Student engagement is always challenging for teachers in any classroom environment, but a pandemic is making it more challenging nowadays. In a physical classroom environment, teachers usually adjust the pace with attention to those slower moments when a lesson seems to drag on a bit. This makes teachers to create frequent transitions between topics by asking critical-thinking questions and seek out relevant resources. Resulting in making students to get excited about the topic. However, it seems simple to think and expect, but in a hybrid teaching environment, it is nearly impossible and challenging. The use of asynchronous methods means you can’t predict the pace of a lesson anymore. The lack of physicality makes movement more difficult.
The role of distractions is way crucial in both physical and virtual classroom environment. In a physical classroom, you can use space proximity and body language to get students’ attention when distracted. But when students work from home, you can’t redirect misbehaviour. For students, the classroom feel is actually not there in the virtual environment. I can recall many instances from last year where students aren’t logging into the Google Classroom or logging in but not actually finishing the required assignments.
Following are some of my observational reasons that might be responsible for lower student engagement in a virtual environment.
The Absence of Equity
As teachers, we need to focus first on access and equity by ensuring every student has equitable access to technology. Not every student has the same device or the same internet connection. Therefore, it’s essential to work with all stakeholders to provide increased access to technology. When it comes to technology-inclusive classrooms, hybrid or physical, it is equally important for teachers not to emphasise one form of instructional strategy. Instead, blended instructional approaches work like a charm where students have various ways to understand a question or a task placed by the teacher. Similarly, many students might not be native English speakers. They need access to sentence stems, visuals, front-loaded vocabulary, and other accommodations that teachers usually provide in the physical environment.
Empower Students to Own the Lesson
Student classroom engagement can depend upon how much a student own the lesson. A lesson should be planned where student self-select the scaffold. Create opportunities for ownership in virtual meetings. Find specific ways to increase student feedback and interactions in virtual class meetings. Design activities that tap into their curiosity and creativity and even allow students to use items from their physical environment.
Set Realistic Expectations
It’s still essential for teachers to set specific expectations around behaviour and participation. But with distance learning, engagement may look different. For example, live video classes may cause unique challenges for students who learn and think differently. Students who have increased anxiety about being “on display” may behave in ways that challenge the teacher’s definition of engagement. Behaviours like twitching, turning off the camera, or moving around during class sessions can look like a lack of engagement. But for some students, it’s what they need to do to participate in learning.
It’s essential to realize that students engage in a variety of ways. Don’t expect engagement to look the same as before or the same for every student.
It has been a year since covid hit the world and how we perceived things before covid is now completely changed. Students are one of the victims here. As per my observation, the issue is not student engagement but of student ownership. Our lesson plans must be designed in a way where students self-direct their learning by owning the lesson and its tasks.