How to Optimize Student Engagement in Virtual Learning Environments
Updated: May 14, 2020
Translating in-person teaching strategies to virtual learning environments is often easier said than done. However, by implementing specific measures, tools, and techniques, instructors can create remote classrooms that foster student success.
The Challenges (and Benefits) of Virtual Learning Environments
Virtual learning environments provide flexibility, adaptability, and accessibility, making them ideal for people with hectic extracurricular schedules, busy careers, or unpredictable life circumstances.
In physical classrooms, capturing students’ attention and keeping them engaged can be a challenge on its own. In virtual learning environments, the idea of keeping students interested, engaged, and involved seems even more far-fetched.
A side-effect of virtual classrooms is the lack of face-to-face interaction between students and instructors. This may leave instructors wondering if their students feel supported, if their online curriculum is best serving the learning objectives, and whether students are truly engaged or not.
Fortunately, there are actions instructors can take to facilitate a successful (and accessible) virtual learning experience for all students. In general, the elements of a well-functioning remote classroom are to keep the lines of communication open between instructors and students, to provide a platform for feedback, and to keep students consistently engaged.The trick to keeping students engaged? Utilize diverse formats for learning materials and present them in interactive and accessible ways.
Diversify Learning Materials
Providing diverse learning materials to your students is one way to keep them engaged with online coursework. Things like live video lectures, video and audio media, and online tools allow students to interact in virtual learning environments in multiple ways.
Be sure that all digital course materials are accessible for all students.
Though there is no in-person interaction in virtual learning environments, live lectures may be the next best thing. Conducting lectures live allows students to see the instructor and ask questions in real-time.
There are many platforms online that make live lectures possible. For instance, Zoom is an excellent facilitator of student interaction since it allows students to “raise their hands” and ask questions in the Q&A panel.
When conducting live lectures, instructors should be sure to set up live captions to ensure it is accessible to students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Captions also provide additional benefits, like keeping students more focused on the lesson.
In virtual learning environments, an abundance of text-only learning materials can become repetitive and dry. While text resources are valuable, don’t be afraid to switch up the type of materials assigned to students.
Videos and audio are two types of media content that can break up the often mundane nature of remote classwork. Plus, utilizing various media caters to more learning styles, like visual and auditory learners.
In place of live lectures, instructors can record classroom presentations, demonstrations, and lab simulations. Educational videos are abundant on YouTube and throughout the web and can typically be used (with permission) for educational purposes if the instructor does not own the content.
To reiterate, ensure that all video materials are accurately captioned and that all audio materials include transcripts. If you don’t own the video, don’t worry. While there is always some risk involved in sharing or captioning video materials you don’t own; the North American copyright law allows classroom instructors to copy and share limited, relevant, third-party material in classroom environments.
Online Learning Tools
In virtual learning environments, it may be more challenging to assess student progress and to gauge their understanding of course materials. This is where online quiz software comes in handy.
Quizlet is an accessible online learning community for students and teachers. It offers interactive study materials, learning activities, and games, all of which make remote learning more engaging. For assessment purposes, the Class Progress function helps track students’ progress and gives instructors insight into areas of strength and those that need more focus.
Instructors should also consider using accessible presentation tools. An accessible presentation must include captions (live captions for live presentations), alt text and audio description for images, and text with accessible color contrast, fonts, and formatting. Google Slides is free for students to use and provides features such as a live captioning tool to help make online presentations more accessible.
To learn more about how to make your online presentations more accessible to students in virtual learning environments, watch the webinar below.
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