These 5 Features Changed the Way I Teach Online Forever

Sam Thompson
Updated February 24 2022
Innovation in Education
Sam Thompson
Updated February 24 2022

Some years ago, as a leader in an educational technology startup, I was speaking with a marketing consultant. We were reviewing our online sales demo when they asked me a rather direct question, “Why are you doing it that way?” I didn’t know exactly what they meant, so they explained, “You’re demoing our platform where we talk about engagement, but you’re just showing me slides. Why not have me use the tools of the platform to drive the demo?”


That was really a lightbulb kind of moment for me and reminded me of that red-letter feedback from writing teachers, “Show me, don’t tell me.” So, we changed up our demo to build in back-and-forth engagement where potential customers were expected to drive the presentation. The effect was fascinating. Customers were “forced” to focus more because we were asking them to play along and they responded by actively participating and driving our discussions.


What does that have to do with teaching online? Well, in many ways, our learners are like customers. We are transferring knowledge to them in the hopes of reaching the desired outcome. The most effective way to do that is to engage them in anyway you can.


So, when it comes to effective teaching or training, I look at everything through the prism of engagement. At Kaltura, we talk a lot about engagement in terms of engaging students in virtual classrooms or audiences in virtual events and more. And it’s not just us that are doing the talking. These days many educators are talking about student engagement and that’s with good reason. Student engagement is critical to successful student outcomes.


Student Engagement


What is Student Engagement?

Student engagement occurs when students try in school. They actively participate in their learning: Attending class regularly, completing homework assignments, internalizing lessons learned and applying them in their lives, and raising their hands in class to contribute to the conversation. As educators, our goal is to transform passive students into active participants. By becoming active in their learning, students become more engaged. More engaged students are more likely to succeed academically. Over the years we have gotten better at nurturing student engagement, but the disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic stopped many of us in our tracks.


Student engagement


The Importance of Student Engagement

Most of us inherently understand the importance of engaging our learners. We may not be able to articulate that importance with hard data, but we just know that when students are actively engaged in their learning, they are more likely to succeed.


Luckily for us, there has been quite a bit of research done around student engagement. Gallup research found that students that are engaged are, “2.5 times more likely to say that they get excellent grades and do well in school, and they are 4.5 times more likely to be hopeful about the future than their actively disengaged peers.”


On the flip side, another report highlighted by the American Psychological Association found that nearly 50% of students were either not engaged or actively disengaged in school. Disengagement from school is a contributing factor for American students ranking in the middle or behind most advanced industrialized nations in reading, mathematics, and science.


It is important to highlight that these data points were taken well before the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.


Student Engagement


Learning Loss and Disengaged Students

The cost of the COVID-19 pandemic is nearly immeasurable. Its effects on education have been profound. Research from a July 2021 McKinsey & Company report found that on average students experienced a learning loss of 5 months in Math and 4 months in reading. The report goes on to project that the chronic absenteeism that has arisen due to the pandemic can cause an additional 617,000 to 1.2 million eighth-twelfth graders to drop out of school altogether. All told, it is estimated that the learning loss from this cohort of K-12 students will cause a GDP loss of $128 billion to $188 billion by 2040.


There were many challenges over the last two years that caused students to become disengaged from school. Converting our brick & mortar school to a virtual school to address school closures took incredible mobilization and fortitude by all involved. However, success largely depended on factors outside of a teacher’s control such as access to computers, an internet connection, or even parents with the time to ensure students sat in their chairs. Reengaging students in school has become a top priority for governments and international organizations such as the OECD.


These are huge challenges that we will need to tackle together. But, let’s come down a bit to the areas that we can control such as how we can engage our students in the classroom or their homework assignments. Virtual learning, either hybrid learning or remote learning, is going to continue to be part of our world. So, I’d like to share with you some of the features that I have found most impactful through my personal experiences or from my conversations with K-12 teachers and students.


Student Engagement


5 Features That Changed the Way I Teach Online

Teaching online – even in virtual classrooms that more closely mirror the in-person experience – is quite different from teaching face-to-face. Many traditional classroom experiences aren’t engaging at all. The main driver for students to remain focused is social pressure and proximity to the teacher. For both of those drivers, virtual instruction is at a distinct disadvantage.


However, with virtual instruction, we do have some key advantages such as leveraging technology to get real-time feedback and encouraging interactions that aren’t as well suited in an in-person classroom. Features that offer real-time feedback are incredibly helpful for class management and encouraging richer student engagement.


The following five features have been incredibly effective in making my online training sessions more engaging and ones that many of the teachers and students I speak with utilize to deliver their online classes.


1. Quick Polls

quick polls

We often need to get a pulse check in the classroom. In the physical classroom, we might ask for, “A show of hands.” Many virtual classroom platforms provide the equivalent digital experience either by having every student on camera and asking them to raise their hands or asking them to click a raise-hand button. The challenges with those options are that it can be difficult to get an accurate aggregate view, see specific student responses, and save that information for further consideration.

Another option I’ve seen is that teachers will ask a question verbally or on a slide that has more than an either-or response. Students are then asked to enter their answers as a text message. Again, this becomes quite difficult to get an aggregate view and the data is messy when reviewing after class.


With quick polls, I’m able to launch pulse checks with a couple of clicks. I can see aggregate real-time data as well as specific student responses. If I choose, then I can ask specific students why they think the way they do. Additionally, the data is saved automatically so I can refer to that data later when reviewing class participation.


Because quick polls require a student response, I’m purposeful in using them throughout the session. If I notice that attention may be waning, then I will throw up a quick poll to bring everyone back to the session.


2. Quizzes

Online Quiz - student engagement

Pop-quizzes are effective at measuring understanding and an additional data point to use for student grading. The challenge with pop quizzes for in-person teaching is that you don’t get results in real-time. Instead, you must wait for after class to get scores that will inform future lesson plans or homework assignments.


I’ve often seen teachers leverage polling tools as pop quizzes in their virtual classes. This is ok, but not ideal. Polling tools are great for pulse checks and instant feedback, but they don’t provide assessment opportunities. Typically, they are only one question, and they don’t have right or wrong answers.


Quizzes differ from polls because they are comprised of multiple questions and question types (multiple-choice, multiple answers, true or false, and even open questions). There are also right or wrong answers and they can be used for assessments. Many schools and learning organizations will automatically push quiz results to their grade books as well so that all assessment activities are shared in a single environment.


Real-time quizzes in virtual classrooms provide real-time feedback. This feedback is actionable in the class rather than data to be reviewed and acted upon later. Rather than presenting our lesson and sending students off to complete a project only to find that 40% of the class totally missed the key points of the lesson, we can know right away what isn’t understood and act upon it. Real-time quiz results can inform the direction of the class to ensure that every student is equipped with the knowledge to progress.


3. Interactive Whiteboards

interactive whiteboard - student engagement

In my K-12 days, we had chalkboards. I think we can all remember getting called up to write our answer on the chalkboard. Sometimes, there would be a couple of students called up to write their responses at the same time. This is all well and good, but there was a limit. Another issue is that the work needed to be erased so nothing was saved for later review.


With an interactive whiteboard, all students can contribute their work in real-time. This can get messy and often does so we also have options to limit their ability to contribute. Additionally, as the teacher, I can click on marks to see who added what for accountability and when considering overall participation in the class. Digital whiteboards also provide a lot more options than your standard chalkboard. We can copy & paste images which makes the whiteboard like a scrapbook to easily share and iterate on.


Importantly, all work is saved. Slides can be added to the whiteboards so that work can be additive rather than replacing previous work. We always have the previous work to review as needed. This also includes any of the whiteboard slides that student groups worked on in breakout sessions. Additionally, whiteboards can be exported so when I set up a complex whiteboard that I want to use in different rooms, I can easily share a copy of it as needed.


4. Sharing Video – Especially YouTube

Sharing video - student engagement

With the first three features, I highlighted clearly interactive features. Students are expected to respond to polls, answer quizzes, and contribute to the whiteboard. Video sharing is a bit different. Video has long played an important role in the classroom (how exciting was it when the teacher rolled the TV cart into the classroom?).


I have to say, I underestimated the role YouTube plays in today’s classroom. Students love it and teachers leverage it to keep students engaged in the class. It helps them add context to their lesson or add a bit of fun and social experience to the virtual class.


In virtual classes, video as content has suffered. Many tools rely on simply sharing your screen. Sharing your screen to show a video is not good. The quality is poor, and the audio is hard to follow. Regardless of if I’m helping teachers make their classes more dynamic or showing a company how to effectively engage their learners, sharing video as content such as YouTube is always a “wow factor”. People love it. It’s fun and different and makes the overall session more dynamic. Share more videos.


5. Making VOD Interactive

Interactive video - student engagement

Ok – let’s pivot. I was almost going to talk about all the ways I’ve seen breakout rooms used by hundreds of educators from parallel sessions, role-playing, branching scenarios, choose your own adventures, and more. However, I think it’s important to move away from the synchronous part of teaching online.


Teaching online gives more opportunities to extend student engagement outside of the classroom. Video is becoming a popular medium for extended classroom experiences or even taking fresh approaches to teaching methodologies such as the flipped classroom.


Video is engaging and students are already consuming a lot of it on their own. That being said, videos can be quite passive. To make them more engaging, we can add different layers of interactivity. One of my favorites is interactive video paths. You can think of video paths as video choose your own adventures. I made a fun one that I like to share around reading, but you can see great examples like this one from Deloitte. These interactive experiences are fun, information, and engaging.


Another example is adding quiz layers to your videos. I’ve seen teachers add quizzes to recordings of their virtual classes so that students that missed the class or even those that want another go can try the in-class quiz again. This is also helpful for compliance to be sure that not only did the student view the video but prove they engaged with it as well.


Student engagement


Final Thoughts

As I delivered more of our newly minted, engaging demo and training, I got a lot of interesting feedback. Some folks commented that they didn’t know they were going to have to work during the demo. You could almost hear them closing their emails and see them shifting in their seats. They understood they were going to have to actively participate so there wasn’t room to work on other tasks. Others, I kid you not, said that was the “most fun they’ve had in a demo.”


It made sense. Rather than looking at static slides and hearing me drone on about value propositions or just sharing my screen on how to do something, I was asking my participants to participate in driving the experience. Another benefit was that the demonstration and the training were nearly the same. They were hands-on workshops, just the latter had more details that the former didn’t need.


What surprised me most about having “make it engaging” the mantra of these online demos and training was that they weren’t repetitive. Not only was the experience engaging for my trainees, but it was engaging for me. And perhaps that, more than anything else, impacted the quality of our sessions. When everyone is engaged, the students and the teachers, then better outcomes abound.

Kaltura Virtual Classroom French Datasheet

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