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In the wake of stay-at-home orders, many instructors across the globe have found themselves having to teach remotely with very little to no previous experience. One of the biggest concerns is student engagement. In the classroom, teachers can pick up on cues that students aren’t getting it or have wandered off track. Online learning is a challenge because it puts students and their caregivers in the driver’s seat. Here are five tips to help them keep their foot on the gas. 

1. Centralize communication for students and parents 

Perhaps the most important aspect of remote learning is making sure students have all the information they need, because they certainly won’t feel engaged if they’re confused about what, how, or when to do something. If your school provides an online platform, make your class site the official information hub. You can alert students to check the site for updates through email or text. If you don’t have a class site, consider creating one through Google Classroom or ClassDojo.

2. Break lectures down into shorter segments

If you’re doing online lectures or direct instruction, aim for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. That way students can focus and process the information they just took in. Three 20-minute sessions are preferable to a single 60-minute one if that’s an option. If you must do a longer online session, try to give the students a few minutes every now and then to get up and stretch. Remember, students are probably having multiple online meetings in one day and will appreciate a mental break. 

3. Include discussion boards

Discussion boards are a perfect way to promote interaction between students.  Request that students make a post and also comment on at least two of their classmates’ posts. Provide examples of the types of comments that are appropriate and that encourage further discussion. A great way to get students interacting on discussion boards is to ask questions like “What would you do…?” These give students a chance to personalize their answers. 

4.  Provide step-by-step examples

When students learn online, they don’t have the benefit of a teacher going around the room to check for understanding as they work through problems. To give them extra support, provide videos of you explaining problems or activities with step-by-step instruction. Anticipate questions students could have and address them in the video as well. You can also do this live, but it’s best if students have a recording so they can go back and watch it again if needed.

5.  Use office hours to connect with students

Dedicate a few hours each week to virtual office hours. Some students might not want to ask a question during a whole class meeting; video conferencing office hours give them a chance to interact directly with you, the instructor. If you can’t have a face-to-face meeting online, a phone call works just as well. Be sure to include your office hour availability in your emails and on your information hub. 

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