Categories
Education Online Education

5 Tips to Avoid Online Classroom Fatigue

Improve your mental health and make your online classes more engaging and easy to digest

Let’s face it.

We are kind of getting sick of Zoom, or Teams, or whatever other videoconferencing tools we are using. It’s exhausting.

Being in front of a computer all day long is exhausting. But we were all used to that before Covid-19, sort of. But being in front of a computer with our camera and microphone on most of our day is exhausting to a whole new level. We are in the spotlight all the time, all of the sudden. 

Whether is a department meeting, or a research committee, or a virtual class, Zoom has become our ‘can’t live without’ app. And while there are many benefits we are for sure valuing — especially the convenience when it comes to unnecessary meetings — , it can be challenging and it can easily become a burden for both students and professors.

Zoom classroom fatigue is real and more common than we can imagine. In this post, I go through simple strategies that will help you and your students fight online classroom fatigue. Not only this will improve your mental health, but it will also make your online classes more engaging and easy to digest. 

Let’s start. 


1. Balance synchronous and asynchronous activities

When it comes to online classes, it is important to understand that time and pace have not the same connotations as in a traditional physical classroom. While you can plan for 3 hours of face-to-face teaching, you may not do so for online lectures.

Remote learning, to be effective, needs to rely on different activities that happen both during and outside the lecture hours. 

Being in front of a zoom conference for over 40 minutes straight is just unproductive. Students, no matter how engaged they are in your lecture, have many distractions at their disposal and easily space out from the conversation.

A great way to avoid the loss of your students’ attention and fatigue is to blend both synchronous and asynchronous activities all along during your lecture hours.

You can follow the flipped classroom approach, for example, and give your students material to read and analyze before the zoom meeting (asynchronous) and then conduct a Socratic seminar during the lecture time (synchronous). 

Not only this will make the zoom lecture more interactive and rich, but it will also give the opportunity to students with technical and technological issues to follow up with the class and not left behind. 


2. Plan frequent short breaks

Our attention span in online lectures is shorter than in traditional in-person classes. We receive stimuli from different sources and the opportunity for procrastination is vivid. 

If you want to keep the attention of your students and help them keep up with the lecture content is important to plan frequent brief breaks.

Imagine your lecture as a bunch of Lego blocks. Instead of having one big construction handed to your students, give them small chunks so they can assemble the pieces.  

A good idea to implement this is to break your slide presentation in small sections and inserting a ‘break alert’ between your sections. This will help you not forget having frequent brief breaks, even when you are in an inspiration zone. 

Planning the breaks when you are preparing your lecture is essential because it gives you better control over the amount of content you want to share. In this way, you make sure you finish a concept or topic before having a break and avoid the loose ends. Also, if your students know in advance when they will have breaks, they are more likely to put extra effort to keep focus until the next break. 


3. Assign discussion leader roles for each session 

Interaction can be challenging when you are conducting online lectures. And sometimes you may feel you’re talking to a computer and that no one is behind those black squares. 

You ask a question and an awkward silence takes over. It can be because students are shy, disengaged, distracted, or just have connection issues. Whatever the reason is, it is always a painful situation for everyone in the (virtual) room. 

An original way to prevent this from happening is naming discussion leaders among the students. At every lecture, you can randomly select 4 to 5 students to be the leaders and moderators for the discussions of the day. By assigning these roles, you are empowering students to voice their opinions and also inviting them to take ownership of their learning. 

In virtual classrooms, interaction is difficult because students don’t feel solicited to interact and they feel there is no implicit, nor explicit, request to take part. When you give them the responsibility to lead the discussion, they become accountable for their learning.

The leader roles are not only something beneficial for the students assigned with this mission but to class as a whole. Sometimes it is easier or more acceptable to be called out by a classmate than by the professor. Other students feel also responsible for their classmates’ performance as leaders and are keener to take part in the discussion and keep the interactions. 


4. Make space for fun

Teaching and learning can be fun. Games, energizers, and ice-breakers are a great way to break the monotony of a course. Not only they bring up some fun to the classroom, but they also increase focus and improve learning. 

If learning through games is effective in the physical classroom, there’s no reason it wouldn’t work remotely.

Like you plan for breaks and a blend of synchronous and asynchronous activities to do during your virtual classes, you may also make time for fun. 

You can, for example, start your class with a short fun warm-up game to set the ambiance.

You need not 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.

Another effective way to make learning fun is by instilling some gamification into your assessment activities. You can host fun quizzes or polls all along with the lecture by using apps such as Kahoot, Flippity, Playfactile, or Slido. You’ll be assessing student knowledge and guaranteeing some entertainment and diminishing Zoom fatigue. 


5. Use break rooms frequently 

It’s quite difficult to maintain student engagement and follow up on students’ learning when you have to give virtual lectures to a big number of participants. When your class size reaches 20 or more participants is hard to ensure everyone is keeping up.

To avoid losing your students to distractions, you can use break rooms to work with smaller groups. If you use the Zoom premium license you can create break rooms easily by setting them up on your account settings. If you don’t have the premium license or you use another videoconferencing system that doesn’t provide the breakout room option, you can program short slots to work with each group of students separately. 

So you can program the first 40 minutes to give your lecture to the entire class, and then have 10 to 15′ one-to-one group-meeting slots with each team to follow up on their learning and progress. With the breakout feature, you can assign students from the same group to different virtual rooms so they can work together without the distraction or mess of other students working in similar activities. Also, it is easy for the professor to identify students that are struggling with the course notions and provide more personalized support to each participant, without spending much more time in office hours giving help to students. 

Breakout rooms are also great for teamwork and to increase student participation. 


Final thoughts

We all hope we’ll be back to our physical classrooms soon. Everyone — students and professors — misses face-to-face learning. In-person classes will return, eventually. However, online will not go away.

Remote learning and remote work will be now part of our new normal. Hybrid, flexible, and flipped classrooms will become the new norm. The use of digital tools and online learning platforms will continue to speed up. And some meetings and other gatherings will continue to be held online. 

No matter what the future of education looks like, one thing is for sure, Zoom will continue to be part of our daily life. So, if we want to keep our mental health and prevent burnout and fatigue, we better start using strategies to make our virtual courses more energizing and easy to digest. 

Online teaching (and learning) need not be painful, we just need to reimagine our teaching approach and have the proper tools to make it memorable and rewarding for both students and teachers. 

Categories
Education Online Education

The Ultimate Guide to Online Resources for Educators

20 free apps for online teaching

Being an educator in times of lockdown and pandemic can be both exhausting and overwhelming. There are so many brilliant tools and resources out there for online teaching. But when you have to shift suddenly to remote lectures, you might find it hard to keep up with all and chose what works best for you. It can be frustrating to see so many apps and tools but not knowing if they will work for your classes.

I’ve been there. I know how overwhelming it can be.

You must be wondering how you are going to continue providing great lectures remotely when you have not done it before.

I know also (from experience) that universities and schools are not all equipped with the most user-friendly tools for class management and remote teaching. Sometimes they are not equipped at all. So you might think: how can you get access to best quality tools if your institution doesn’t provide them? How can school pay for those if we don’t have any budget?

To save you time, effort and money, I have compiled a list of the top free apps, tools and resources that will help you shift to remote teaching. No matter if you are a newbie or an expert, these tools are the best in their market and are free, or almost.

This post will tell you everything you need to know about the best online tools and resources for online teaching.

So, let’s begin.

Table of Contents

  1. Creative content creation
  2. Animation tools and storytelling
  3. Voice lecture recording
  4. Video recording and editing
  5. Video conferencing and virtual classroom
  6. Teaching Platforms
  7. Communication and visual collaboration
  8. Engagement and gamification
  9. Interactive Activities
  10. Knowledge and project management

1. Creative content creation

Forget PowerPoint. Yes, I know this is your default application for creating lectures’ slides, but it’s far from being the most effective and engaging content creator for learning (or for anything else). 
Nothing is worse than old-fashioned PowerPoint slides full of text and with outdated animations and slide transitions. 
There are plenty of apps in the market that are more interesting than PowerPoint for creating beautiful content. Not only they are free and easy to use, but they also provide you with amazing ready-to-use layouts for your lectures, posters, course syllabus, learning cards, and many more. Most of the designs are free to use and you only need to put the text you want on it and that’s it. You need not be a graphic designer to create beautiful and engaging content for your courses.

Canva

With a free account you can have access to over 8,000 templates, over 100 design types (social media posts, presentations, letters, and more) and hundreds of thousands of free photos, icons and graphics. You can have free access as an educator forever, just by applying to their educational program here. You can do a lot with Canva for education. Here are some helpful tutorials to get you started.

Crello

A brilliant tool for creating graphic and video content that looks professional. Also, for free you get access to over 30,000 graphic and animated templates and over 140 million of images. This tutorial will help you get started.

Prezi

is another brilliant tool for creating animated and engaging presentations. With a Free account you can have access to unlimited content and to their latest products: Prezi videos and Prezi design. Also, if you apply as an educator you can have an affordable price (3USD/mo) for the features available on the premium version. Another exceptional Prezi functionality is that you can convert your PowerPoint slides into Prezi presentations with just one click. Some tutorials available here.


2. Animation tools and storytelling

Storytelling is a great approach to engage students and to enhance their learning experience. Storytelling is a technique that helps to create connections with the audience and involves them in an experience that may ultimately result in memorable moments. Storytelling help students to convey the content being taught, create emotional experiences, appropriate and exchange knowledge.

But enjoyable stories need friendly characters and the best way to create those when you are teaching is through cartoon animation.

There are plenty of fun and easy apps that you can use to create compelling characters and motion designs to tell your stories, without having designer skills.

Powtoon

A brilliant tool for creating animated motion design videos. This is really helpful for explanatory videos. With a free account you can create up to 3 minutes, but they have also affordable plans for educators. For as little as 6 dollars per month you can get create 20-minute videos, up to 10GB storage, unlimited access to royalty-free music and objects and the possibility to export your videos to mp4. You can apply to educational access here.

Animaker

Another platform that works great for video and animated content. You need not have design skills to create outstanding and beautiful videos. With a free account you can create and download unlimited videos, build up to 2 custom characters, access to some free music, and gifs.

Toontastic

An app built by google. With Toontastic you can draw, animate, and narrate adventures, breaking news stories, science reports, and all your other ideas completely for free. The app is available for iOS and android devices but not yet for desktop.


3. Voice lecture recording

Giving voice to your lectures is important when you are doing online courses. Since your slides presentation should be simple to be interesting, few words and a lot of images, you need a speech that goes with those visuals. Giving voice to your lectures ensure that you provide your students with all the knowledge they need without overwhelming them with slides full of text. 
While PowerPoint and other default presentation software have the option to record your voice, most of the time is not top quality, and it makes the presentation heavy and difficult to share.

An amazing tool for voice recording and screen recording is Loom.

Loom

A video recording and editing freemium application that you can download on any device (desktop, phone, tablet). With Loom, you can record your device screen and record yourself while narrating your slides or content on your screen. You can also create and edit videos and add filters or text. Loom is free for students and educators. You only need to have a valid institutional email address and you will have loom pro for free. Loom is also great for flippe classrooms, making students tutorials or peer learning and giving feedback to students’ work. If you want to know more about what you can do with Loom for education, you can read the guide for education here.How to Use Loom to Make Better Educational Videos by Digital content producer Daniel Rubio


4. Video recording and editing

Video recording and video editing is also an important step for making online lectures. There are default applications that are pre-installed in your devices, like iMovie and QuickTime if you use Mac. But many times these apps are difficult to use or not suitable for creative videos. Alternative and much more easy and fun apps are available on the web for free or for a low budget.

Animoto

One of my favorites. It’s a free app for teachers and students where you can create amazing videos with no knowledge or skills on video editing and design. With the free version you can have access to more than 1 million ready-to-use video and image templates, over 350 music tracks, 3 different fonts and 30 color swatches. Also, you can download unlimited videos of standard quality (720p), which is already good. With Animoto you can also create accounts for your students and create a virtual classroom. For more information on how to use Animoto for education, you can read the FAQ for schools and educators here.

There are other video editing solutions such as Ligthworks, but these are less user friendly and are more suitable for people with editing skills. Then you have Blender, an open source 3D animation suite, but then again you need to have excellent skills in design and editing.


5. Video conferencing and virtual classroom

Video conferencing is one of the best way to get in touch with your students remotely. It’s a brilliant tool for having engaging conversation and lectures where you need interaction and peer discussion.

Zoom

The most common software for videoconferencing used by business and educators. Zoom has a freemium service. It’s great for hosting webinars, meetings, group collaborations, and calls. With a free account you can invite up to 100 participants, have face-to-face interviews and up to 40 minutes group conference. With the current pandemic situation, Zoom has removed the 40 minute limit for educators. You just need to create an account with your institutional email address.

BigBlueButton

An alternative open source web conferencing system for online learning. The goal of the project is to provide remote students with a high-quality online learning experience. BigBlueButton is amazing because you can have the same Zoom pro functionalities for free. The software is really user-friendly. BBB has a whiteboard that you can share with your participants, you can breakout rooms for team collaboration and create polls during your virtual lecture. Here you can find a user guide on how to use BigBlueButton for education.

Another great software is google meet, which you can access for free if you have a google classroom account. Also, you have Newrow which offers amazing functionalities with its pro version.


6. Teaching Platforms

Teaching platforms are great for organizing all your lecture plans, contents, assessments, feedback, and tracking students’ progress.

While some universities have institutional licenses to online platforms. Many institutions don’t have the budget to pay for it. Gladly there are some free software that you can use.

Socrative

Socrative is one of the most used virtual classroom platforms all over the world. With a freemium business model, educators can have access to Socrative functionalities for free. With a free account, you can have one virtual classroom for up to 50 students and launch one activity at a time, do on-fly questioning (quizzes), and other assessment activities. You can also visualize results in real-time and do reporting. Your virtual room is accessible in any device, and students can join for free.

Easyclass

An open-source alternative for virtual classrooms. By creating an account with your institutional email address, you have access to Socrative pro-like functionalities for free and more. With Easyclass, educators can create online classes whereby they can store course materials online; manage assignments, quizzes, and exams; monitor due dates; grade results and provide students with feedback all in one place. Here is a short explanatory video on how to use the platform.

Google classroom is also a suitable alternative for creating virtual classrooms, but to have access to your institution needs to create an institutional account.


7. Communication and visual collaboration

Visual collaboration and communication tools are also a brilliant way to make your online classes more dynamic and to motivate your students to be more active. There are several apps for doing this, but Mural and Miro are my favorite.

Mural

A digital workspace for visual collaboration. As an educator, you can apply for a free facilitator account and start collaborating with other educators and students. With the educator account, you can have up to 10 team members (which can edit, facilitate and create murals) and 20 guests (only for collaborating to murals you give them access to) to your mural spaces. With Mural you can conduct virtual brain-storming sessions, use canvas layouts and frameworks designed by experts for different activities (business model, mind-mapping, empathy map, many others). you can break out your classroom in groups so that students’ teams can collaborate in different workspaces. You can apply for a Mural educator account here. Here you can find a tutorial on how to use Mural for education.

Miro

Similar to Mural, Miro is an app that acts as a virtual whiteboard for team collaboration. Educators and students can apply for a free education account that has the same functionalities as the pro version. Even if you don’t apply for the education account, you can create your free account and have up to 3 whiteboards to play with. You can invite an unlimited number of viewers and have small teams collaborating in your whiteboards. Otherwise, with the educational plan, you can invite and collaborate with as many students as you want and create unlimited whiteboards. To apply for an education account, you just need to apply here.


8. Engagement and gamification

Games are by far the most effective way to keep students engaged in learning, off and online. There is nothing more gratifying for learners that to get rewards and recognition when they work hard for it. Not only games are fun but they facilitate learning. There are plenty of apps available for educators (and anyone else) for creating challenges, evaluations and assignments while leaving the boring side apart. These two are my favorite.

Kahoot

The most famous interactive quiz platform is Kahoot, a free student-response that uses many gamification techniques to engage students’ participation and enhance learning. With Kahoot, you can both host live quizzes and 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. Kahoot offers a basic free plan where you can invite up to 50 players, host online games, play and create as many Kahoots as you want and have assessments of reports ready to download. Premium plans start at 5 USD per month and you get more amazing features and more players.

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 pre-made 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. With the free version you can create up to 5 teams for each game and you can host up to 3 games. For as little at 5 USD per month you can play and create as many games as you want and have over 50 teams. The premium account offers other amazing features like buzzer mode, play memory and choice games, play and share flashcards.

Other great free apps for quizes and assessments are quizziz and quizlet.


9. Interactive Activities

Online assessment and homework need not be boring. There are plenty of tools you can use to overcome physical distancing and lack of face-to-face interaction between you and your students. Collaboration and social co-creation is possible online thanks to technology. These are my favorite/

Wakelet

A free platform that allows you to curate and organize content from different platforms to save and share with students, colleagues and friends. You need to create a collection — something like hashtags topics on Instagram — and students can contribute to a adding text, pdf, videos, URLs, images and Flipgrid shorts. These are brilliant ways for students to express their learning. Apart from this, the teacher can encourage creativity among the learners by inviting students to approach the assessment the way they want to. The idea behind Wakelet is to curate content, like you will do for blogs (like Medium) or magazines. You can synthesize a bunch of different content, filter out the noise and keep what is valuable in one sole collection to better communicate about a specific concept or topic. Wakalet is completely free and its potential is amazing.

Flipgrid

Flipgrid is a free social learning app to create and share short and exceptional 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 they can access the topics and the videos being posted by the professors and classmates. It is a magnificent tool for reflective learning and for building solid learning communities within your classes. As an educator you can post discussion prompts and students may respond with short videos, whether they are learning in class or at home. Flipgrid is completely free. For more info on how to use it, read the beginner’s guide here.


10. Knowledge and project management

Slack

Initially conceived for business team communication and project management, slack can also be an outstanding tool for education. From planning and teaching curriculum to managing student services, slack offers amazing functionalities for both students and educators. You can create one workspace for each course, each with a set of channels for classroom work, discussion, group projects, and office hours. Students can use channels to post clarifying questions and comments throughout the lesson and their classmates can use emoji reactions to second questions or show support for comments. Slack is compatible with Zoom, so when running a virtual classroom on Zoom you can directly access to slack channels and questions. You can use threads to organize smaller group discussions around specific topics during the class. Slack is free, but for better experience and more control on your interactions and data premium plan is a better option. Slack offers 85% discount on the premium plan to education institutions. You can apply here.

Notion

Notion started as a collaborative document editor. But you can do many other things. Notion is a workspace for your syllabi, notes, assignments, grades, and much more. Students can use it to take and share notes in class or to organize their tasks with to-do lists. Educators might use it to create course syllabi and share them with students or create a wiki for the class. Notion offers built-in templates that make student and teachers’ life easier. Students can find tools for building grade calculators, personal budget, job applications. While teachers can adopt ready-to-use templates for lesson plans, schedules and class directory. Notion is free for both students and educators. With an official institutional email address, you get access to unlimited block storage and no file upload limit.


If you want to know how to make your online courses more engaging, then you might want to read my next story.5 Ways To Make Your Online Courses More Engaging
And how not to get shadowed by TikTokmedium.com

Categories
Education Online Education

5 Ways to Improve Students’ Engagement in Online Classes

5 ideas to make your online classes more engaging

Effective online teaching often requires more planning and more effort than in-person teaching. It calls for strict discipline and a lot of energy, and if not managed well it can easily turn into ‘Zoom Classroom Fatigue’.

Our challenge this fall is clear, we need to reimagine our syllabus and pedagogy and deliver more engaging, interactive, and flexible classes.

While engaging students online can be more challenging, the learning experience can be as good or even better than in the traditional physical classroom. Teaching online need not be painful, even if we didn’t grow as digital natives.

Here are some simple and straightforward ideas to make your online courses more engaging and meaningful.


1. Create a connection with your students

It’s not because you’re behind the screen that you have to forget about the human element. Physical distance should not mean social distancing. The emotional component in a class is the key to engage your students. This is especially true in online environments.

Both students and professors need interaction to build trust and create meaningful discussions. So start creating this connection as soon as you kick off your lecture.

Use storytelling and visuals to talk about yourself. Give the students the opportunity to know you better by asking questions about your career, your research, and your teaching methods.

Ask students to introduce themselves to the class and use fun ice-breakers to encourage teamwork and build trust.

Dedicate the first five minutes of your class to ask your students how they feel, what are their expectations and learning goals, what are the difficulties they are facing. These will make participants more at ease and keen to interact.

Try to call students by their names and remember details about them to make them feel unique and listened to. Use personal and professional stories throughout the lessons to create a fun, safe, and effective learning environment.


2. Create a sense of community

“Online communities are quickly becoming a critical part of the digital strategy for many organizations as a platform to establish ongoing conversations, trust relationships, and meaningful engagement with customers, employees, partners, and suppliers.”

– International Data Corporation (IDC)

The feeling of belonging is a strong driver of engagement. We all need to be part of something. That makes us feel unique and seen. The community plays a central role in making meaning.

According to the Social Learning Theory, learning occurs in a social context when the learner observes and then models a behavior. Knowledge is created through peer-to-peer communication, debate, critical thinking, and the development of leadership skills.

Building a sense of community for your classes helps learners become accountable for their own learning goals and outcomes. They are more likely to work together to achieve those goals and take ownership of their learning process. IT encourages peer learning, trust, and teamwork.

Skills that are too difficult for the learner to master on their own can be mastered effectively through interaction with a more knowledgeable person.

To create a sense of community in your classroom, whether online or offline, there are three key elements to consider:

  • The content needs to be relevant and engaging. It should provide opportunities for learners to connect and collaborate in task and assignments. The learning material should motivate participation in discussion groups, both during and after class, rewarding meaningful contributions.
  • Connection opportunities for learners. You should provide a space for learners to connect inside and outside the (virtual) classroom. Encourage participation in discussion forums linked to lectures, seminars, webinars, or other learning events. Organize mentoring programs pairing more experienced learners with younger participants so they share their experience and provide guidance.
  • Make space for collaboration. Make teamwork an integral part of the learning experience. Use group projects for assessing knowledge, skills, and learning outcomes. Group work challenges students to solve problems, share experiences, and knowledge to achieve a common goal.

3. Identify and support struggling students

Struggling students are more likely to disengage and drop out of courses. And during the current crisis, many students are struggling. Some are even encountering issues that go beyond the academic context. They might suffer from the loss of a close one to the pandemic, or battling mental health conditions. Many students suffer from attention deficit, hyperactive disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, and other forms of attention and learning disorders. Other students just suffer from anxiety, stress, and fear of judgment and evaluation.

Empathy in teaching has never been more important. Check-in on your students regularly. Reach out to them or send out alerts promptly when you see they are falling behind. Make yourself available during office hours to provide one-to-one tutoring or just having a quick checkup. Encourage students to reach out to you when they feel lost or when struggling with the learning material, technology, schedules, or other non-academic needs. Be more flexible over deadlines, provide different assessment alternatives, and give timely feedback.

4. Keep the conversation going

Remember that most of the learning happens outside the classroom. Make sure to keep the conversation going even after the lecture.

Backchannel discussions are a great way for learners to have an on-topic conversation during and after the lecture. It is an effective way to keep your students engaged during an online session and continue the conversation afterward.

Use forums, chats, Facebook groups, or live Q&A. This not only strengthens learners’ engagement but also encourages peer-learning. Reward students for participating in the discussions by both asking and answering questions.

5. Mix it up

To keep your students’ attention and enhance the learning experience, mix things up. The current situation is probably the best opportunity for us, educators, to change the way we approach student assessment of knowledge and learning outcomes.

There are plenty of fun and meaningful activities that promote active learning. Instead of sticking with traditional quizzes and slide presentations, be more flexible and provide a wider range of activities to develop and assess students’ knowledge and skills.

Ask students to take part in Socratic seminars, record and edit explanatory videos, write blog posts, or play simulations. Giving them a plethora of activities increases their chances of actually learning the subject and their commitment to the class.


Bottom Line

The key to success relies on proper planning, in advance preparation, and access to the right tools.

Whether synchronously or asynchronously, with proper planning we can replicate remotely almost all activities and experiences we would do in a physical classroom.

Effective online learning relies mainly on empathy. If we want to provide better online classes we should not forget about the human component.

“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” — Theodore Roosevelt


This post will tell you everything you need to know about from the best online tools and resources for engaging students online.15 Free Digital Tools to Boost Students’ Engagement Online
A review of digital tools and ideas for teachers to support formative assessment in online classrooms

Categories
Education Online Education

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.

Illustration by Icons 8

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.

Illustration by Icons 8

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.

Illustration by Icons 8

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.

Illustration by Icons 8

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.

Illustration by Icons 8

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.

Illustration by Icons 8

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