The idea behind a virtual classroom is to create an online space that serves many of the functions of a traditional classroom, without requiring students and teachers to be physically present in the same place. While modern technology has helped to make this possible, it is important to take steps to ensure students are actually engaged with virtual lessons and taking an active interest in their own learning.
Keep reading to learn some of the ways to keep students engaged in a virtual classroom.
Within the field of distance education, the concept of the virtual classroom has gained significantly in popularity in recent times. Essentially, a virtual classroom can be described as a shared online space, which attempts to recreate the real-time teaching and learning associated with physical classroom settings, without the need for people to be in the same place. Moreover, a similar level of interaction between students can also be offered.
Yet, there are challenges associated with virtual learning, too, and one of the biggest challenges is related to student engagement. In particular, without the right strategies, it may be difficult to generate the same level of interest, participation, and overall ‘buy-in’ that you would tend to get in traditional classrooms.
In this article, we examine some of the most effective ways to boost student engagement in virtual classrooms.
What is Student Engagement?
Student engagement is defined by the Glossary of Education Reform as “the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show.” It is sometimes said that students can only be regarded as being engaged in their learning if they actively participate in lessons and take a genuine interest in their own education.
When this idea is applied to distance learning and virtual classrooms, it means creating an environment in which students want to take part in the sessions, where they actually contribute to the sessions and take something away from them, and where they become emotionally invested in the educational material, as well as their learning outcomes.
What to learn more about student engagement? What Is Student Engagement?
Engagement in a Virtual Classroom
In terms of actually generating and maintaining engagement within a virtual classroom setting, there are a number of strategies and teaching methods that can be deployed, including each of the following:
Many attempts have been made to accurately define what active learning is. Although a consensus definition has been hard to find, most of the definitions that are available agree that active learning aims to go beyond a simple lecture-style imparting of knowledge, and does so through active participation and application of learned concepts.
In 2014, Freeman et al. compiled hundreds of definitions and came up with a description of their own. Their definition goes further, stressing the importance of “activities and/or discussion in class” as well as “higher-order thinking”.
Within virtual classrooms, the single biggest way to create the kind of active learning environment that will boost engagement is to hold group discussions and encourage students to interact and think about what they are learning. Furthermore, it may be possible to host demonstrations and other similar activities as part of a virtual lesson.
Following on from the importance of active learning, one of the most important ways to ensure that students are engaged with a virtual classroom is to make sure they are getting some element of a social experience out of it too. This helps to explain why creating opportunities for collaboration can be so beneficial.
This collaboration can take place throughout the entire virtual classroom, but it is often better to break the learning group down into smaller groups so that individual members are more likely to actively participate in discussions. Once a collaboration session ends, teachers can then bring the learning group back together to share ideas.
A number of different technology solutions can help to enable this kind of breakaway collaboration, including online chat functions that enable breakout rooms, or instant messaging solutions. The myViewBoard product, for instance, offers all of these capabilities, while also allowing for shared whiteboarding, screen sharing and live annotations.
A key part of boosting student engagement is trying to make lessons as enjoyable as possible and one method that can assist with this is the idea of gamification. Although many attempts to introduce aspects of game playing and game design into lessons rely on in-person contact, by no means does this prevent the concept within virtual classrooms.
For instance, it is relatively simple to introduce games like quizzes into a virtual classroom and this can serve the dual purpose of improving student engagement and testing the knowledge and understanding of the learning group.
In truth, the options related to gamification are almost endless and the concept can provide teachers with an ideal opportunity to get truly creative and experimental. The key is to try to make lessons as fun as possible so that students want to take part, but also to make sure any games played have some degree of educational merit.
A virtual classroom can be the ideal way to recreate many of the advantages of traditional classroom education, without requiring people to be physically present in the same place. However, in order to actually engage students in such an environment, it is important to adopt active learning strategies, capitalize on gamification, and focus on creating the sort of online space where collaborative exercises can be carried out.
Keeping virtual lessons varied is essential, and the best virtual classrooms are both enjoyable and able to keep students’ attention. Ideally, participants will also benefit from the social interaction on offer and this can help them to invest in their own learning outcomes, as well as the outcomes of the group as a whole.
Want to better engage your students during remote learning? Find out more about myViewBoard’s distance learning solutions. Or learn more about how video-assisted learning boosts student engagement here.