Six Essential Strategies to Keep Students Engaged in Class

Are your students highly engaged in class, motivated, and performing to the best of their abilities? In a perfect classroom environment, every student would be engaged in the course, interested in the subjects, and performing to the very best of their capabilities. That’s what every educator hopes for when they start teaching a class.

The reality for most classes is that while some students may be highly engaged and self-motivated, other students will base their involvement upon what is experienced in the classroom and whether or not their expectations are being met. While addressing student engagement can be challenging for traditional classroom educators, it can be even more difficult for online educators who cannot see their students or meet with them for a scheduled class time.

At the start of a new online class educators typically find that students are involved in the class with mixed feelings of excitement, apprehension, and uncertainty. From the perspective of a student, remaining motivated and engaged in the class requires substantial effort. While many students are self-directed in nature, and have an ability to sustain their involvement, there are often others who lack self-motivation and begin to disengage over time. As many educators realize, by the time a student disengages from class it is often too late to get them back on track.

A challenge for instructors is that online class facilitation can take a significant amount of time. With a busy schedule it is natural to focus on contractual obligations and classroom management, and not notice a student who is slowly disengaging from the class until they are completely absent or have withdrawn. It becomes important then to take a proactive approach with online students and establish an instructional approach for helping them to stay focused and engaged in the class.

Defining the Concept of Student Engagement

When educators define the nature of student engagement it is usually done from a tangible (what is seen) perspective and this can be a subjective assessment. For example, if a student is posting participation online messages most every day of the week you might say they are highly engaged. The question is how active does a student have to be to meet these criteria? If they are posting messages on five days is that the same level of engagement as a student who is posting on six days? As a general guideline it can be assessed by how invested students appear to be in their class. This includes their involvement in discussions, asking questions, submitting assignments on time, and how responsive they are to other students and their instructor. If a student is going to be considered highly engaged in class, an instructor needs to observe several visual cues.

Why Does Student Engagement Matter?

Engagement matters because it indicates that students are involved in the class. When students are fully engaged, a distance education class begins to feel like a community. If students are not actively involved in their class, especially an online class, they can easily disengage, lose interest, and eventually withdraw. If the instructor doesn’t intervene, these students may drop the course and a continual pattern like this may also lead to disengagement from their degree program. Visual cues are important then because they are indicators of how involved students are in the process of learning. These cues include qualities such as their level of effort, along with their responsiveness to feedback, communication, and coaching.

Discover How to Measure Student Engagement

When visual cues are interpreted it is often done in a subjective manner, looking at more than a student’s tangible work product or written papers. The purpose of measuring engagement in the class is to raise an educator’s conscious awareness of students and keep track of their involvement. It is easy to become so busy managing class operations and discussions that students who are not present end up being overlooked when they are not actively present. For those instructors who are detail minded they can create a spreadsheet and track the progress of their students. Some learning management systems provide analytics that allow an instructor to check on the progress of students in the course. The purpose of doing this is to pay attention to your students and how they are progressing.

To assist educators with the process of prompting students’ engagement in class I have developed a model called ENGAGE.

Examine class conditions as it can be conducive to or discourage active involvement. For example, do you post announcements that include a preview or wrap-up of the subjects or concepts for the week? Do you provide additional resources? Do you provide several methods of contact so that students can easily reach you? All of these strategies can help to create conditions that are conducive to learning.

Notice students’ involvement and pay attention to their activities. If you wait until you provide feedback to determine who is active and who isn’t, that may be too late to intervene. If there are features built into the learning management system which allow you to track students and their access to the course, this can help you identify students who are disengaging. You can also check who has completed the learning activities by the due date and develop a list of students who are past due.

Gauge the expected level of activity for an average student to establish a standard. As an instructor you develop a feel for the online class over time. You have a general idea of how much activity in the online class is indicative of an actively engaged student. Take that knowledge to help you develop a basic model and checklist that you can use, either mentally or in written form, to help monitor how your students are progressing.

Assess students and look for visual cues as you monitor their progress. As you monitor the progress of your students, and you consider how active they are based upon your expectations of their involvement, also consider how well they are performing. For example, a student can check in with the class on occasion by posting a brief discussion response and still not be substantively involved. A student who seems to be just getting by is someone who requires your time and attention.

Gain students’ attention through some form of communication such as an email or a phone call if it appears they are not present or if they are disengaging from the class. It is important with an online class that you are proactively contacting your students any time you notice that they are struggling, not performing well, or they are not posting substantive contributions to the class discussions.

If you have developed a positive working relationship with your students, they may likely respond when you contact them by email. If you haven’t been able to establish that connection, a phone call could be a helpful approach to reach out and establish your willingness to assist them. One of the primary challenges for making phone calls is finding a time that both the instructor and their students are available, especially if they are in different time zones.

Engage in the class as students will follow your lead. As a faculty director, I have observed many online classes with students who were not actively engaged and it was a reflection of the level of engagement of their instructors. Students often develop a perception that their instructor doesn’t seem to care about the class if they do not appear to be actively present. However, even if an instructor is highly visible and engaged it doesn’t guarantee that students will also respond with that same level of involvement. What an active presence does is to encourage them to be engaged and involved.

Always Be Engaged in Your Class

For instructors, being highly engaged in an online class requires proactive effort and involvement. It is possible to catch struggling students before they are disengaged; however, it can be challenging because keeping track of students does take time. If you are allocating only enough time to complete the required facilitation tasks, you may find that isn’t adequate for taking time to contact students and conduct outreach.

One of the first steps you can take is to develop a standard of acceptable engagement for an average student. By developing this standard, you can observe patterns and reach out to your students as needed. Overall, it is necessary to establish a plan for conscious awareness of your students if you want to keep them involved. Student engagement in an online class is related to their involvement in the learning process, their retention in a degree program, and it is a contributing factor to their overall success.

As an instructor, you have a direct impact on how your students perform. Take the lead, show them how to be highly engaged, and demonstrate that you care when they are starting to disengage. It may take more of your time, but teaching and nurturing the development of your students will require time and effort on your part. While you may not see the immediate outcome of your efforts, if a student remains engaged in the course, you will have had a direct impact on their lifelong learning experience and this is likely why you became an educator to begin with – to make a positive contribution towards the academic growth and development of your students.

How to Master the Stress of Every Day Life With Five Essential Strategies

What is the “new normal” like for you now, especially as related to your workday? Do you believe you will ever go back to business as usual, or work in the same manner you did, now that you have learned how to adapt and work in a different manner? Are you feeling that you are able to cope with conditions related to your job, or is a matter of just surviving each day of your work week?

Life for many has become a matter of adjusting and adapting, and doing this at a rapid pace, sometimes with the proper tools and resources, and often on the fly. The initial sense of confusion and uncertainty is now growing into panic and increased agitation for many. Those who are employed are attempting to work at home, in spaces they never imagined they would be working, and feeling somewhat off balance.

Right now, the demands and responsibilities have shifted for many people in a significant manner, some for the better and for others, it has become much more challenging. The thought of turning on a computer now may not be that exciting, and in fact, there may be a sense of foreboding, as many try to navigate working in a virtual environment for the first time. It may also be challenging to translate many jobs to a remote position, and this will compound the amount of anxiety experienced. For those who did not have a strong working relationship with their colleagues or managers to begin with, the separation or distance now can strain these relationships even further.

I realize there has been much written about the topic of stress already, and it may seem as if there is nothing more to write about it, yet I would like to once again consider how to master it from an internalized perspective. Most people are thinking about their jobs, responsibilities, and how to cope. I want to have you also consider what is going on in your thoughts as well, and how you are processing the situation and events around you. Whether you realize it or not, you are internalizing the events you are experiencing and the related emotions along with these events, and if you are not careful, you can quickly build up negative emotions. This is what leads to stress, anxiety, depression, and worse.

It doesn’t matter what type of job you have; everyone has an ability to experience pent up negative emotions as a result of what they are experiencing, just by trying to adapt to a new environment. This can be the culmination of small events, such as failing to access needed online files, building up to computer issues, resulting in built-up frustration. If you finally recognize you are frustrated, it may be at a point you are already feeling completely overwhelmed and have not taken care of your well-being. This is what I want to help you prevent, and I have some strategies you can implement to take care of your internal thought process.

The Internal State of Mind

Everything going on around you can potentially cause an emotional reaction within you, depending upon your connection with it. Right you are experiencing heightened emotions because of the events of our current crisis. You are more likely to become emotionally engaged the longer you watch or read the news and the headlines. You will also experience many emotions within as you attempt to adjust to new or adapted working conditions.

If you have never worked as a remote employee, or an employee who must now work within specified health conditions, you may react emotionally. These emotional reactions may not be noticeable at first, but if you are not happy with the changes, the negativity will build up slowly over time, until the residual effect culminates in a feeling of stress or anxiety. By the time you feel or experience any of these indicators, you may need significant self-work to recover and re-balance yourself.

Perceptual Influences

There is something else to consider and it is how you perceive the circumstances around you. During a time of crisis there is information and misinformation being shared. In the search for updates, you may find yourself perceiving events as they actually are or as you believe they are. There is a difference and it is based upon your worldview or mental model. What happens is that your emotions begin to influence what you see and hear, along with what you believe, creating a perceptual filter. This is also true for your job and the responsibilities which are associated with it. In your position you may perceive it to be challenging, or you may accept it is easy to adapt to before and now.

Strategies to Master the Stress of Every Day Life

Stress and anxiety, which are indicators of a problem, do not appear all at once. Both are a result of ongoing negative feelings which have been internalized for several days and/or weeks. It may gradually manifest in your job, perhaps in the tone of emails or other communication. Or it may result in feelings of being afraid, experiencing fear, or a general sense of hopelessness about your situation. If you do not manage what you are experiencing, not only can it become more challenging to resolve, it can eventually appear in your performance. You can use the following strategies to help you master what you are feeling and control the potential for stress.

Strategy #1: Am I experiencing a negative reaction?

As you are going about your regular work day, look for anything which produces a negative trigger. Pay attention to it. This is an emotion you are feeling right now. You do not have to analyze it, rather you just need to acknowledge you are experiencing it. This may occur during a busy work day, so for the time being, just make a note of the time and a general description of the triggering event.

Strategy #2: Do I need to examine why I experienced a negative reaction?

At the end of the day, take a look at the list of your events. Then examine in more detail what caused the trigger and led you to experience a negative reaction. To what degree did you react? How strongly did you feel negative emotions? You may find it helpful to write this out, depending upon the complexity of the triggering event. The purpose is to take away the negativity of the situation, so you are better able to understand it and give yourself a sense of relief as you take action.

Strategy #3: What do I have within my power to control now?

One of the challenges associated with built-up negative emotions is the feeling of hopelessness. It is possible to begin to feel so bad about the culmination of occurrences, you believe nothing is going to get better or change. Or worse, you may feel as if no one is going to help you. But what you always maintain control of are your thoughts. You can decide how to respond to each and every situation which arises, even if you are challenged at times. What you can do is to learn to stop before reacting, and use logic before emotions to evaluate situations. This gives you the power of control, acting in a controlled manner.

Strategy #4: How can I maintain a positive attitude?

If you are going to become proactive and master every day conditions which can lead to stress, you can also change your attitude as part of this approach. You can decide to face each day as it presents itself, good, not so good, or otherwise, and be able to manage it effectively. Why? Because whatever the day brings, you will find a way to be successful. If you cannot address something, you will ask for assistance. If you need a break, you will take it. But you are stronger than you can imagine, you have an ability to persevere, and you will rely upon your internal GPS to guide you through any time which requires you to be adaptable, flexible, and proactive.

Strategy #5: How can I make my present situation better?

Now that you have examined your triggering events, and your disposition, you can decide what steps are needed next to make your working conditions or job more manageable. As an example, do you need to have a conversation with your supervisor about how to adapt to the new normal? Or should you speak with your colleagues and ask for tips and recommendations related to the position? The purpose is to ask for assistance and relieve any potential for negative feelings which you have become accustomed to feeling. You may also need to consider how your home working environment needs to change or become better adapted to your required job responsibilities.

How You Feel Becomes Who You Are

Can you remember your jobs from a perspective of the time when you enjoyed it the most? Perhaps it was the first day you were hired and you loved arriving at work, eager to complete your job duties. But now the job responsibilities have changed to a new normal. A job you loved, or possibly grew to loathe, has now produced feelings of frustration, exasperation, and worse, because you are attempting to adapt to different working conditions. If you are experiencing negative emotions, and these feelings persist, it can decrease your ability to perform your very best. When you no longer feel a sense of peace or stability about your job, it can show up in your disposition and work product.

What you can do is control what you think about your situation, including your job and your adapted working conditions. If you look at this time as an opportunity to learn more about yourself, and discover more about your ability to grow, you will change how you view your job responsibilities. Without a doubt this is an extraordinary time in our lives, and yet it is time for you to re-engage with yourself and discover the best of your abilities. You do not need to deny or feel bad about the natural reactions you experience. But what you can do is to acknowledge your feelings and then be alert to address them, to prevent continued distress. You have incredible talent within you, the sum of your career and what you have learned. Once you adapt and view your job and yourself anew, you can once again return to enjoying your every day.