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Last Updated on February 11, 2021

With the rise of teaching online, finding ways of engaging online students and working out how to motivate them, in online classrooms, can be a challenge.

It is much easier online for students to get distracted and to lose focus as they stare at a screen for long periods of time.

So let’s look at 7 tips to make online teaching easier for you and more enjoyable for your students.

How to keep online students engaged

1. Understanding Concentration Time When Teaching Online

One of the things you will realize very quickly, when teaching online, is that the students’ concentration levels are lower.

Staying focused is that much harder for students compared to offline teaching.

I find that you will need to engage directly with the students every two to three minutes.

So, if you are presenting and just talking, think about the concentration levels of your students. After a few minutes, you should ask them a question or do something that keeps them actively engaged.

Offline, when you are in the same physical space as the students, it is harder for the students to avoid your gaze and they tend to focus more easily.

15-minute segments can work really well in online teaching. So, for example:

  • 15 minutes of you teaching
  • then 15 minutes for an activity to take place
  • then perhaps a 15-minutes class discussion
  • and a 15-minute break

This is just an example but the point is that you can be creative in breaking up and structuring the lesson/s.

2. Practice with Friends and Get Used to Online Teaching

Learn teaching online by practising with friends

I have lost count of the number of times that I hear of other teachers thinking that they know to use their computer equipment and then starting to teach online and struggling to use the hardware and software.

The online class starts and the teacher is still fumbling around with the equipment 10 minutes later as students wait. Don’t be that teacher online!

Whether you choose a platform such as Zoom, Skype or MS Teams, ask a couple of friends or fellow teachers if you can practice first with them.

Try and get used to and familiar with how to set up break-out rooms for example. These, by the way, are rooms where you can separate students into their own small groups for when you need them to do activities during the class online.

There is nothing worse than being an online student and to realise that the teacher has not properly prepared!

3. Using Activities with Online Teaching

Engaging students online

I have briefly mentioned breakout rooms above and these can really help with running online activities to make the teaching you do more interesting to your online students.

The common thought from many teachers, when they teach online, is that running team building activities or ice-breakers online as virtual activities might be impossible.

Breakout rooms though make this possible and really quite easy once you get used to it.

So make good use of activities such as icebreakers and team-building games when teaching online, much like you would in a normal classroom.

These activities and training games are perhaps even more important when teaching online because of this difficultly in engaging online students and learners and in keeping their attention online.

4. Use Video in the Lessons

When teaching online, it is far better if you can ensure that you and your participants can all see each other!

For this, the likes of MS Teams and Zoom are just two examples of good platforms you might wish to use.

I have myself been a student in a class online where we could only see the teacher. It was not possible to see any of the other students. Hence, it was a case mostly of just looking at the teacher on the screen and it does get tedious.

This type of lesson happens far more often than it should although certainly, in some cases, I know it occurs because of security issues, i.e. training for security individuals.

Consider using an online teaching platform which allows everyone involved to be seen on video in online classes.

Note: Do make sure also to pay attention to the settings for the online classroom.

Only, for example, let the students join the class once the teacher (you) have entered the digital classroom.

Likewise, I recommend setting screen sharing such that only you as the teacher have control over what is shared. This provides better classroom management.

5. Share Materials and Handouts Before the Online Lessons

Spending time sharing and sending documents during an online lesson will distract students online.

You can easily maintain a more effective online class buy ensuring that you share all the class handouts and materials the students will need, before the lesson.

Use email or a shared space online to share the document before-hand and do this a day before, if you can.

Allow time for students to check their emails and to prepare themselves also, for the lesson online.

6.Do Not Overtalk and Forget to Give Online Students Time to Think

A common mistake with new teachers, both online and offline, is the feeling that there should not be any silences in the lesson.

This issue occurs much more in online teaching.

Online, with so many faces visible, it is incredibly easy as an online teacher to feel the need to fill those pauses and to overtalk.

We cannot fill a pause with walking to the other side of the classroom, for example, in online teaching.

Just like offline though, online students need time to think and to take in what is being taught.

Let me give you an example. If you ask a question as an online teacher, do not worry if there is a pause whilst your students ponder and consider their answer.

Learn to be comfortable with moments of silence as on online teacher, just as you would offline.

7. Use Feedback to Improve How You Teach Online

In terms of pedagogy, i.e. methods and techniques for teaching, online teaching is relatively new when compared against traditional classroom teaching.

For this reason, do not be afraid to ask and take on board feedback from your students to improve. We are all learning how best to teach online!

As with classroom teaching, becoming a better teacher is a lifetime process and you can evolve as a teacher as you teach online.

The feedback though can be especially useful in online learning and sometimes only small changes in the way you teach online can provide a big impact.

It is your students who might suggest what needs changing.

When I first taught online, for example, it was a student who first suggested ‘Poll Everywhere‘ to me, when I started manually doing polls in online classes. I also learned about GoConqr for mindmaps for online teaching, in the same manner.

Your students might be more familiar with certain software or hardware and why not take on board and benefit from the knowledge that they might have?

As teachers, we are not always technical wizards and this is certainly one area where we can evolve with the help of our own students.

Final Thoughts

Teaching online can be great fun and it is worth considering also that online teaching gives more students the opportunity to learn.

Disabled students or anyone who has accessibility issues regards getting to a physical classroom, have a better chance to also be included more.

You should embrace online teaching as something that offers some great opportunities for you as a teacher.

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Dr Valeria (Lo Iacono) Symonds

Valeria has been involved with education for over 16 years. She has taught in the UK at the University of Bath and Cardiff Metropolitan University (where she got her PhD), in addition to working as a researcher at Exeter University. Valeria additionally has several years of experience of also working with Ofsted and Cardiff University in management roles & is she is the founder of Symonds Training.

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