Around the world, many schools have closed their doors due to the ongoing health crisis. To adapt, teachers have started taking their lessons online in an attempt to implement distance learning. Although distance learning has never been done on such a massive scale, the concept itself isn’t new. In fact, the Department of Education reports that 35% of college students have taken at least one online course even before the pandemic started.
Aside from the convenience of learning at home, the costs are lower and students can review at their own pace. Despite the benefits, distance learning faces a big challenge in the form of student engagement. True enough, an article in the New York Times found that many students usually end up too distracted at home to devote their full attention to online lectures. With the couch and TV in close proximity, it’s also tempting to just zone out.
So how exactly can you make distance learning more engaging? Here are some tips.
Always use visuals
Distance learning shouldn’t be limited to eBooks and plain text slides. To capture students’ attention, it’s best to rely on a visually rich approach. For instance, a recent study from West Texas A&M University found that online students retained more information when presented with infographics, as opposed to text-only presentations. This is because visuals are processed up to 60,000 times faster in our brains, which improves learning by 400%. Aside from infographics, other ways to introduce visuals into the discussion include illustrations, screen captures, videos, and more.
Make it social
Long lectures can be dragging for students, especially without the social aspect of being able to add your own input and bounce off ideas. While peer-to-peer discussions can be conducted via chat, there’s a much more interesting way to do it. In HP’s article on ‘Best Screencasting Software for Teachers 2020’, it recommends FlipGrid, which is a fun social learning platform. How it works is that teachers ask a question, and then students are prompted to respond via video. It follows an open dialogue format too, as other students are free to agree or relay their own thoughts. This app is particularly useful for classes that benefit from collaborative solving, like math and physics.
Gamify your lectures
Games have a place in classrooms too, and you’d be surprised how easy they can be to integrate into lesson plans. For example, Excited Educator endorsed ClassCraft, a teaching platform with a bunch of RPG-like tools for engaging students. One of our favorite features is its ability to create “bosses,” which can only be defeated with the right answers to questions. You can also sneak in a couple of pop-up quizzes with the help of Swift Polling. Our software allows you to open a multiple choice question at any point in the discussion, to which your students can respond. It’s also an opportunity to gauge whether or not your students have understood the lesson so far. There are plenty of other apps that can help you gamify distance learning. It’s all a matter of which ones your students best respond to.
Have regular consultation hours
Some students may have questions they aren’t comfortable saying in class, while others may find it harder to adjust to distance learning. Either way, there will surely be more than a few inquiries. As such, you can keep them engaged even after lectures by setting “office hours.” In this period, you can keep your inbox open so students can consult and discuss matters with you, just like in real life. Emails work in most cases, but you can also use messaging apps like Signal and Telegram for quicker replies.
Guest Post by Colleen Andrews
Colleen Andrews is an education consultant who specializes in helping institutions integrate tech into their curriculums. When she’s not busy researching the latest EdTech trends, she’s either watching a movie or at an art gallery.