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5 Ways To Make Your Online Courses More Engaging

And how not to get shadowed by TikTok

We are going through uncertain times, and uncertainty creates anxiety and stress. Students are feeling it too. They might be going through difficult circumstances. Probably quarantined far from home, far from their friends. They are left alone to deal with remote internships, thesis deadlines, and much other homework.

Many students and teachers are eager to attend to their online classes at least to cope with the boredom and isolation of being under quarantine. We miss our students, and they miss us — I think.

But let’s get real, remote live classes can be boring, and TikTok is probably shadowing our awesome content.

Whether you are using Zoom, BigBlue Button or any other videoconferencing software, there are few simple tricks you can try to make your live classes more engaging, and actually memorable.

Here is how.

1. Start with a warm-up

Again students are anxious, stressed out. And nothing is worse than starting a class right away with the course topics.

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Students — and everyone else — need some minutes of warm-up to get into their focus zone. It’s like exercising, you can’t start running a marathon at your full speed and with no initial warm-up, you’ll breakdown.

Warm-up activities are essential for kicking off any good lecture, online or offline.

But, how can you do that online?

Start first with a kind welcoming. Yes, it might sound obvious. But we are so caught up by the routine and obligation that we might forget the essential: caring for others.

Dedicate the first five minutes of your class to ask your students how they feel, how they are dealing with the current situation, what are the difficulties they are facing. These will make participants more at ease and keen to interact.

Once everyone shares how they are and feel, you can pass to the short fun warm-up game to set the ambiance.

You don’t need to prepare a complex ice breaker. Something as simple as doing a gif contest will do. You can ask your students to share a gif that represents their current state of mind — and body — at then have them vote for the best one. Everyone would have a laugh and will get energized to start the lecture.

You can try also an emoji tournament or a show and tell. 10 to 15 minutes is enough to get the ambiance going and give students time to energize and get ready to absorb new knowledge and stay focus.

2. “Cameras and mics on” rule

One of the many issues of giving class through videoconference is that you have much less control over students’ attention.

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The fact that they have to be in front of the computer screen to receive the course makes it almost impossible to keep them away from distraction.

Most of them have multiple windows open in their devices while receiving the lecture. Facebook, Tiktok, Whatsapp, Instagram, everything is at their reach, keeping them from actually listening to and interacting with the class.

While we cannot completely avoid this, we can minimize the risks of procrastination by establishing the “camera and mic on” rule. The goal is to ask every participant to turn on their cameras and mics during the lecture unless there is a good explanation of why they can’t.

Turning the camera and the mic on gives the conversation more fluency and encourage participants to be more present during the lecture and get more involved in the discussion.

Zoom, Meet, and most of the videoconference apps have the option to view participants’ display on a one-screen grid. Zoom, for example, lets you see up to 49 participants display on one unique screen that updates automatically when participants enter or leave the room.

To avoid messy conversations and background noise, you can ask participants to mute their microphone only when you, or someone else, is presenting. Then ask them to leave the mic open when it’s time for group talk.

If you still struggle with students’ participation and attention then you can shout out their names and invite them to take part in the conversation.

3. Use visual collaboration

Active learning is essential for improving student engagement and ensuring student learning.

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Conducting remote courses should not be a limitation for encouraging active learning. But for sure just sharing a slide deck will not do.

There are plenty of apps for team collaboration that you can use with your students to create and manage knowledge together.

By dividing the class into groups you can have them work on different topics and give feedback to each group separately. Zoom has an easy to set up functionality where you can break your class into different rooms so that each team has its own workspace. Google Meet doesn’t provide this functionality yet, but there is a way to hack this with just some preparation.

Then, you can use an app for visual collaboration and create dedicated spaces for each team to work on. The most simple way to do it is by using google drive and google docs. Students can easily create their own collaborative documents in no time.

But there are more interesting apps in the market that as an educator you can access for free. My favorite one is Muralbecause they have plenty of built-in and ready to use collaborative canvas and spaces and because it’s super easy to use.

But there are many other apps like MiroConceptboard or Jamboard from google that are also great alternatives.

Choose the one that suits best.

4. Interactive quizzes

Hosting interactive quizzes during your online sessions are a great way to evaluate student knowledge and engagement.

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The idea of hosting interactive quizzes during your lectures is not to increase students’ anxiety but to break down the monotony and keep with the good vibe.

Here again, there is a wide range of possibilities. But these two are my favorite ones: Kahoot and Factile.

The most famous interactive quiz platform is Kahoot, a free student-response that uses all sorts of gamification techniques to engage students’ participation and enhance learning. With Kahoot, you can both host live quizzes as well as self-paced challenges for out-of-class review. Kahoot games can be played in single mode or in team mode and offers plenty of fun features to stimulate students to play and learn.

Another great platform for live learning games is Factile. Have you ever played jeopardy? Well, Factile is a free learning platform that lets teachers create engaging Jeopardy-style quiz games for the classroom. You can create and personalize your own game boards or use premade quizzes shared by the community. With Factile you can either host jeopardy games, regular multiple choice quizzes, memory games, and create study flashcards to improve students learning proficiency. As Kahoot, Factile can be played in teams or individually.

5. Wrap up with 1-minute video posts

The best way to finish every lecture is with a wrap up to summarize what has been discussed and learned during the session.

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The agile methodology for management and innovation uses “agile retrospectives” as an opportunity to learn and improve by reflecting on past events and behaviors.

The idea of retrospectives is to have participants share their thoughts after each lecture on the following questions

  • What I’ve learned?
  • What worked well? What did I enjoy?
  • What didn’t work well? What did I found challenging?
  • What are we going to try to do differently?

There are plenty of retrospective activities to derive the lessons learned, and many of them can be done remotely through a visual collaboration platform like the ones presented earlier in this post.

But the one I prefer, because it takes place after your lecture is a 1-minute retrospective video.

It’s being a will since I been using Instagram as a teaching tool, and especially as a platform where students can share their “What I’ve learned” retrospectives. You can create a private Instagram account for the class where they can share class-related content. The activity then consists of each student posting a 1-minute retrospective video where they share their answers to the 4 questions detailed before. Then classmates get to like and give feedback to other student videos.

An alternative to Instagram, and probably more suitable if you are concern about privacy and security of personal data, is Flipgrid. Flipgrid is a social learning free app to create and share short awesome videos. As an educator, you have free access to the app and you can create different grids — classrooms — and topics of discussion. Each grid has a unique code that you can share with your students so that they can access the topics and the videos being posted by the professors and classmates. It is a great tool for reflective learning and for building solid learning communities within your classes.

Instagram, Flipgrid, or even youtube are great platforms to share retrospectives, even when you are not teaching remotely. Students love to record videos and they have great skills for editing, so why not capitalize on those capabilities?

But please, please, avoid using TikTok for this. Call me old-fashioned, but crazy things happen on Tiktok and we want fun but not crazy.

To wrap up

So, after two months of forced remote teaching, this is what I’ve learned.

Students are not happy to miss classes, the enthusiasm for skipping lectures only lasted two or three days. They are stressed out, anxious about the future, and many on the edge of depression, and it’s not just that they are making a scene.

We don’t need to make it harder for them by giving them tons of work and overweighted lectures and presentations. We can’t blame them for complaining, it is not that they are lazy — not all of them.

We can’t pretend that everything it’s ok and that nothing should change. Because it’s not.

We are not ok. They are not ok.

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So, instead of contributing to their — and ours — anxiety let’s make remote learning more enjoyable, more memorable by just adjusting a few things. But mainly by remembering that even remotely we can be kind humans.

And after all, in times like this, there are more important and urgent things than learning about theorems, corollary, or postulates. So it will not hurt anyone if we give some time for mingling and having fun.

I would love to hear how you are dealing with your online courses and what you are doing to keep your students engaged. Keep me posted 🙂 !


If you want to know more about the tools you can use for free to create beautiful and engaging online courses, you can read my following post here: The Ultimate Guide to Online Resources for Educators

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