As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, many schools have retreated to the internet. Whether districts are operating fully or partially online, there is a strong chance that you are using Zoom or some other program like it. The upside of teaching on Zoom is behavior management as the “host” is all powerful in a Zoom setting. The downside is engagement because no matter how many options or features are available to the teacher, they cannot make students be active, and it is substantially more difficult to tell if they are.
Many teachers have found this out the hard way. Like almost everyone else, I taught on Zoom for the first time this year, and when I went to actually check on the work students had done during and after my lesson, I was horrified to see that many of them hadn’t done much of anything. Some obviously didn’t retain any of the information I taught and some just weren’t completing the assignments at all even though they were technically “present” on during the Zoom meeting. It was like they weren’t even there … and as it turns out, they weren’t. They didn’t have their cameras or microphones on, so they were able to log in and space out or even leave the computer altogether without me being any the wiser. I found out that one student was actually streaming PS4 games on Twitch while he was supposed to be in my class.
So, what does one do about this? More specifically what did I do and what worked?
I did try some strategies that worked. Let me add a word of caution about what my recommendations are not. Some of these types of articles that I see floating around are dedicated to making Zoom class more “fun.” That is not to say there is not a place for fun but what I really needed was a way to hold them accountable when delivering content. That’s the focus below.
- Encourage them to turn their cameras on.
If you can get them to do this, then you can solve this problem overnight. I would never advocate forcing them to turn their cameras on but if you can build a culture where they do, it will enable you to make eye contact, visually measure engagement, or at the least make sure they are still on their computer and not playing on their phones. This is especially useful if you have the ability to monitor what tabs students are on.
2. Have them respond to questions in the chat.
Ask students directly to respond in the chat to a prompt. The question should not be difficult because it is not a check for content knowledge necessarily but more like a pulse check for engagement. Sometimes I pick random students for this, sometimes I pick the whole class at once. The point is answering a question in the chat means you are paying at least some attention and it allows me to see it without having to pause class and ask them individually.
3. Use online platforms for work that allow you to monitor progress and participation real time.
In general, most people are using Zoom in conjunction with some other platform like Schoology, Socrative, or another learning management platform. If you have any say or autonomy in this decision, use a program that allows you to monitor student progress during the assignment.
For example, IXL has a function called “Live Classroom” where I can see what assignment students are working on, what question they are on, and even if they are getting them right are wrong. This kind of knowledge is invaluable. This function is not unique to IXL but its not on program. If you at all have a choice choose one that has this feature.
Bonus: If you really want students to remain engaged SHOW the live trackers. Having them know that you know when they are and aren’t working is powerful.
4. Call parents or the adult that monitors them while at home.
This is a surprisingly analog solution to a digital problem, but it still applies. Parents like teachers, may simply assume that when they see their child on the computer working, they are doing what they are supposed to do. A simple call saying “Hi Mrs. (Johnny’s mom) I see Johnny is logged in, but he’s not actually doing any work or responding when I talk to him. Would you mind checking to see if he’s logged in okay?” does wonders. I’ve made this call a couple of times and said students dramatically improve their engagement and parents know to keep an eye on them.
This is not an exhaustive list obviously, but it does serve as a good start for anyone who struggling to teach over Zoom. It’s important that students know they are still being held accountable for what they do and more importantly what they don’t do. After doing this for a while and the culture is set, you will notice that these strategies cause students to self-police.