachers, we discuss about the solution we provide and how it will help the schools in goal setting and tracking the progress.

While this discussion was going on, one teacher stopped the discussion in between and told everyone

I don’t care about any goal in my school, all I want is to have the attention of my students, I want them to answer when I ask any question. Right now they don’t even pretend paying attention when I am taking the online class.

I could feel the pain in the words of the teacher. This pandemic has been toughest on professions where the main activity in a job is to have meaningful interaction. For working professionals, situation has positives because both sides in the online meeting are motivated to have a meaningful conversation. Sadly, teachers dont even have that luxury now a days. First they need to motivate the learners and then try to make them understand something.

This calls for a fresh approach from the teachers to understand this new pardigm and look for ways to ride the wave of this disruption. I am noting a few observations which can make teachers understand the changes in learner behaviour and tweak their approach to have effective learning experience in the class.

  1. We all talk about reduced attention span of the students while forgetting that same kids can play games and binge watch movies for hours and search on internet about different interpretations of a movie plot. This might not be a problem of attention span. People want to get hooked quickly while deciding whether to spend long hours absorbing any information. The time they spend making this judgement has been reduced. Earlier they might pay attention for 10 minutes before judging whether to watch a movie or not but now they will take this call in first two minutes of a movie. So a lesson for teachers is : You can deliver in depth lessons but make sure your starting two minutes are incredible.
  2. In offline classes, you might be able to look into the eyes of students and figure out whether class has learned or not but now you dont have that luxury. So rather than saying “whoever has not understood something, can raise their hand and ask question”, you can say “ write down any questions you have and I will answer them one by one”. I have tried this multiple times in my online sessions and people are far more responsive this way.
  3. Another way to gauge the understanding of class is to have ready made poll based questions ready for your lecture and launch those questions in the interval of 6–7 minutes after finishing teaching a sub topic or definition.
  4. When watching an online lecture, people might not be interested in watching your face unless the variety of expressions in your face can rival Emma Watson. It is better to have presentation slides and other multimedia content ready for display. Rather than just watching you talking, they would be interested in knowing what you are doing while teaching them. Better to involve students as well using some collaborative annotation tool.
  5. Divide your lessons in chunks of 10 minutes so that all independent parts in the lessons can be evaluated separately and you can engage the students without losing them in middle of a long lecture