Student engagement is a major priority for schools and teachers. It’s also a priority for students, even if they don’t realize it, as students would prefer being engaged at school, rather than bored. While traditional schools and online schools both have their own strengths and weaknesses regarding student engagement, the nature of online schooling does allow some unique methods, tools, and general advantages to increase student engagement in ways that some people may not have considered.
1. Multimedia lessons
Some parents and families may be concerned that letting students take lessons on a computer could create a risk for distraction. While being able to take lessons in privacy, or whatever environment a student would like, could decrease some sources of distractions, such as being in a room full of peers, and the urge to socialize with them, it’s hard to deny that the internet can be a very distracting tool.
Here at Ontario Virtual School, one method we use to combat distraction and maintain student engagement is the use of multimedia lessons. At OVS, lessons incorporate the use of audiovisual aids, such as pictures and text, as well as videos, not just of the teacher providing the lesson, but of outside sources. It may be one thing to hear about a historical event, but our lessons can incorporate videos or pictures of the event, or audio and video interviews with witnesses and experts, all within the main body of the lesson.
Additionally, all lessons include interactive elements, such as small educational games and quizzes, as well as the use of Gizmos, to not just keep students engaged, but to help them ensure that they’ve kept up their engagement throughout the lesson, and find out if they need to review before moving on. All of this is in addition to the regular materials students may be more used to, such as worksheets and other handouts.
2. Active social networks within classes
As students and families are aware, online learning does not usually involve the same crowded classrooms that students may be used to, and this may mean less social engagement with their peers. While this could mean less distraction, it could also mean less discussion about the actual lessons, and that can be a very valuable tool. At OVS, however, all courses involve the use of discussion forums, with topics tailored for different lessons and assignments. This allows students to discuss their ideas with their peers, to share with and learn from each other, while also ensuring that their discussions are on topic.
Courses require students to use the discussion forums for certain assignments, to ensure they are utilizing the tools and building their skills, but the forums are also available for non-mandatory uses. If a student wishes to ask the class a question, and not just a teacher, they can now receive a variety of responses, and see how different people may interpret different issues. This can be very useful for getting critiques on their writings, or seeing different methods people used to solve the same math problem, for example. But of course, it also helps to ensure that students have an outlet for social interaction, to decrease their desire to seek it elsewhere, at least while they should be studying.
3. Allowing students to study on their own schedule
At Ontario Virtual School, students can watch lessons and submit assignments in their course whenever they like. What this means is that students can schedule their learning around their lives, rather than needing to try to shape their lives around their learning. For example, many students have difficulty waking up early for school, and this can lead not just to decreased attention and engagement at school, but also a variety of health concerns that come with a lack of sleep and rest. At other times, a student may be distracted at school for personal reasons. Teachers and administrators may not be aware of problems going on in a student’s life, but we all know how difficult it can be to focus on one topic when there are other serious, private concerns happening in your life.
With Ontario Virtual School, students are not obligated to take a lesson on any particular day, or any particular hour. They can take time off if they need to, whether it be until later that day, or later that week or month. They can then catch up at their own pace, rather than becoming disengaged due to falling behind and missing content, leaving later lessons less comprehensible. In fact, they can pick up where they left off, and then advance at a more rapid pace if they would like. Rather than struggling to move at the school’s pace, the school advances at the student’s pace, which allows them to be engaged throughout their course.
Though student engagement is a concern for any educator, and methods to increase student engagement in online learning are still advancing, with over a decade of experience, Ontario Virtual School has implemented many different methods to increase student engagement, and will continue to perfect these methods, and implement new ones.