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There are various ways to engage students online in both synchronous and asynchronous environments using different approaches. In the following section, we focus on two types of engagement:

  • Engagement with the content through pre-recorded videos and sharing of course materials, and;
  • Engagement between students and with the instructor. You can use various learning technologies to help you engage students in meaningful ways.

Student Engagement during Synchronous Lectures

Planning your lectures

Teaching in real-time is not the same as teaching in the classroom, the pace is slower and everything takes more time (e.g. to get an answer from a student in the chat or through the microphone, or to display a poll question, etc.). Below are strategies that can help you plan a synchronous lecture:

  • Create a lesson plan for each lecture (a detailed agenda), where you include the time that students will spend answering questions in the chat, or in group discussions (breakout rooms).
  • Practice in advance (at least once), so that you can familiarize yourself with the web-conferencing platform, using the screen share and switching between different presentation modes (e.g. gallery view, speaker view), and explore the tools that will be needed to conduct various activities, especially the annotations, poll and breakout rooms.
  • Provide well-defined transitions between activities and discussions, and allow sufficient time between those transitions (e.g. between screen sharing and breakout rooms). Use the Gallery View on Zoom to keep your students in front of you; you can display up to 49 video thumbnails on one screen, and can move from screen to screen to see more students. 
  • Watch your pace and observe student engagement. Some students may not be able to process the information at the same rate as in person, they may benefit from short pauses between activities. 
Source: Best Practices: Online Pedagogy, Teach remotely, Harvard University (2020). Available at:

Engaging Students

During a synchronous lecture, you can use different strategies to engage students:

  1. Welcome the participants. An important thing is to set a welcoming tone in your course, by welcoming students when they enter a synchronous session, giving them a chance to introduce themselves to their classmates (e.g. using the chat room or the microphone).
  2. Share screens. You can share your computer screen to share documents and other resources with students to keep them engaged with the content.
  3. Raise hand/Reactions. Remind students to use the Raise Hand feature when they want to ask a question or when you open up a conversation to students. You or your TA can monitor the raised hands and let students speak alternatively.
    • Note: In the new version of Zoom (version 5.4.6 or later) participants have now access to the Reactions in the meeting controls, they can raise their hand or provide quick feedback using emojis.
  4. Microphone. Allocate time during a lecture for direct interactions with students and have them use their microphone. This is a way for you to pause and actively engage the participants. You can ask 2-3 students to use their microphone, which can also help create a sense of community in your course.
  5. Chat. The chat tool can be used to allow students to ask questions, and you can then allocate some time to answer them (e.g. every 10 minutes). You could also have a TA help monitor the chat (for large classes).
  6. Annotation tools. You can create collaborative tasks where students can annotate on a shared screen as a viewer. When you share your screen, you can ask students to annotate a PowerPoint slide and submit their responses using the text option. You can then monitor the annotations and drag them on the screen using the select option. The annotations can then be saved as an image. You can also use the Whiteboard, where you and the students can annotate on. Repeating this strategy will also encourage them and the rest of the class to participate even more.
  7. Question polls. You can use question polls to assess where students are in their learning. In Zoom, you can ask multiple-choice and/or multiple-answer questions, gather student responses in real-time, and share/discuss the results. Questions polls can also be used to get feedback from students at the end of a class (e.g. minute paper, muddiest point), to see what was the most interesting part of the session, what they found most challenging, or what still needs to be answered. Question polls can be made anonymous.
  8. Breakout rooms. You can put students in groups manually or randomly and have them work in groups during a lecture (option available on Zoom and MS Teams). Students can share their screen, webcam, use their microphone and chat with each other.
    • Ensure to provide clear instructions when using breakout rooms, to make sure they all contribute to their group.
    • You can also assign a time for breakout rooms with a countdown, to better keep track of time during a lecture.
Note: you can also use pre-assigned breakout rooms should you want to keep the same breakout rooms from one class to another. The self-select option is also available in the most recent Zoom version, which allows students to choose and enter a breakout by themselves. Make sure to ask students to update to the most recent version of Zoom.

Student Engagement Before or After Synchronous Lectures

On Brightspace, you can engage students using the following strategies:

  1. Discussions (asynchronous). On Brightspace, you could create an Introduce Yourself discussion where you ask students to share a picture of their hometown or something that characterizes their daily routine during Covid-19. You could share something about you as well, to create a sense of community online. You can have Q&A discussions where students can ask questions about the course in general (e.g. assignments, access to technology, course navigation etc.), and discussions on specific topics or themes. You can have class discussions or group discussions.
  2. Announcements and emails. It is important to keep frequent communication with students, to keep them engaged with you and the course, and make sure they are not falling behind. Keep them on track! Announcements every week using categories (or tags) of topics will help students anticipate what to expect from you (e.g. Welcome to Week 1, Assignments, Team Project, etc.).
  3. Create summary discussion posts or short video clips. You can summarize the key themes and ideas that have emerged in the discussions or during a synchronous session (on the chat room). This allows you to keep students on track and acknowledge their contributions.

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