Today’s classrooms are no longer limited to traditional blackboards and chalk. With the advent of the digital age, it has also changed the way students learn and absorb lessons. According to a 2016 national survey of student engagement by DeCoito & Richardson, 82 percent of teachers surveyed use digital presentations as teaching tools, with 71 percent also using tablets and simulations. As we discussed in "Fostering Intrinsic Motivation with Tech-Hesitant Teachers,” the role of teachers in creating an engaging online learning environment remains an invaluable factor in the willingness of students to learn. In an online learning or remote learning environment, however, this may often be easier said than done. Here are some key engagement strategies to help you get started:

1. Encourage group learning to share new perspectives

One major benefit of distance learning is the opportunity for students to virtually meet and interact with their peers, regardless of where they are. This encourages students with similar passions to discover new methods and perspectives when approaching challenging tasks in a group setting. To support this, a 2016 student engagement study by Van Wyck and Haffajee found that 78 percent of the students who participated in their study reported greater control of learning, with 69 percent reporting increased personal benefit as a result of group learning.

2. Create online forums to spark debate

Unlike traditional classroom debates that can lead to raised voices and students talking over one another, text-based forums enable students to eloquently craft their thoughts and ensure that individuals are heard. This is perfect for the shyer types who have trouble speaking up in class. Teachers can ask open-ended topic questions starting with “What if” or “How might” and ask students to share their thoughts. After all of their comments have been posted, students can read through the ideas of their peers and comment on maybe three or four posts, sharing any positive or negative feedback, as well as any additional thoughts.

3. Use educational software applications, games, and interactive online quizzes

Introducing educational mobile apps for quizzes and games is a great way to keep disruptive students fully engaged and highly motivated at all times. By encouraging healthy competition in a fun environment, teachers can monitor the progress of students through leaderboards. Educational apps for kids can have the added benefit of making learning seem like play, which provides a great alternative for younger students who have trouble focusing on traditional lectures. One example of an educational app is Kahoot, which allows teachers to enter customized questions and answers to create a game show for their students.

4. Promote innovation through the use of specialized learning tools

Technology can be used in limitless ways in the field of education. Some specialized features, such as touchscreen technology, are vital in the fields of art and design, while remote laboratories play a crucial role in teaching students scientific principles through practical hands-on experience. As high schoolers graduate and eventually pursue higher education, another benefit is that they become more comfortable with using technology to learn new skills. Maryville University provides a high-tech distance learning system for students and cutting-edge resources through their Cyber Fusion Center, gaining the key distinction of being an Apple Distinguished School. Ensuring that students have access to the latest technology in schools will undoubtedly maximize their enthusiasm to learn.

5. Challenge students to ask questions in real-time online lectures

In small classrooms, integrating two-way video and audio in real-time online lectures can help provide a more authentic and dynamic classroom experience. Educators using GoGuardian Teacher can also encourage student engagement through the Student-Teacher Chat feature. With video lectures, students have the ability to engage teachers in discussions and clarify any difficult concepts that they may have had to struggle with later on—something that may not be available with pre-recorded lectures. True enough, researchers from Justus-Liebig-University have found that video lectures are equally effective as real-life lectures for students, despite the common fear that such technology can be too “distracting.”

Because technology is constantly evolving and transforming, it is imperative that teachers are ready for the challenges they face when mastering their growing arsenal of tools for online learning. Remotely teaching younger students comes with its own unique set of difficulties, but by keeping these tips in mind for boosting student engagement, you’re already halfway there.

Visit GoGuardian's Distance Learning hub for resources to support your schools during closures.