The COVID-19 pandemic has really changed some things for us the past few years. It affected many sectors, including healthcare, hospitality and education.
One big change I have seen as an instructor after COVID-19 relates to student engagement. Online education changed and there has been a focus on maintaining better student engagement in classes, according to a study published by researchers Justin C. Ortagus and Luke J. Stedrak.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, many universities with in-person classes dived into online education. Some of those higher education institutions have even returned to on-site teaching because of their struggles with understanding the differences between on-site and online education.
For instance, many in-person instructors are used to reaching out to a student (via email, a verbal instruction when the class is in session or other methods) and having a one-on-one conversation after class. But with online education, professors still reach out to students with tools like emails or video calls, but they have varying results for different reasons.
Effective Student Engagement
But the big question on how best to maintain student engagement remains. As online educators, we create syllabi and make our classroom instructions as clear as possible to help our students focus on the subject materials and the required work.
However, students will still have questions at times, no matter how clear we think our written material might be. Asking questions is a good thing, too; it promotes engagement between professor and student.
COVID-19 Changed How Students Perceive and Interact in the Online Classroom
COVID-19 also changed students’ perception of online courses and how students interact within online classroom environments. A trend I’ve seen as an educator is that some students have often become shyer about reading and understanding class materials.
Some students just want to make sure they are on the right learning path or they might have other questions. Other students may not ask any questions at all in the online classroom environment, and they end up not doing as well as they could do in the class. Some decide to abandon the class entirely.
Building a Relationship with At-Risk Students
Most schools have developed tools to reach out to struggling students with varying degrees of success. But no tool will pull in a student who has made the decision to abandon a specific class; that student may stop checking the online classroom site or emails about online classes.
The key is to build a relationship with at-risk students before they drop out of school. Some instructors use video platforms, such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, to establish better personal connections with students.
Through video calls, students can see and talk personally with an instructor. Video calls help students to form a more personal connection with instructors as compared to other methods of communication, according to researchers Yanghee Kim and Jeffrey Thayne.
Ideally, an instructor should focus on being seen as more human and caring by students. Students should understand that online instructors are human and real; they also have their own struggles and issues. This way, online instructors and students can relate on a better level.
Students Need Reassurance
Many students experience fear and stress about returning to higher education. They might take a look at their first class and see that education has really changed from what they knew in the past.
However, online instructors can put those students at ease by sharing their own experiences. If students see that their instructors have dealt with an issue in a positive way, that will create better student engagement. Students will also be more inclined to build relationships and ask questions in the online classroom.
Instructors can look for ways to share more information about themselves and yet stay on topic with class materials. Consequently, that will allow students to feel that they know their instructor to a better degree than in the past.
There Needs to Be a Focus on Building Relationships and Increasing Student Engagement
With the ever-increasing growth of online education, it makes sense to focus on student engagement. Without student engagement, we might lose some students because the fear of being all alone without any aid is still real within today’s online education. Instructors need to be dedicated to learning but also on building rapport with their students to increase student engagement and students’ academic success in online learning, according to researcher Rebecca Glazier.
Education has really changed over the years and will continue to evolve. Most educators are hard at work looking for better ways to teach and connect with students.
We are constantly looking for new best practices to use within our classes, we keep evolving as teachers, and we connect with our peers and have meaningful discussions about finding better ways to teach. We might find ways to update courses to make our subject matter clearer and easily understood. But it remains essential to build personal connections with students, maintain student engagement and keep students in our online classrooms.