A number of Teesside University staff attended and contributed to the recent UK Advising and Tutoring (UKAT) conference (30th March – 1st April). The conference itself focused on personal tutoring but also afforded lots of insights as to best practices around keeping students engaged in these challenging times. Drawing on their experiences of the conference, Dr Sam Elkington and Dr Helen Tidy have collated their top four tips for supporting active student engagement in an online environment:
There is some evidence that students can feel confused or unclear about the expectations for engaging in online sessions with regards to the use of cameras and microphones. It is important that we are ensuring students receive clear signposting by adding a slide or bullet points posted to the chat function at the start of any session letting them know the ‘preferred’ requirements and expectations for engagement in a session. In some cases, students may be utilising lower-specification devices. It is important, therefore, to ensure that we are offering flexible arrangements in sessions that allow students to engage in different ways.
Does your approach to student engagement on your module(s) provide every student with an equal opportunity to contribute and demonstrate their progress?
To what extent do your students have an element of choice and/or flexibility in how they engage with synchronous/asynchronous tasks?
Some students can find it difficult to make a clear distinction as to when live sessions have started online due to the fact that they are missing out on the physical or verbal cues that are present in the face-to-face classroom. It is important we are considering ways in which to ensure students are clear when the session has begun and that we are adopting a clear and consistent structure to sessions that allows students to develop a level of familiarity with different patterns of practice. This might be something as simple as playing some form of music while waiting for the session to begin. The students then receive a clear signal the session is about to begin when the music stops.
How can you clearly, consistently, and meaningfully signal the beginning of synchronous sessions to students?
Relatedly, how can you clearly signal to students that a synchronous session is ending?
The rapid onset of online modes of delivery, and the absence of the usual opportunities for students to physically connect and interact through face-to-face teaching, can lead to feelings of disconnect and isolation. Considering non-digital methods of communicating with our students can go some way to re-establishing lost connections and building a sense of belonging. For example, sending out a course postcard to check in on your students can be a very positive, low-tech / high-touch, way of connecting with those students who might be struggling with online delivery (see image below).
This can also work the other way. Instead of a postcard, can you think of how you might encourage students to identify and share images of a physical object that has personal meaning to them in their learning? This could be the focus and topic for an early group tutorial or seminar activity.
It can be challenging to replicate online the kinds of natural interactivity and sense of togetherness and belonging generated through face-to-face teaching. It is important we are considering ways of building a sense of community online through placing emphasis and value on shared and/or group-based activities which allow students to interact with their peers. A relatively straight forward strategy to achieve this, which may be useful in personal tutoring interactions, is to ask students in a group to consider what the word “University” means to them and then task them with producing a single picture that represents the views and perspectives of the group. This encourages students to talk and interact with one another in a virtual setting around a shared task or activity, as well as being a simple way of illustrating the multiple meanings and perspectives attached to studying at University.
How might you promote positive and meaningful engagement and support in and through shared activities with your students?
For further guidance on Promoting Effective Student Engagement, see here.