IIT Mandi assistant professor shares four ways to keep students engaged during virtual modes of learning
Natural disasters and pandemics not only cause widespread destruction but also make their impact felt at breath-taking speed. Teachers and students at all rungs of the education system witnessed this first hand from March 2020, when online teaching and learning were implemented at record speed.
For teachers used to seeing instant reactions on their students’ faces, it was a new and not very welcome experience to lecture to an audience that was largely invisible. Similarly, for students, not only did it require immense self-motivation to show up for classes, but once in an online class, they had to struggle with the task of focusing on the disembodied voice of the teacher.
One way of making the teaching-learning experience more valuable for both teachers and students is to make classes more interactive. Based on my experience of teaching interactive classes during the last year, here are four strategies that I have found to be highly effective.
Calling upon specific students to speak
Very often, a general “would anyone like to answer that?” question is answered only by ghostly silence in the online classroom. Everyone waits for others to speak first. Calling upon random students by name has the advantage of giving a chance to even shy students to speak up. This also keeps all students alert, as they know that they could be called upon to speak. The important thing is that students do not feel that this is a chance to “catch them out”, but rather a chance for everyone in class to speak up, turn by turn.
Beginning class with questions and student-led discussion
Human beings are curious creatures and we seem to better absorb new information if we are told how that information is going to benefit us (the “so what” question) and if what we do not know is somehow linked to what we already know. Beginning the class with a question and allowing students to attempt to answer it is a good way of whetting their appetite for more and also for getting them actively involved right from the first minute of the online class.
Alternating lecture phases with a discussion or quiz
Many successful teachers of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), who have been conducting online classes before the model became universal, understand that student attention span is limited. Hence, they only record relatively short lecture modules of 15-20 minutes, interspersed with quizzes and other activities. Even in a live online class, this strategy can be implemented if the teacher remembers to pause after teaching a concept, and then either asks some questions to test concept absorption, or opens up the class for a discussion on the concept taught.
Making use of smaller ‘rooms’ on online teaching platforms
Some online teaching platforms have the option of creating smaller ‘rooms’ with a pre-set number of students in each. Since peer learning has been shown to be an effective method of teaching and learning, this can be replicated in the online mode by periodically getting students to have short duration tutorials with each other in these ‘rooms’.
The teacher can check in on the groups by turn. Students also miss direct interaction with their peers and this replicates the kind of interaction that students are used to having with each other in or after offline classes.
Online teaching may or may not be here to stay, but the process of making the teaching-learning process interactive and, therefore, more enjoyable for both teachers and students is something that should be high-priority, whether the classes are online or offline.
The author is an assistant professor at IIT Mandi’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences
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