UW Continuum College Instructor Resources

Exercises to Increase Student Engagement in Real-time Online Courses

Developed by
Peter Freeman, April 28, 2020

Revised by
Ashley Kim, May 7, 2020

Building community and engaging students, rather than just talking at them, are critical elements of a successful real-time online class. The table contains suggestions for how you can build interactivity into your Zoom session and (or in Canvas if you’d like to reduce your live class time). This is by no means an exhaustive list – a google search of active learning will reveal lots more ideas – but this is intended to get you thinking about how to increase engagement in your real-time online class.

Techniques for use during live Zoom sessions

Sign-posted and Interactive Lectures

What is it?

Lectures that include an explicit agenda, key learning outcomes and takeaways, and checkpoints throughout

Benefits

  • Keeps student attention
  • Sets clear expectations
  • Improves Retention

Process to implement

  1. Begin with an agenda slide. Reinforce spoken lecture with visuals.
  2. Build in checkpoints throughout the lecture that ask a “knowledge check” question corresponding to one of the learning outcomes
  3. Provide “wait time” and then call on a couple people or ask all students to type their answer in the chat window

Notes, additional resources

Build interactivity into your lecture  

To make recorded lectures easier to navigate upload Zoom recording to Panopto and create a table of contents from the agenda so students can search, skip around, and review different topics from the lesson with greater ease.

Polls/ Surveys

What is it?

Multiple choice or short-answer surveys to get student opinions and check for understanding.

Benefits

  • Inclusive of all students
  • Ensures all students are engaged
  • Provides immediate feedback on how well students have understood the information
  • Can be brief and break up lectures

Process to implement

  1. Create poll questions in advance of the lesson, when possible
  2. Test polling tools out before using in class

Notes, additional resources

Various tools can be used and each come with pros/cons

+ allows students to answer within the Zoom interface

limited ability to preserve results for review after the session

can’t create poll while in Zoom room

+ within Canvas so it’s easy to keep answers and easy to share w/ students

+ can be used as “participation” points by awarding points just for completion (rather than for correct answers)

+ built-in analytics

+ tons of features and question types

a bit more practice required to launch poll and see results

+ can have many question types.

+ can be graded for correctness or for completion

Mini Discussions: Think, Pair, Share

What is it?

Mini-discussions in groups of 2 or 3

Benefits

  • Gives students time to think alone and then discuss with a partner before sharing with the whole class
  • Gets everyone involved and engaged
  • You can call on people who might not normally volunteer to share their thoughts, since everyone has had time to talk through their answer
  • Builds community

Process to implement

  1. Pose an open-ended question
  2. give students a few minutes or so to think on their own (using a timer can be helpful)
  3. put students into breakout rooms for 5-10 minutes to discuss
  4. bring back the whole class, select a few students to share out

Notes, additional resources

Zoom Breakout Rooms are probably the best way to implement in real-time online. You can choose groups of 2 or 3 and randomly assign.  

Alternatively, you could:

  1. enable Zoom’s private chat
  2. get your class list (copy list of student names from Canvas gradebook)
  3. create random pairs
  4. have students private chat to their partner for the pair discussion

Mini Project

What is it?

Students complete a task or other hands-on deliverable in groups of 3-5

Benefits

  • Students learn more from doing rather than just hearing a lecture about it
  • Peer instruction can happen organically
  • Instructor can circulate to provide support and check in on how things are going

Process to implement

  1. clearly define the task – providing written instructions
  2. specify the requirements for the deliverable
  3. specify the time constraints and set a timer to ensure you stick to these
  4. check to ensure that students are on task

Notes, additional resources

Zoom Breakout Rooms allow you to use random or pre-defined groups.

If this is unwieldy to manage, you can get students to volunteer as leaders and host their own Zoom meeting for the duration of the group activity.

You may also use a group collaboration in Canvas, which students to edit a document as a group in real time. They *might* also be able to use the google chat feature.

Real-time Labs

What is it?

Students complete coding tasks during the class session

Benefits

  • Students can practice new skills independently while being able to ask questions in real time
  • Students can share their screens to show where they’re having problems

Process to implement

  1. create problems ahead of time
  2. explain task to students, share files as needed, and set a time limit
  3. whole class stays in Zoom room together, students ask questions as needed
  4. share out. It is helpful for students to “drive” by sharing their screen and show how they completed the task

Notes, additional resources

Be sure to enable the screen share feature in Zoom so students can show their work

Peer Instruction

What is it?

Instead of instructor-led learning, peer-instruction invites students to teach one another the content of the lesson.

Benefits

In cases where students have a wide range of skills and experience, like most of our programs do, having students with more experience teach, lead group discussions, or mentor students with less experience can benefit both parties – students with more experience get practice explaining the content, like they might have to do in a leadership role at their company, while the students with less experience get personalized attention.

Process to implement

Before peer instruction can happen, the instructor needs to know what experience each student has. This can be done by having students fill out a survey at the beginning of the course, or even a class meeting or two before the one where peer instruction will happen. The instructor can then match students with more experience with students with less experience. The group meetings themselves can then take place using Zoom Breakout Rooms.

Jigsaw

What is it?

Students are broken into small groups, and each group is given a different question to think about. When the main class comes back together, have each group share their findings.

Benefits

For large and complex topics, having students focus on specific questions makes the topic more manageable.

Process to implement

Break students into groups using Zoom Breakout Rooms. Then, as the host, join each breakout room one at a time and give each group their respective question. Once time is up, bring students back to the main room and invite them to share their work with the rest of the class. Or place students in different groups and ask them to share information from their last group.

Notes, additional resources

+ allows more students to interact

+ instructor can move between rooms to check in

+ students can request that the instructor join their room

There can be some technical settings to adjust, regarding who can set up and move in and out of breakout rooms. Check host controls.

Student Presentations

What is it?

Students are invited to share their work, often at the end of mini-projects, but also as part of students’ final projects at the end of the course or program.

Benefits

Presentations give students a chance to share their work with each other, which is often something they’ll have to do at work, so doing it in class is good practice. It’s also a chance for students to get feedback on their presentation skills..

Process to implement

For informal presentations, like at the end of mini-projects, invite teams to walk the class through their work process and share their findings. Students and the instructor can then ask questions.

For more formal settings, like final presentations, the instructor should prepare specific questions for the students to address.

Industry experts may be invited to come to the Zoom room and give feedback to the presenters, so the instructor might spend additional time with students to help them prepare; for example, how to structure their presentation, how to speak to their audience’s interests, etc. During the presentations, one group member can share their screen, while the rest of the group take turns speaking. 

Notes, additional resources

Alternative: Students record their presentations, post them to the discussion board. Peers are then asked to comment and ask questions via the discussion board. Instructor models best practices for presentation comments and questions.

Muddiest Point

What is it?

This technique is used to check in with students on what is the most challenging or confusing part to a lesson. Ask students to write for 3-5 minutes about what is most difficult.

Benefits

  • Gives instructor real-time input on student’s understanding.

  • Instructor can address questions in class

  • Enables quieter students to voice concern

Process to implement

  1. Present students with the question.
  2. Show them where to access the input form.
  3. Read student input.
  4. Address student questions and concerns

Notes, additional resources

Collect your muddiest points questions via a Canvas Survey, Google Form, or MS Forms or a tool like Padlet.

This works well just before a class goes on break or at the end of a lesson. Questions can be addressed when class is back in session or the following week.

The following activities can be done outside of or during Zoom sessions

Case Study Analyis

What is it?

Students are given a real-world case study to analyze, guided by specific questions from the instructor.

Benefits

Case study analyses allow students to practice analytical skills that can apply to their work in their specific field.

Process to implement

The instructor finds one or more case studies they’d like students to analyze. The instructor prepares the guiding questions they’d like students to answer as part of their analysis.

Notes, additional resources

If done during the asynchronous portion of class, students can complete the analysis individually and then submit their analyses as a written report, presentation during the live class portion, or post to the class discussion board.

Discussion Boards

What is it?

Discussion boards, like the ones on the Canvas LMS, are spaces for students to engage asynchronously in conversations with each other and the instructor.

Benefits

Discussion boards allow students to engage with one another over time and distance

Process to implement

The instructor can create discussion boards ahead of time in Canvas, which usually include questions that guide students’ responses. Students can then respond to the prompts, but can also respond to other students and create threaded discussions. Discussions with specific prompts rather than being totally open-ended are generally more successful.

Notes, additional resources

If done during the live sessions, students can post their responses to group work. During real-time labs, students can use the discussion board as a knowledge bank and share their solutions or ideas with other students. Basically, any time instructors want students to be able to share ideas and resources, discussion boards can be a great solution.

If done during the asynchronous portion of class, students can use the board to post their responses to assignments, such as responses to case study analyses.

Discussion boards can be done in conjunction with groups in Canvas. This is especially helpful in creating community in large classes. You can encourage students to use these small groups as study groups. Be sure to get feedback on the group dynamics and adjust accordingly.

In addition to what has been presented here, you may also find the following resources helpful:

UW Center for Teaching and Learning: https://www.washington.edu/teaching/topics/engaging-students-in-learning/

CMU Design & Teach Your Course: https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/index.html

UT Austin Faculty Innovation Center: https://facultyinnovate.utexas.edu/instructional-strategies

Student Centered Learning Tools in Canvas: https://community.canvaslms.com/people/kona@richland.edu/blog/2017/04/20/student-centered-learning-in-canvas