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Motivate students online

Brief description

Maybe you find that some of your students do not engage actively in your online teaching. Perhaps, some students do not take part in discussions, some switch off their camera and some do not even join the meeting. You are not the only one to experience this.

Below, you will find recommendations to help you motivate your students and make them participate actively in your online teaching activities 

1. Establish a clear structure

Online teaching and learning often depends on students working independently with the content and materials. The students may find it confusing to navigate the materials, complete the assignments and plan their work when the usual framework and daily support from fellow students and teachers are no longer readily accessible.

By giving clear instructions and dividing teaching and assignments into smaller parts, the online activities will become more manageable for the students. For example, you could: 

  • Clearly describe what you expect the students to do.
  • Communicate well in advance and set deadlines so that students can plan their time accordingly.
  • Establish a weekly routine to ensure predictability.
  • Divide the material into smaller sections that are more manageable. For example, you could make short, subject-specific presentations rather than one long presentation. It is also a good idea to divide difficult assignments into smaller sub-assignments or to offer guidance for particularly complex assignments.
  • Create a clear structure on the course page so that materials are easy to find. For example, divide the course into topics or weeks. 
  • Estimate the expected time consumption for exercises and assignments.
  • Actively use groups in your teaching.
  • Specify where students can find help. For example, you can share links to resources or allow students to ask questions in a discussion forum or plan an online question session. 
  • Ask the students whether the structure of the course is clear and easy to understand.     

2. Integrate several ways for students to participate actively

Even though students are keen users of digital media in their social lives, having online discussions about academic material with teachers and fellow students can be frightening.

By offering several ways to participate and by making it clear how students can take active part, you can make your online teaching more engaging and motivating. For example, you could: 

    • Make it comfortable to speak to the entire class. Make sure students participate actively in plenary sessions right from the beginning and as often as possible. Make it a normal thing, so that speaking to the entire class will not seem awkward.
    • Ask all students to write something. For example, if you use a discussion forum, you can ask all students to make at least one post every week. If you use Zoom, you can ask everyone to turn on their webcam and say hello before teaching starts, or you can use the chat function. You can also use polls, comments, etc. to make sure that everyone gets used to sharing their thoughts.
    • Use Breakout Rooms and Padlet or Mentimeter for questions instead of questions in plenary – having to turn on the microphone can scare students off. Use Padlet or Mentimeter in plenary to answer the questions. In this way, more students will be heard.
    • Regularly ask for input in the chat, Mentimeter or similar and include the input in your teaching. This makes the teaching more relevant to students. It is a good idea to regularly ask students how they experience the teaching. If there is low participation, you should find out why.

    3. Facilitate social activities

    Study groups are crucial for motivation and learning – also online. If students do not have a well-established study group, the risk that they will feel alone with their academic work increases – especially when they do not see their classmates on campus.

    You can encourage collaboration between students by setting up groups and planning group assignments both during and between teaching sessions. For example, you could: 

    • Use group assignments and make sure to mix the groups differently from time to time so that students expand their network.
    • Use Breakout Rooms for webinars in Zoom.
    • Create groups in Blackboard for compulsory collaboration and group assignments. 
    • Suggest that the groups meet online outside the planned teaching activities.
    • Use a discussion forum for questions and answers, and ask students to answer each other’s questions. In this way, the students will also help each other.
    • Create assignments where students give each other feedback. For example, you can use Peergrade for written feedback, or you can organise group feedback in Breakout Rooms in Zoom.
    • Remember to allow time for breaks and small talk – for example in Breakout Rooms in Zoom. You can use an icebreaker question to get the conversation going.
    • Share material about group work and peer feedback with your students (e.g. the page on group work on AU Studypedia)

    4. Set regular deadlines and assignments

    When students have lost their inner motivation, having a deadline and knowing that someone is waiting for them to provide input can be a help. For this reason, it is a good idea to make students regularly share their work with you and with each other. This will also give you a sense of their academic level and their understanding of the academic content. Note that this can be a very time-consuming process, so it is important that you keep it manageable.

    By setting shorter but more frequent deadlines and less comprehensive assignments, you can keep an eye on and follow up on students' work. This makes the assignments seem more relevant to students. For example, you could: 

    • Plan group work based on individual work, so that it matters whether students are well-prepared.
    • Register participation in online activities in Zoom, using Qwickly, for example. Contact students who are repeatedly absent – maybe there is something wrong.
    • Create small, easy-to-understand assignments with deadlines, such as quizzes, both during and between teaching sessions. Skim the answers and adjust your teaching if you identify topics that some students have not understood. 
    • Use peer feedback for individual and/or group assignments.
    • Send out reminders to students who do not submit their assignments, and contact students who are lagging behind.

    5. Be present and visible

    Interaction with the teacher can be a crucial factor for students’ level of engagement in teaching. In online teaching, interaction between teachers and students does not happen by itself, and you cannot rely on students taking the initiative. For this reason, you need to be proactive in establishing and maintaining contact with your students.

    Arrange personal meetings with each student/group of students, and be proactive with regard to students who do not ask for help themselves. For example, you could: 

    • Organise one-to-one interaction with students or groups, for example by setting up groups in Blackboard so you can send e-mails directly to the group.
    • Comment on students' work, for example small assignments in Blackboard.
    • Visit students when they do group work if you have sent the students to Breakout Rooms in Zoom. Remember to also visit groups that do not ask for help.
    • Acknowledge and articulate that online teaching can be challenging, both for you and your students. Ask your students about their challenges in connection with online teaching, and encourage them to provide input.
    • Make a targeted effort to identify and seek out students who do not participate or who have difficulties with their assignments. If possible, you should offer extra help or refer them to help elsewhere, for example at a homework café, a study group or at the Student Counsellors' Office and the information office.