The new school year is about to kick in. Time to review your teaching objectives. One objective that should be high on any teacher’s wish list is to increase student engagement. It’s famously one of the biggest challenges of online learning. Luckily, it’s easily overcome by following a few best practices and by infusing your sessions with fun activities and stimulating ideas. In this article, we share our 10 best guidelines and 10 virtual classroom ideas for more engaging sessions.
- Student Engagement in the Virtual Classrooms
- 10 Guidelines for a More Engaging Virtual Classroom Experience
- 10 Engaging and fun Virtual Classroom Ideas
- Make Your Virtual Classroom Sessions Engaging with Kaltura
Student Engagement in the Virtual Classroom
The many advantages that online learning holds over traditional face-to-face are well documented. Online learning is more flexible, more inclusive, and more effective in many ways. It fosters self-learning and presents a lower cost than traditional learning.
But the disadvantages also quickly became apparent during the 2020 pandemic. Learning from a screen made many students feel isolated, left behind, unmotivated, and detached from the classroom environment. The many distractions in the student’s home environment make it tricky to stay focused.
This led many teachers to enquire about how to make online learning more engaging for students. In the last 12 months, the global situation led online learning into acceleration. Education experts researched and formulated guidelines, while teachers from around the world shared their virtual classroom ideas for fun activities that increase engagement.
10 Guidelines for a More Engaging Virtual Classroom Experience
Before we get into suggestions for fun activities and virtual classroom ideas, let’s first look at a few important guidelines. The following 10 guidelines help you build an engaging online learning experience in which your students can optimally focus, connect, and participate.
In an online classroom, students quickly tend to feel isolated and disconnected. They might think no one will notice if they miss a class. That’s why building community is an essential part of an online classroom. Students need to feel they’re part of a larger group.
There are many ways to build community. Start by learning and using your students’ names. Find out about their interests and make sure to incorporate them where possible. Create social media pages where the students can be active outside the classroom hours (ask questions, exchange ideas and interesting links, message boards, …). Broaden this community to include family members or partners. Finally, practice what you preach. Share things from your personal life and let your students in on it. Start the session with a personal conversation. Foster a classroom culture where the participants want to connect, discuss, and share constructively.
Agree on how you are going to communicate
This is an important point. Let the students know which communication channels you are planning to use for what purpose and when. Make this as straightforward as possible. You should have communication channels for office hours, emergencies outside office hours, educational materials, submitting assignments, class discussions, and student “schoolyard” exchanges.
You could use a meeting solution or your virtual classroom software to host your office hours, WhatsApp for emergencies/time-sensitive messaging, email for the weekly schedule, Google Drive for assignments, and Facebook for community and discussions. In 2021, there’s no lack of options for online communication. The trick is to keep it straightforward. Make sure students know about all the channels and what to use them for.
Set rules for your virtual classroom
Knowing the expectations and how to behave during your sessions will help your students stay focused on the lesson at hand. It will also help create a pleasant working environment where all students will feel accepted and safe. Create a set of virtual classroom rules ahead of your online course. Take the time to discuss these rules at the beginning of the course and repeat them whenever necessary.
Plan your classroom sessions
This is nothing new to teachers. The difference between a prepared lesson and an improvised one is palpable, online or in real life. Planning avoids interruptions in the flow of your lesson. Planning allows you to share agendas ahead of time and have the students prepare for the upcoming lesson. Planning is also necessary to enable many of the other strategies in this list.
Create individual learning plans
One of the best ways to increase engagement is to make the student feel seen. Individual learning plans show the students that your course is tailored to them. It makes them feel supported, it gives them their money’s worth, and, most importantly, it increases their success rate.
Of course, individual learning plans present additional work, one-on-one sessions, and reassessments throughout the course. Choosing a virtual classroom platform with an integrated analytics suite will help you create a complete image for your performance assessments.
Use interactive tools
Like in-person classes, online courses can put students in a passive position where they listen to a lecture and occasionally take notes. One of the main advantages of a virtual classroom is the access to technology and interactive tools to keep the students engaged.
The best virtual classroom platforms provide collaborative whiteboards, quick polls, interactive quizzes, etc. to keep the students at the edge of their seats. Alternatively, you can find free educational tools online. Use them to your advantage and infuse interactive activities at regular intervals during your sessions.
Virtual teaching makes it easy to integrate educational web content such as articles, videos, podcasts, and images. It’s an easy and effective way to illustrate new concepts and ideas, and you can share links with your students so they can revisit the material later at their own pace. Of course, YouTube, Wikipedia, and TedEd are great resources for multimedia educational material.
Gamify your sessions
Spice up your sessions with gamification. It could be as simple as a one-off quiz with points or ranking and as elaborate as a badge and reward system that runs throughout the course and involves in-lesson actions and activities, home assignments, and group projects. We’ll cover ideas for games in the next section.
Mix up your teaching methods
This strategy works just as well in an online environment as it does in a face-to-face situation. Keep your sessions fresh by choosing the best teaching method for the topic at hand and switching for the next session: project-based learning, flipped classroom, synchronous versus asynchronous learning, breakout sessions, etc.
Use the right virtual classroom software
If you plan on using Skype or similar free software, you’ll be very limited in what you can do to increase engagement. These platforms weren’t built for education and will give your course a very ‘makeshift’ feel.
Invest in software with all the bells and whistles to create the best course possible for you and your students. Look for a platform that provides collaborative whiteboards, multiple chat functionalities, multimedia integrations, breakout rooms, etc. In the last section of this article, you can learn more about Kaltura Virtual Classroom, a solution purpose-built for education.
10 Engaging and fun Virtual Classroom Ideas
Engagement is all about connecting with the teacher and the other students, actively participating in class and in assignments, and understanding new class topics and ideas. We collected 10 fun virtual classroom ideas that are fun for all ages.
Music is always a good ice breaker and conversation starter. While you’re waiting for all students to join, play your favorite song. When everyone’s in, tell them why you love this song so much. Maybe share an anecdote that’s linked to that song. Then have the students send you the name of their favorite song. Start every new session with a different song and have the students explain their choice. This is a great way to have every student share something personal and take the stage to talk to the group.
Polls and Quizzes
We already touched a word on it earlier, but polls and quizzes are a great way to get students to participate actively. Virtual classroom software like Kaltura Virtual Classroom has these features built-in. But if your solution doesn’t offer these features, you can also use free apps like Kahoot! to create quizzes. You can create a classic multiple-choice quiz, but you can also mix it up and create true or false statements, odd-one-out, etc.
In Think-Pair-Share activities, students receive a topic or questions and are asked to think about it, share their thoughts and ideas with classmates then share their combined work with the whole class. This builds their thinking, collaboration, and communication skills. This type of activity works well with breakout sessions where you divide the class into smaller groups with each their virtual space, so make sure your virtual classroom platform offers this feature.
Virtual show and tell
This is a virtual twist on a great classic that gets everyone to contribute their bit to the lesson. You can ask your students to find an image, short video, or gif that illustrates a topic or a concept. Have them explain why they think their choice of image best represents the concept at hand. Ask further questions and encourage fellow students to ask questions, too.
Scavenger hunts work great with younger students, but maybe you could create a fun adult version, too. You can have your students hunt their house, the internet, or outdoors. It makes for a fun break in the lesson and activates the student while refreshing the mind. Just make sure to agree on a time limit to have everyone back in front of their screens. You can find inspiration for scavenger hunt assignments on this page.
Outdoor assignments (photo/video/audio)
Homework assignments don’t always have to be done at a desk. Get the students outdoors to collect photos, videos, or audio files about a certain topic with their smartphones. This can be as simple as a photo that represents the topic, and as elaborate as a mini-documentary or an interview. The students then upload and present their assignments in class.
Two truths and a lie
This is a classic that translates very well to a virtual classroom environment. Have students prepare two true statements and one false statement about a topic you’re discussing in class. This can be about a historical figure, the right outcome of a scientific process, cultural differences, you name it. The student takes the stage and shares his three statements with the class. The other students can then discuss and identify the true and false statements.
Digital Escape Rooms
Here’s one of our favorite virtual classroom ideas. Ever done an escape room? They’re rooms in which you’re trapped, and you need to resolve a riddle or puzzle to unlock the door. If your virtual classroom software enables breakout rooms, you can perfectly translate this activity to make it work in a virtual setting. Hide the clues in the media playlists, uploaded files and folders, and the digital whiteboard of the breakout rooms. Here’s an article on how to build a digital escape room using Google Forms.
Virtual field trips
The internet is a great place to travel! No need for permission slips or long bus rides. Watch a video or follow interactive tours as a class activity. Make sure to keep the students active and connected with regular questions, quizzes, or ask about their opinions on what they see. It should be a shared experience.
Alternatively, you can go on location yourself and lead the session in the field with your smartphone, provided you can guarantee a stable internet connection, clear sound, and high image quality.
Student engagement is also about connecting with the teacher. A fun way to do this is to invite individual students for a virtual lunch with the teacher. It’s an opportunity to get to know each other, to get feedback from the students, discuss progress and pain points, or just plain chat about your favorite Netflix show. Invite a different student every week or every class day and keep things light and friendly. It’s a social thing, first.
Make Your Virtual Classroom Sessions Engaging with Kaltura
Let’s summarize. We should foster student engagement to overcome the challenges and disadvantages of a virtual classroom environment. We covered 10 guidelines and 10 fun virtual classroom ideas to increase engagement. What is missing? An education technology platform that enables these guidelines and ideas.
Kaltura Virtual Classroom is purpose-built for education, meaning it is reliable and convenient while enabling all your teaching activities and methods with a powerful suite of features:
- Make the platform your own with brandable persistent classrooms and breakout rooms that you can prepare in advance and save.
- You and your students join the virtual classroom with a single click, no download or installation required.
- Enrich your sessions with engagement features: collaborative whiteboards, screen sharing, real-time notetaking, polls, and quizzes.
- Nurture healthy collaboration and communication with full chat capabilities, moderation controls, student permission management, and a door lock feature.
- Feel confident with Kaltura’s expert live chat, email, and Academy support channels.
- Monitor and assess student performance with powerful session analytics, attention indicators, and attendance information.
- Easily integrate Kaltura into your Learning Management System (LMS) or use it as a standalone platform.
- Increase accessibility and flexibility with session recordings, automatic transcription, and a complete video editing suite with interactive features.
- … and so much more!
Find out more about Kaltura Virtual Classroom right here. Even better, click the link below to start a free trial and see how Kaltura can help you deliver engaging online learning experiences your students will love!