As the College of Charleston and other schools pivot to the learn-at-home model of education, teachers and professors may be wondering how to keep students engaged in online lessons. CofC Professor of Sociology Heath C. Hoffmann taught online courses before the shuttering of learning institutions due to the novel coronavirus, so he had a few words of advice on how to keep students learning and listening.

1. Be authentic.

In a face-to-face class, my lectures are imperfect; I’m goofy and given to making fun of myself or telling dumb dad jokes within the context of discussing course materials. I am the same way in my distance-education classes. I do not try to be something I’m not as students will see through that and, at the same time, I will not be fully comfortable with what I’m doing.

2. Trust your topic and your technique.

If the topic engages students in the face-to-face class, it will likely engage students in the distance-education platform. I aspire to have interactive and engaging classes in which students are active participants in the learning process, regardless of the class delivery format. I have had a lot of success with students actively expressing themselves in the online class, and it has started by building on the successes and lessons learned in my face-to-face classes.

3. Provide opportunities for oral discussion and participation.

Providing students the opportunity to discuss the materials orally in VoiceThread or FlipGrid has resulted in significantly higher quality of student engagement. Their reactions, reflections and analyses of assigned work has been significantly more thoughtful and of a higher quality than compared to the written comments I received on OAKS discussion board assignments. Students convey a passion and interest in the material and seem to feel liberated to express themselves orally in a way that they do not in the OAKS discussion board.

4. Show compassion.

Our students face a lot of challenges in their personal lives that undermine, or could undermine, their academic success. By conveying to students at the beginning of the semester and throughout the class that I care about them as people – not just students – I believe (do not have data to support this) that students feel more committed to the class, to me as a professor and to taking the coursework seriously than they would if I had not overtly and intentionally expressed concern about their school-life balance. This increased connection to the class increases the likelihood of success, and thus increases student retention.