How to Make Online Classes More Interactive
Today’s college students expect more from the tech used by their institutions. They have grown up with technology and social media and are accustomed to learning, collaborating, and communicating online with ease. As such, it is critical that schools learn to adapt to the evolving needs and preferences of those they serve. With the right tools, institutions will be able to figure out how to make online classes more interactive. This is often a matter of figuring out how to leverage those tools for maximum impact.
When determining how to make online classes interesting for students, instructors should consider the type of students they teach. For example, engaging STEM students requires tools and techniques different from those that are needed to teach humanities students. While increasing student engagement is easier said than done, you can get on the right track by strategizing around your students’ needs, accounting for their preferences, and learning from others in your space. Seeing from others how to make class interactive online — and what hasn’t worked for other instructors — is a great way to start formulating some ideas and putting how to make lessons fun and engaging into action.
One of the most popular learner engagement strategies that can reinvigorate and foster an interactive online class is using discussion boards. This can help facilitate and inspire regular interaction between students. Just because they’re learning online does not mean that students should feel disconnected from each other. By prompting students to post to discussion board prompts, you can help create connections among students, help students share their thoughts, and keep them more engaged.
While the impact of online learning on student engagement and academic success is still being studied, one thing is clear: students benefit greatly from regular interaction with peers and instructors. By offering your students plenty of opportunities for engagement, you can create a more cohesive classroom environment. Unlike the physical classroom settings, where instructors can control engagement more directly, instructors have to work a lot harder to engage students in the digital realm. For this reason, instructors and school administrators should stay on the watch for how to make class fun for students as well as innovative solutions to increase learner engagement online.
How to Make Online Classes Better for Students
Let’s focus on discussion boards. They are key in how to make online classes better for students. For instructors, discussion boards serve as a platform for students in online courses — an asynchronous communication tool that allows students to collaborate with others through posting thoughts or answering questions outside of a physical classroom.
As one form of the many interactive online learning activities, lively online discussion platforms as well as other activities to engage students in online learning like small-group collaboration and student-led discussions are among the hallmarks of face-to-face courses. But when it comes to learning online, some argue it’s difficult to replicate the value of these interactions. While a staple of strictly online courses for years, the online discussion board is finally finding traction in both traditional and blended courses — leveraged as collaboration activities for students online that work to reinforce course concepts, engage students in deeper reflection outside the classroom, and increase interaction between teachers and students in online learning.
The online discussion board is proving to be a powerful tool. It fosters a sense of community and encourages more student-to-student interaction, which research demonstrates improves learner engagement and achievement. As a tool supporting many online learning strategies for college students, discussion boards also give all learners the opportunity to expand and clarify their understanding of key ideas. It moves beyond the passive learning forms of reading and listening and allows the learner to actively engage with their peers and instructor.
There are several benefits of online discussion board tools for students, including better academic outcomes and behaviors for students.
- Online learning can be isolating or overwhelming for students, which can lead to decreased motivation and increased attrition. Discussion boards for students are a way to provide connection to others.
- Asynchronous online discussions allow for wider participation and deeper, more thoughtful treatment of the topic. Students have time to think before responding and to edit their responses before sharing them with others, especially helpful for learning outside of face-to-face class time.
- A good online discussion provides a collaborative learning experience that supports deeper understanding. Collaborative learning opportunities increase levels of student engagement and can help students improve their ability to transfer learning to new contexts.
- Discussion boards are also critical for creating social presence and community online. Presence and community foster emotional connection — and these elements are key in improving engagement and, in turn, academic outcomes.
In fact, results from a landmark meta-analysis that looked across 213 studies involving more than 270,000 students found that social and emotional learning (SEL):
- Increased students’ academic performance by 11 percentile points.
- Increased students’ ability to manage stress and depression.
- Improved students’ attitudes about themselves.
That said, not many institutions are able to fully realize the benefits of discussion boards in online learning because they continue to rely on the basic built-in discussion forums of learning management systems. But with the right technology, online discussion boards can help instructors figure out how to run online classes effectively and fuel meaningful interaction outside of the classroom.
How to Keep Students Engaged in Online Learning
Learning how to keep students engaged in online learning is vital to creating and sustaining an effective digital learning environment. By prioritizing students’ engagement in online learning, instructors can create a more positive experience for everyone involved and help students sharpen their communication skills. To do this, it’s important to lay the groundwork for implementing effective engagement strategies and motivational activities for online classes.
Many factors affect student engagement in online learning, most of which are detailed in leading literature on the topic. Lack of access to internet-capable devices is among the top factors negatively impacting students’ success in online courses. Institutions should be mindful of the tech-related challenges faced by students. Poor learning habits and lack of self-motivation can lead to a lack of student engagement in online learning. Many students struggle to keep up with self-paced courses, and so providing additional resources, course delivery methods is important, and a variety of engaging activities for online classes is important.
Deploying a survey can be a great way to better understand student engagement and determine how to increase their involvement in online courses. Your survey might touch on topics related to tech accessibility, communication with instructors, and any learning difficulties they may be facing. The results of your survey can be extremely helpful when developing student engagement strategies and lead to new ideas on fun activities for college students online.
Other tactics to consider implementing when improving student engagement online:
- Use emotion-based, multimedia & student-facilitated discussions for better student engagement in online learning
- Design online collaboration activities like peer reviews
- Create milestone due dates that guide students through a series of assignments, serving to keep them on track
Different institutions serve different types of students and can benefit from different student engagement techniques. For example, institutions with large class sizes can help get students involved in group projects. Those participating in smaller classes may be put into pairs or small groups for more personal engagement. Small class sizes allow for more one-on-one interaction between students and with instructors.
Regardless of class size, students can benefit from tools like chat and multimedia integration. Being able to converse with their peers and instructors can help keep them involved and engaged in course material. Additionally, by incorporating relevant media into their class discussion posts and assignments, they can more easily convey ideas and help their classmates understand complex topics. These strategies promote student engagement and are shown to be highly effective at keeping students interested.
Interactive Tools for Online Learning
As mentioned, discussion forums, like those found in most LMSs, have become a standard way for students to interact with course content. These forums are typically text-based and can be challenging to extract deep engagement from students — not exactly the kind of interactive tools for online learning that promote student participation.
They are also notoriously difficult for instructors to track and grade student participation. In fact, in a survey of over 350 educators, 61% said that they spend more than two hours each week attempting to grade discussions, noting their biggest challenge on this front was searching through threads from last-minute participation.
From a usability and visual design standpoint, the way an LMS presents discussions is challenging and un-engaging. Text-heavy threads and conversations are tough to follow, and the LMS itself doesn’t do a great job of pushing students toward being better collaborators nor instructors toward being better facilitators.
When it comes to interactive online learning apps, Harmonize is a suite of digital discussion and collaboration tools that integrate seamlessly with your LMS to facilitate a more engaging online learning experience. These tools focus attention on the activities that drive engagement, including:
- powering collaboration during course prep with instructors and among students.
- creating multi-directional synchronous and asynchronous communication pathways during coursework to build community.
- fostering inclusive opportunities by removing barriers, enabling flexibility, and expanding access.
These interactive online learning tools increase the quality and quantity of student-to-student, student-to-content, and student-to-instructor interactions and include:
✔ Rich Multimedia & Annotation
✔ Built-in Chat, Polling & Q&A
✔ Tagging, Notification & Reactions
✔ Streamlined Grading to Save Instructors Time & Focus on Feedback
As interactive apps for online learning that integrate easily with the LMS, Harmonize is everything an instructor needs to increase student engagement in online discussions and promote inclusive learning, while saving time and eliminating manual tasks. It’s how forward-thinking institutions are figuring out how to make online classes more interactive.