Categories
Education Online Education

4 Ways to Connect With Students in a Virtual Classroom

Remote doesn’t have to mean distant

In times of physical distancing, it’s hard to build connections. While online learning is probably the best option in today’s context, there’s nothing like face-to-face lectures to make connections.

Who doesn’t miss the classroom, the campus, those coffee breaks to mingle, the lunch hour to catch up with friends and colleagues? 

We all do. But despite how much we want to come back to our classrooms, the pandemic is still here and there’s no choice but to keep classes online. Now, does it mean we may better forget about connections? 

Well, not quite. I think it’s time we make peace with the challenges of remote learning and start looking at opportunities to make it work.

Learning is a social process. So relationships are crucial.

In this post, I’m going to talk about 5 different ways to connect with your students and how to encourage learning in a remote classroom.


1. Build a community 

Creating a sense of belonging and a safe, nurturing, supporting environment is crucial for learning. Learning is mainly a social and emotional activity.

It doesn’t take the latest technology or complex activities to build a positive learning community. And it doesn’t matter much whether your courses are online or in-person. Creating a sense of community is way easier than you think and is full of benefits for both learners and educators.

Remember that community is built over time, and mutual sharing and trust are essential.

Researchers identify 4 essential elements that create a sense of community:

  • Mutual interdependence among members: show students how their behavior and attitudes impact other members of the community. Show them how they can work as a group towards goals and how they can support each other. Rely frequently on peer-learning and group work to create interdependences and encourage a sense of belonging.
  • Connectedness & trust: students need to learn to trust you and each other. This is crucial for learning. Give your students space to mingle and get to know you and their classmates. Use storytelling techniques and make time for introductions, sharing fears, emotions, and expectations. 
  • Interactivity: give students opportunities to interact with you and with each other, both during lecture hours and beyond. Plan for group activities and learning games. You can also use back channels and forums to maintain the interaction even after class. This creates interdependency, trust, and helps fight the feeling of isolation.
  • Shared values and goals: give students the opportunity to set up their own shared goals, values, and agreements at the beginning of the course. These common goals are crucial to building trust and connections among students, and developing a sense of responsibility.

More on how to create a sense of community in your classroom here.


2. Use social media

Before the pandemic, I’d never thought at my 34 years I will enter the world of TikTok. I mean, Instagram was already new enough for me. Until my young sister convinced me. And I’ve to say that it’s an amazing way for connecting with your students.

My social accounts are mainly for teaching. So, I publish nothing too personal, but I share a part of myself in every post I make. From funny TikToks to short explainer posts, I use social media to connect with my students beyond the classroom’s ‘virtual’ walls. 

Social media channels are an effective way of creating connections with your students because it’s a place where they feel at ease. It’s a great tool to create less formal conversations with your students and to share your human side.

You can use Instagram to post beautiful visuals related to the lecture topics; Visuals are a great way to engage your students and are effective for learning and remembering concepts.

But the most interesting feature of both TikTok and Instagram is the 15 to 60 seconds videos to explain a concept, give real-life examples, or recap on a specific topic. Whether it is only you speaking or an animated slideshow to explain a topic, videos generate more engagement than pictures and are more valuable for teaching. Funny TikTok videos that explain a concept are probably more relatable to students than your slide deck. As a result, they get to laugh and learn at the same time. 

You can also hold live sessions on both TikTok and Instagram, which is an excellent alternative to office hours or Q&A sessions. You can just go live at a planned schedule and your students join to ask their questions. Unlike Zoom or Meet, there’s no need to send invites or give conference access codes. They just need their phone and internet connection to join. 

Other significant features of Instagram are the quiz and polls. While you cannot expect to do a final exam using these functionalities, you can use them to do in-class or out-class fun challenges. You can invite your students to answer your story quiz while they are supposed to be studying for the final term. This can help them study, but what is most, it improves their confidence so they freak out less for the exam.

Social media is a great tool to connect with people remotely. So, why couldn’t we use it for connecting with our students?


3. Keep the conversation going

Most of the learning happens outside the classroom. So remember to keep the conversation going even after lecture hours. 

And I’m not talking about sending emails to your students, but giving them an appropriate space to share their thoughts, doubts, questions, feedback or comments they may have after or before the lecture. 

You can use backchannels as an informal way for students to interact with the educator and their classmates as an online forum designed to complement classroom activity. But you can also create specific channels to discuss topics that are not directly related to your lecture, but that are crucial for students like mental health, stress, or specific struggles.

You can, for example, use slack or discord to communicate with your students during and beyond lecture hours. You can create discussion channels about different topics and invite students to share their thoughts. 

Sometimes it takes just a short encouraging message to let your students know you’re there for them to help them overcome the challenges of remote learning. Check up on your students regularly, and make space for discussion about their mental health, struggles, expectations, doubts, and aspirations. Remember that like you, they miss the connection, the touch, the warmth of socializing.


4. Use video recaps or introductions

Sometimes, remote learning is all about asynchronous activities and there’s brief space to get to know your students or for your students to get to know you. And even when lectures are held completely on Zoom or other videoconferencing platforms, there’s never enough time to make proper introductions and create connections.

It’s difficult to connect with your students, and that your students connect with you and each other when they’re all with their mics and cameras off. And while I truly hate talking to the black squares, I also know that some students are really struggling behind those squares, others are hiding, and many don’t have the proper equipment. Is not just a matter of disengagement.

Thus, an excellent way to create space for connection and for interaction is through video introductions and recap. Think of it as video discussions and threads, you post a short but engaging video in your preferred platform and ask your students to react and post their reactions in the thread.

There are plenty of platforms that can be used for this. I use Flipgrid, a free social learning app, to create and share short and exceptional videos. 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.

But you can also use your institution’s LMS, both Canvas, and Moodle support video assignments, and it works similarly to Flipgrid. 

I often start all my lectures by posting an introduction video where I introduce myself, the class topic, the primary goals, and the teaching approach I use. Then I ask students to respond with a video, introducing themselves, sharing their expectations about the course and one or two things they would like to address in class. 

Doing this before starting my zoom lectures is really beneficial because I get to know my students and they get to know me and get a hint about what they’re about to learn. 

Now, this video activity can be held all throughout the semester. You can transform traditional written assignments into oral video discussions. This reduces the feeling of teaching to complete strangers and being alone in the journey. 


To sum up

Connecting with your students remotely is not a simple task, and it’ll probably never replace the physical connection. But, with some creativity and minor adjustments to your mindset and teaching approaches, you can make your lectures more welcoming and favorable for bonding. 

Remember that learning is a social process, connection and trust are essential.

As an educator, our job is not only to pass on knowledge and give access to learning resources but also to ensure that the environment is safe and auspicious for learning to happen. 

Remote doesn’t have to mean distant. Virtual doesn’t have to mean computerized. Let’s not forget about the human component of learning. No matter the channel we teach through, we are teaching humans, and humans need connections.

Categories
Education Online Education

3 Simple Strategies for Promoting Equity in a Remote Classroom

How to address the digital and social divide remotely

We all know that teaching remotely is hard. But what about learning remotely? How are students coping? Are they learning? 

I always start my lectures with a simple question: “How are you coping?” During the first weeks of lockdown, I received mostly a “meh”. I guess the situation was so unique that students were almost amused to have their classes moved online and their exams canceled. What a relief. But then, after the first week went by, the ambiance changed. Stress and anxiety took over. Isolation started to look serious. And well, some students just disappeared. 

This fall, things didn’t get any better. Going back to normal is not on our agendas anymore. 

As an educator, how do you meet the diverse needs of each student? How do you promote equity in an online classroom? How can you ensure each student has the same opportunities to learn and thrive? How do you address the digital and social divide remotely?

In this post, I will go through three strategies to promote equity in a virtual, remote classroom.


#1. Start with Empathy

Everything starts with empathy. Empathy is the ability to sense other people’s emotions and the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.

Like us, students are going through uncertain times. Many are struggling, and learning is not on their top priorities. Others are trying to stay focus and on track, but distractions keep coming their way. 

This pandemic hasn’t been easy on them. Graduations were canceled. Transitions from one school to another were dismissed. Goodbyes were moved to phone calls. Nothing was smooth, and we have no idea when and how things will move forward. 

When I ask my students how they are coping and how they feel about remote learning, most of them express anxiety. Many feel lost. “It’s hard to concentrate”, “my connection is terrible”, “I have a hard time with the software” are some feedback I frequently get from students. 

Before we can address any learning, we need to care. We need to show our students we are here for them. We need to remember that not every student has the access to technology, or to a quiet study room, or to the needed materials. Some of them have to take care of their siblings while their parents work. Others have to work to pay their rent, meals, and education. Some of them might be going through traumatic or post-traumatic situations, they might have lost someone to Covid-19, their parents might have lost their jobs. 

The last thing these students need is more homework, more applications to manage, more strict deadlines. They need empathy. 

We, as teachers, need to imagine the entire story. Before we frame a student for laziness, we should reach out and try to understand and support them every time we can. 

Having an empathetic approach is not only essential to learning and promoting equity in a classroom, but it also encourages students to develop empathy for others. Empathy increases the sense of community and fosters relationships based on trust and tolerance within and outside the classroom.  


#2. Provide Different Opportunities to Learn

Remote learning can be exhausting and annoying. I know, from experience, that having 3 straight hours of a virtual lecture is painful. I, for example, cannot bear more than 20 minutes of a webinar without doing something else in parallel. Why should I expect more from my students? 

Remote learning shouldn’t mean 100% screen learning. There are plenty of opportunities to learn (and to teach) remotely that don’t involve screens. Also, there are a plethora of activities that can be carried asynchronously.

If we want to promote equity in our classroom, we need to provide students with different opportunities to learn. This means that when we plan for activities and assessments we have to think about learning styles, access to technology, and technical skills.

Some students learn better through visuals. Others learn by practicing. Some rely on memory to absorb knowledge. As educators, we need to think of alternative learning approaches to ensure every student grasps as much knowledge and skills as possible. 

Instead of asking students to hand in an essay on a topic, suggest different ways for achieving the learning outcome. I usually give students the possibility to choose the format of their work. They can choose between writing, making mind-maps, recording videos, or recording podcast series. 

You can imagine also having multiple activities, both synchronous and asynchronous, to convey the same idea. You could, for example, host an online quiz on a topic and also ask students to reflect on the topic by recording a video or writing a blog post. Use different content and vary the assessment methods. The possibilities are vast. The more occasions for learning your students have, the more likely they’ll actually learn. 


#3. Ensure Technology Access and Knowledge

Not every student has the same access to technology. Not every student has the same technical skills to manage those technologies. 

Is not because they are digital natives that they can quickly adopt new software or applications and be at ease. 

Some students don’t even have a laptop or a stable internet connection at home. Many rely on one computer for the entire household. Others are constrained to follow their classes on their phones. In these circumstances, how can you ensure technology access for each student?

While there are some institutions and governments equipping low-income students with laptops, there are still many that don’t have access to any financial aid. And even when the equipment is provided, many students don’t have the technical skills demanded by the different software and applications used in the virtual classroom.

I truly believe in the potential of technology for education, but I also know that it can cause more isolation and disparity in the classroom if not addressed properly. 

When choosing the technology and virtual tools for your classroom, make sure you check this list:

  • It is available at no cost for students, or the institution can pay for students’ licenses. 
  • It is compatible with all operating systems and devices.
  • It integrates easily with other applications and technologies used by students and the institution, like the LMS from your school, the video conferencing tool you use, etc. 
  • There is an installation and getting started users’ guide. Otherwise, create a short and simple one for your classroom. 
  • Students have access to video tutorials and technical forums.
  • It runs with slow internet speed or no internet connection.

Once you check these, make sure the technology you choose increases the student learning experience and skill development. Ask yourself how these technologies help you and your students achieve their learning goals? What is the added value for you and for them? 

I also recommend devoting at least one session at the beginning of the semester to help learners familiarize themselves with the applications. If you are afraid it takes too much of your class time, you can prepare some getting-to-know-the-tool activities to complete in asynchronous before class. 

I, for example, give students access to the tools one or two weeks in advance. I usually send them preparatory activities just to get used to the applications. So when we use it in class, they don’t discover something completely new. While not every student will do the assignment in advance, those who did can help others, this facilitates the initiation with the tools.


Final Thoughts

Effective remote learning and equity in the classroom rely on empathy. The more we put ourselves in students’ shoes, the more we can imagine better opportunities for learning. 

It is important that, as educators, we promote a fair and welcoming remote learning environment for our students. We need to think about accessibility, empowerment, engagement, and students’ special needs. 

Learning remotely is challenging, but there are avenues to make it better. It takes only a few simple tweaks of mindset but a lot of care. We need to make it better and accessible to all our students. 

For sure we won’t be able to control everything, especially the injustices that subsist outside the classroom, but we can provide scaffolds and support systems that help students learn and thrive.


If you, like me, are interested in making your online classes more engaging, then I’d love to hear what are your strategies and tools you are using in your classroom. Drop your comments with ideas or questions here below.

Ready to shift to Online Education? Subscribe to my newsletter and receive monthly tips and tricks on how to make your online classes more engaging.

Categories
Education Online Education

Top 5 Free Tools to Make Your Online Classes More Interactive

Keep your students engaged and learning

We all know remote teaching is challenging. While we know online classes are the best option in the current context, there is no secret about how difficult it can be to ensure students’ learning and active involvement.

Let’s be honest, Zoom classes and traditional slides are not enough. Students are not participating, and unfortunately, they are not learning. This is not completely their fault. It’s not because they don’t care, but because they struggle. They struggle to stay focus; they struggle to connect with others; they struggle to become active learners.

And it’s not our fault either, we are all doing our best. We are trying to adapt to extreme circumstances, without proper training, support, or even enough time to change the curriculum. 

The good news is that there are plenty of tools and online resources out there to help us make our classes more engaging and interactive. 

To save you time and help you choose the right tools for your classes, I have selected 5 of my favorite tools for online education. In this post, I’ll give you a hint to some of the best-in-market, low-budget, and user-friendly applications for improving the online learning experience and some ideas on how to use them.

Let’s start.


1. Explain Everything

Explain Everything is my favorite interactive whiteboard platform. And quite frankly is much more than a collaborative whiteboard. With Explain Everything, you can create video beats about your lecture topics and share it with students to check for understanding. You can either record your slideshow while you speak, or draw and write on the whiteboard and record everything you said and add to it. 

Another pretty interesting functionality is the collaborative whiteboard. You can create groups and invite your students to collaborate on projects. Students can work on cloud projects simultaneously or at their own pace, and you have an eye on their work in real-time. This is great both for synchronous and asynchronous group work. What I love about this is that participants that join the whiteboard at the same time can hear one another thanks to their audio chat.

Finally, you can also livecast your whiteboard and keep your online classes engaging. Either by using a videoconferencing system (Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, etc) or just by sharing the whiteboard link, participants can see in real-time what’s happening. This is a great option for big sized synchronous classes. 

Explain Everything is free up to three simultaneous projects, but for only 3 dollars per month, you get access to unlimited projects, slides, and recordings. 


2. Mural

Mural is also one of my favorite apps for interactive online learning and visual collaboration. Mural is essentially a remote design thinking platform, but its potential for education is outstanding.

As an educator, you can invite up to 100 members or guests to your workspace and collaborate with students and other faculty in real-time. You can have dedicated rooms for each class or group of students to encourage teamwork and project-based learning. Inside each room you can create several murals that can be set to private or public, depending on how you want to share it. 

Screenshot from the Author

Mural works as a big whiteboard that you can organize in different small areas to outline your lecture session. From course kick-offs, warm-ups and energizers, brainstorming, traditional slide-decks, the possibilities with Mural are infinite. 

The functionalities I love the most are their chronometer, the celebrate button, and the facilitator superpowers. With the chronometer you can set up timing for each activity in the Mural and thus plan with more precision each of your lectures, ensuring also time for breaks. The celebrate button is just a lovely confetti party that you can throw every time the class completes an activity. Everyone will get the confetti party on their screen. This is great for rewarding effort and progress. Finally, you can assign Facilitator superpowers to your students so they take the leader role on their team. Facilitator superpowers include the possibility of timing activities, start voting sessions, and celebrate task completion. Giving facilitator superpowers to students is an original way to engage your students and make them accountable for their learning.

Mural is free for educators and students. You just need to create an account with your institutional address and provide proof of your status. For an education plan you can apply here. 


3. Playfactile

PlayFactile is a 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 PlayFactile you can either host live jeopardy games, regular multiple choice quizzes, memory games, and create study flashcards to improve students’ learning proficiency. 

Screenshot from Author.

These jeopardy games can be a great option to complement the traditional slide lectures, as you can divide the board into different topics and use it as a kick-off or wrap up activity. Students can then review their learning while playing, and you can instantly complement concepts when doubts arise. 

Students can play individually or in teams and they can choose beautiful avatars and nicknames. You can control whether they use their names or a default nickname. 

With the free version, you can create up to 5 teams for each game and you can host up to 3 games. With the education version, only 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, memory and choice games, and share flashcards.


4. Edpuzzle

I recently came upon Edpuzzle and I’m convinced of its potential for enhancing online learning. Edpuzzle is a video platform where you can create and edit videos from the web and use them in your classroom. Take any video from YouTube, Khan Academy, Learn Zillion, or your own and build your lessons around them. 

Video and visuals are more effective for learning than traditional slides, but most of us, teachers and professors, don’t have time to create sketch videos for every lesson. Here’s where Edpuzzle stands out. You can just turn existing videos from any platform and tailored them for learning. 

You can use any video and transform it into engaging video lectures thanks to the embedded questions and voice-over features. You can just insert open-ended and multiple-choice questions all along the video to check for understanding. No need to reinvent the wheel.

Screenshot by the Author.

Edpuzzle takes videos to another level, converting them into video lessons. If you want to make sure your students watch and actually learn from the video, then Edpuzzle is just the right tool. 

What I love about this app is that you can integrate it with Explain Everything to upload your whiteboard videos and convert them into quizzes. Edpuzzle is free.


5. Sli.do

Sli.do is a great tool for promoting active learning in online classes. It helps you involve your students in the lectures. The possibilities are endless. With Sli.do you can empower your students to ask questions, vote in polls, and be a part of the lecture by using a simple Q&A and polling tool.

  • With polls, you can learn if your lecture’s content resonates with your students. You can also use them to drive meaningful discussions in your class.
  • Use quizzes to find out how much your students remember from your lectures. Use them to recap the content from the last topic. Or motivate your students to pay attention during your lecture by hosting a live quiz.
  • Use the Q&A feature to collect students’ questions and feedback throughout your lecture and address them as they come or in a dedicated Q&A session at the end of your class. You and your students can upvote and provide answers in real-time, making peer-learning possible.

Another awesome feature is the switcher app. With Slido Switcher, you can display polls or questions on top of your presentation using your smartphone as a remote control. Whether you use PowerPoint or Keynote, with the Switcher app you can change seamlessly between your presentation and the Slido event.

Sli.do offers an education package starting at $5 per month. But you can also use the free version for up to 100 participants and one event at a time.


If you, like me, are interested in making your online classes more engaging, then I’d love to hear what are your strategies and tools you are using in your classroom. Drop your comments with ideas or questions here below.

Ready to shift to Online Education? Subscribe to my newsletter and receive monthly tips and tricks on how to make your online classes more engaging.

Categories
Education Online Education

10 Alternative Ideas for Assessing Students’ Knowledge and Skills Online

Redefining Student’s Learning Assessment for Online Teaching


We are changing approaches, shifting from traditional master class to hybrid, blended, and reverse learning. So why are we taking so much time in changing also the way we assess students?

Why do we still think multiple-choice exams, exercise calculations, or case studies are the best and only way to assess learning and knowledge? Who are we kidding?

The pandemic situation and the abrupt shift of schools and universities to remote teaching are finally opening our eyes: the way we assess students’ knowledge and skills need to change.

I’ve seen many high-ranked schools investing in very expensive software for remote testing and proctoring. These are technologies guaranteeing students don’t cheat during a remote exam sitting session. The software locks down the student device to ensure they open no other windows and provides video and audio monitoring throughout the entire exam.

Hello GDPR and goodbye student privacy!

I’ve seen also professors asking the students to do a 360° tour of their rooms before sitting the exam to ensure there is no whistleblower.

Is this what we want to do now? Are we changing our roles into prison guards?

Traditional assessment methods are far from being a fair indicator of intelligence, knowledge, skills, or effort. And they don’t reflect whatsoever the abilities and preparedness for work life.

Poor performance in an exam has nothing to do with incompetence or lack of knowledge. 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. Others have just bad luck.

The current situation is probably the best opportunity for us, educators, to change the way we approach student assessment of knowledge and learning outcomes.

We need to think about more appropriate assessment methods that encourage reflection, learning, and skills development.

Below, I discuss different effective methods for assessing students’ learning outcomes both online and offline.


1. Discussions and Socratic seminars

Online discussions and Socratic seminars are excellent ways to assess students’ understanding, reflection, and application of concepts. Asking specific, open-ended questions (or topics) can lead to mindful discussions and to the creation of knowledge. Students can share and respond to each other’s ideas with text, images, and videos. These can unfold asynchronously (over time) through open public forums like Quora or Reddit — functionalities also available in Moodle and Canvas. Alternatively, the discussion can happen synchronously by using videoconferencing tools like Zoom and other knowledge management and communication systems like Slack. Here, it’s important to clarify from the beginning your expectations on student’s participation and how their participation will translate into grades.


2. Explanatory student’s videos

Students can be really creative when it comes to recording and editing videos. You can capitalize on those skills and ask them to create short explanatory videos to present a concept learned in class. They can use animations, interviews, hand drawing, or slide decks to create their videos. Then they can share it into the course platform (like Canvas or Moodle) so that their classmates can access it and give their feedback. You can also use social media video sharing apps like Flipgrid, Instagram, or Tiktok. The choice should depend on how you want to manage Data and how comfortable you (and your students) feel with using social media. Flipgrid in this case can be the best compromise as it’s closed only for your class and you have more control over data protection and safety.


3. Self-assessment and retrospective learning

Self-assessment is a great opportunity for students to share their thoughts on the course, the process of learning, their performance, and many more. No one is better placed to know how much effort they put in learning and how much they’ve learned that students themselves. Self-assessment is not only a mean to know how good a student performs in a class, but is an opportunity for the student to learn to judge objectively his/her skills and knowledge. But self-assessment is not always easy. It’s crucial to clarify to the student the importance of honesty, transparency, and the concept of impostor syndrome when using self-assessment. Instructors can provide a sample assessment grid and questions to facilitate the activity.

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 find 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. But this can also be done asynchronously. Students can use original formats to share their retrospective lessons. Blog entries, 1-minute videos, mind maps, picture collage. Apps such Flipgrid, Wakalet, Instagram, or Pinterest work great for this kind of activity.


4. Simulations and Labs

Students can engage with real-world data or use simulations of laboratory environments. These are useful for practicing skills of the discipline and for engaging in real-world problems. While most simulation games are pricy, you can also find top quality free simulation games on the web. You can also create your own games and simulations easily, even when you don’t know how to code. Nick Case has built different simulations and game designer tools for people with no coding skills, check them out here. You can also use scratch to code games easily.


5. Group Projects

Online collaborations allow students to develop team spirit and team management skills. Working in teams is not only good for students, but it’s also good for educators, as assessment and tutoring can be easier. You can divide your class into several teams of up to 4 students so that each team works on a specific project. There are different alternatives for group projects. You can assign different topics to each group or the same problem to all the teams. Each team approaches differently the topic even when the major topic is shared by the entire class. Canva or Moodle allows you to create group assignments and divide the class into teams. Zoom, BigBlueButton, Glowbl, and Meet also allow you separate teams in different rooms, so when having online video conferencing you can provide personalized tutoring to each group. You can also use visual collaboration software like Mural or Miro for virtual teamwork.


6. Peer Review

Feedback from peers can motivate students to learn from each other. It is also probably one of the most effective approaches to learning. Evaluating peer work helps students to better grab concepts and knowledge. They not only understand better the topics, but they also develop critical and analytical thinking. Correcting the work of others requires students to understand the what, the why, and the how. It’s important to guide students to give each other valuable feedback using rubrics or other prompts. Be sure you provide a sample evaluation grid and examples on how to provide constructive feedback. Provide a list of guiding questions for them to ask each other and so they can evaluate objectively their classmates. To ensure the quality of peer review, you can also include a grade to the peer review activity. You can ask students to evaluate the quality and usefulness of the feedback and they received from their peers.


7. Blogs

Journaling is a great way to reflect on learning and documenting the process. Blogs can allow students to communicate their ideas in a more creative and informal format. There are several platforms that can be used for free by students and professors to create specific class blogs. You can use Medium and create a publication — a collection of stories — for each classroom. Students will then submit their pieces to the publication and you will review them. They are learning not only to write better but also to create content for the online community. They can learn how to apply SEO techniques and digital marketing. But mostly they can develop self-awareness and reflective thinking. There are other platforms that work for blogging like Wakalet, Blogger, or WordPress. Chose the one you prefer.

8.Creative Projects

Creativity is one of the most wanted skills by recruiters. Unfortunately, we give little space to boost student creativity. Using creative projects as a means of assessment is an opportunity to improve this skill in students and improve their learning. Creative projects can include original formats: Music, photography, writing, drawing, painting, etc. The idea is to let student’s imagination fly and use their artistic side to show their learning. Using this kind of format not only improves students’ creativity but also their ability to understand and digest the concepts and knowledge gained during the course. It also improves problem-solving skills and encourages students to think about a problem from original angles. Also, It’s a useful method to solve wicked problems. It’s important to define the criteria of assessment and how it translates into grades. For example, originality might be an important aspect of the grade, but also the ability to pass on knowledge to their classmates — that is, clarity of their presentation — is essential.


9. Open innovation challenges

Professors can use crowdsourcing or open innovation platforms to encourage students to work on real-life problems. Platforms like Agorize connects organizations with students to solve strategic problems and find innovative solutions. Students are confronted with real business (or social) problems and have to apply all their knowledge to come up with a suitable solution. Open innovation platforms are a great opportunity for students to team up with students all around the globe and collaborate virtually while applying their expertise to respond to the challenge. Open innovation promotes critical thinking, the ability to overcome concrete problems, creativity, teamwork, and innovative behavior. Also, students are more likely to show motivation and commitment to their learning process, as they apply their skills in real-life situations and get immediate feedback from the organizations and the crowd.


10. Games & Interactive Competitions

Hosting interactive quizzes during your online sessions are a great way to evaluate student knowledge and engagement. 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. 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. You can also use Flipgrid, Flippitynet, Quizlet, and Socratic to create games.

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

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.

Watch my 1-min video on how to improve students engagement online

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