Are your students highly engaged in class, motivated, and performing to the best of their ability? In a perfect classroom environment, all students would participate in the course, be interested in the subjects, and perform to the best of their abilities. That is what every educator expects when he begins to teach a class.
The reality for most classes is that while some students may be highly engaged and motivated, other students will base their participation on what is experienced in the classroom and whether or not their expectations are met. While addressing student engagement can be challenging for traditional classroom educators, it can be even more difficult for online educators who are unable to see their students or meet with them for a scheduled class time.
At the start of a new online class, educators often find that students are engaging with the class with mixed feelings of excitement, apprehension, and uncertainty. From a student’s perspective, staying motivated and engaged in class requires considerable effort. While many students are naturally self-directed and have the ability to stay engaged, there are often others who lack self-motivation and begin to disengage over time. As many educators realize, when a student disconnects from class, it’s often too late to get them back on track.
One challenge for instructors is that facilitating classes online can take a significant amount of time. With a busy schedule, it’s natural to focus on contractual obligations and classroom management, not noticing a student slowly disengaging from class until they’re absent entirely or withdrawn. So it becomes important to take a proactive approach with online students and establish an instructional approach to help them stay focused and engaged in class.
Definition of the concept of student engagement
When educators define the nature of student engagement, they often do so from a tangible perspective (what you see) and this can be a subjective assessment. For example, if a student posts engagement messages online almost every day of the week, she might say that he is highly engaged. The question is how active a student must be to meet these criteria. If they post for five days, do you have the same level of engagement as a student who posts for six days? As a general guideline, you can assess how involved students seem to be in your class. This includes their participation in discussions, asking questions, turning in assignments on time, and how responsive they are to other students and their instructor. If a student is to be considered highly engaged in class, an instructor should watch for several visual cues.
Why is student engagement important?
Engagement is important because it indicates that students are engaged in class. When students are fully engaged, a distance education class begins to feel like a community. If students aren’t actively engaged in your class, especially an online class, they can easily disengage, lose interest, and eventually drop out. If the instructor doesn’t intervene, these students can drop out of the course and a continued pattern like this can also lead to disconnection from their degree program. Visual cues are important because they are indicators of how engaged students are in the learning process. These cues include qualities like your level of effort, along with your responsiveness to feedback, communication, and training.
Find out how to measure student engagement
When interpreting visual cues, it is often done subjectively, looking at more than just the student’s tangible work product or written assignments. The purpose of measuring class engagement is to increase an educator’s awareness of students and track their engagement. It’s easy to get so busy handling class operations and discussions that students who aren’t present end up being overlooked when they aren’t actively present. For those instructors who care about the details, they can create a spreadsheet and track their students’ progress. Some learning management systems provide analytics that allow an instructor to check the progress of students in the course. The purpose of doing this is to pay attention to your students and how they are progressing.
To help educators with the process of engaging students in class, I have developed a model called COMMIT.
meExamine classroom conditions as they may encourage or discourage active participation. For example, do you run ads that include a preview or summary of the week’s topics or concepts? Do you provide additional resources? Do you provide multiple contact methods so students can easily reach you? All of these strategies can help create conditions conducive to learning.
NONotice student participation and pay attention to their activities. If you wait until you provide feedback to determine who is active and who is not, it may be too late to intervene. If there are features built into your learning management system that allow you to track students and their access to the course, this can help you identify students who are disengaging. You can also check who completed learning activities by the due date and develop a list of students who are behind.
GRAMmeasure the expected level of activity for an average student to establish a standard. As an instructor, you develop a feel for the online class over time. You have a general idea of how much activity in the online class is indicative of an actively engaged student. Take that knowledge to help you develop a basic model and checklist that you can use, either in your head or in writing, to help monitor your students’ progress.
HASAssess students and look for visual cues as you monitor their progress. As you monitor your students’ progress and consider how active they are based on your engagement expectations, also consider how well they are performing. For example, a student may communicate with the class from time to time by posting a short discussion response and still not be involved in any substantial way. A student who seems to be surviving is someone who requires her time and attention.
GRAMGet students’ attention through some form of communication, such as an email or phone call, if it appears that they are not present or are disengaging from class. With an online class, it’s important that you proactively communicate with your students whenever you notice they’re struggling, not performing well, or not posting substantial contributions to class discussions.
If you have developed a positive working relationship with your students, they are likely to respond when you contact them via email. If you haven’t been able to make that connection, a phone call might be a helpful approach to communicate and establish your willingness to help them. One of the main challenges in making phone calls is finding a time when both the instructor and their students are available, especially if they are in different time zones.
meParticipate in class as students will follow your example. As a faculty director, I have observed many online classes with students who were not actively engaged and it was a reflection of the level of engagement of their instructors. Students often develop the perception that their instructor doesn’t seem to care about the class if she doesn’t seem to be actively present. However, even if an instructor is highly visible and engaged, she does not guarantee that students will also respond with the same level of engagement. What an active presence does is encourage them to participate and get involved.
Always participate in your class
For instructors, staying highly engaged in an online class requires proactive effort and participation. Struggling students can be caught before they log off; however, it can be challenging because keeping track of students takes time. If you are allocating only enough time to complete required facilitation tasks, it may not be appropriate to take the time to contact students and conduct outreach.
One of the first steps you can take is to develop a standard of engagement acceptable to the average student. By developing this standard, you can see patterns and communicate with your students as needed. In general, it is necessary to establish a plan for the awareness of your students if you want to keep them engaged. Student participation in an online class is related to their engagement in the learning process, their retention in a degree program, and is a contributing factor to their overall success.
As an instructor, you have a direct impact on the performance of your students. Take the initiative, show them how to engage a lot, and show them that you care when they’re starting to disengage. It may take more of your time, but teaching and nurturing your students’ development will take time and effort on your part. While you may not see the immediate result of your efforts, if a student remains engaged in the course, It will have had a direct impact on your lifelong learning experience and this is likely why you became an educator in the first place: to make a positive contribution to the academic growth and development of your students.