Checking understanding and engaging online students when cameras are off.

The move to online teaching due to the Covid-19 pandemic has led to new learning and teaching experiences for both students and teachers. This novel situation has arguably led to challenges difficult to foresee or at least difficult to alleviate. One issue that may make teaching more difficult is being unable to gauge online students’ understanding and engagement when the students’ cameras are switched off. Teachers used to face-to -face teaching may be quite accustomed to reacting to facial expressions and body language to informally assess learners’ understanding and engagement.  It should be stated from the outset though that this study is not about whether students should have their cameras switched on or off. This study instead focuses on the ways practitioners in Further and Higher Education are using to attempt to gauge online students’ understanding and engagement when their cameras are turned off. The reasons why the cameras are switched off may be relevant when considering if students understand and/or are engaged. Nevertheless, this small-scale study concentrates on practitioner approaches to checking student comprehension and engagement when the reasons why cameras are switched off are unknown. Whilst there has been recent research about the topic of measuring/encouraging online student engagement (Dixson, 2015; Kahn, Everington, Kelm, Reid, Watkins, 2016) the current context appears to be particularly novel.  Many learners/ teachers who may have been initially reluctant to work online have found that they must do so.

This study took the form as an anonymous questionnaire distributed through Microsoft Forms. Forty-four responses were collected including responses for EAP, EFL, EAP and subject-specific teachers. The findings reveal a considerable amount of diversity among the methods employed. Many teachers are making substantial use of a diverse range of digital tools such as Padlet and Kahoot, whereas other teachers are using perhaps more familiar concept checking and eliciting techniques. It is hoped the findings from this study will start a conversation about the various, different mechanisms practitioners could be using in order to check students’ understanding and engagement.

References

Dixson, M. D. (2015). Measuring student engagement in the online course: The online student engagement scale (OSE). Online Learning (Newburyport, Mass.), 19(4) doi:10.24059/olj.v19i4.561

Kahn, P., Everington, L., Kelm, K., Reid, I., & Watkins, F. (2017). Understanding student engagement in online learning environments: The role of reflexivity. Educational Technology Research and Development, 65(1), 203-218. doi:10.1007/s11423-016-9484-z

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