Student Engagement in Live Online Classes

One of the concerns that we have heard from instructors who are teaching live online classes is not being able to determine if their students are staying engaged if their video is off. Requiring that students keep their video on is not recommended, due to privacy and equity issues. (This Instructor FAQ page addresses required video use in the Course Modalities section.) We understand that it can be disconcerting to be talking to a grid of black boxes, so we have some strategies that may help you feel more comfortable and encourage student engagement.

Image of Zoom gallery view with cameras off
  • Remind yourself that when you were teaching in person, simply looking at students was not an accurate way of assessing their engagement. Students could be looking directly at you while they are thinking about an upcoming exam, weekend plans, or a shopping trip. Students who have their laptops open might be taking notes OR ordering shoes or watching sports videos. Students who appear to be taking handwritten notes might be writing an assignment for another class or doodling. (Doodling does help some student stay focused on listening.)
  • If students are not planning to turn on their videos during class sessions, ask them to post a photo of themselves or a Memoji (iOS) or Bitmoji (iOS & Android) to their Zoom profile. This is good preparation for students who will be working remotely and joining company meetings in internships and after graduation.
  • Make use of the Chat feature (Item #5) in Zoom to ask for students' input when you pose questions. Once you pose a question, allow adequate wait time (7-10 seconds) before you start reading or summarizing their responses. This gives more of your students time to think.
  • Make use of the Reactions in Zoom. You can ask yes/no questions, ask for thumbs up reactions to indicate that they have no questions, and invite students to raise their hands if they have a question. When you ask for a reaction, be sure to allow sufficient time for most of your students to respond. This indicates to your students that you value careful thinking over immediate responses.
  • Make use of Polling (Item #6) in Zoom. You can create polls before class, or create one on the spot, as you deem appropriate. Once you launch a polling question, again allow adequate time for ~80% of your students to respond. Again, this indicates to your students that you value careful thinking over immediate responses. Once a poll is completed, share the results with your students. When you do this, it is important to normalize the incorrect choices, so that the students who chose an incorrect response do not feel marginalized. This also demonstrates a growth mindset and that we all make mistakes as we learn something new.
  • The Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Pepperdine University has created a series of "status cards" that instructors can share with students. Students can replace their profile picture with one of these cards during a class session to indicate their current status. To change a profile picture during a Zoom meeting, students can click on the up arrow next to the camera icon and select Video Settings. Next, select Profile, then Edit My Profile. This will take them to a webpage logged into their UArizona Zoom account. Students can click on Change below their current photo and replace the photo with the appropriate status card.