The Covid-19 pandemic is forcing educators to reevaluate and reexamine their teaching and learning styles, especially with regard to teaching and learning. The pandemic has seen most higher education institutions shifting from traditional face-to-face learning to fully online-based learning.
This abrupt shift, especially for higher education institutions that have been focusing on physical learning, has forced most educators out of their comfort zones. On a positive note, this shift has allowed educators to be more innovative and creative in designing and delivering unit content to suit the needs of their learners.
One of the most challenging aspects of online teaching is students’ lack of responsiveness during online class sessions. During classes, students prefer to have their cameras and microphones switched off, and there is very little interaction between the lecturers and students except for sporadic questions or responses in the chatrooms, or the occasional ‘yes-es’ and ‘no-s’ when asked if they have any questions.
The lack of participation and engagement during lessons creates a feeling of detachment, and eventually demotivates students and educators as well. After almost a year of online teaching, the biggest source of frustration is getting students to be more talkative and responsive in online classrooms.
When students do not respond to questions, this creates problems as lecturers are unable to judge if the students are learning effectively. In some cases, students would come into the virtual classroom just so that their attendance is registered but are not actually present throughout the lesson.
To address this issue, we at Curtin Malaysia have tried different strategies in our classes to cater to student’s needs, while encouraging them to practise self-efficacy in learning. In simple terms, self-efficacy refers to the students’ perception and belief of their ability to successfully complete tasks assigned to them.
It has been proven that there is a strong correlation between a student’s motivation, attitude towards learning, and achievement in class, thus encouraging self-efficacy and independent learning is essential. This is one of the most crucial tools for online learning — when we equip students with the right mindset about learning, we also increase their sense of efficacy and build positive associations about the learning process.
As educators, we can trigger and build on students’ self-efficacy by employing various strategies, for example, by providing different learning opportunities in class, by giving positive reinforcement, by increasing our availability for consultations and by flipping our classroom.
The first way to increase student engagement with the unit content is using a flipped classroom method. At Curtin Malaysia, besides having live tutorials via Webex, we prepare recorded lectures for students to watch. Lecture videos are made available via online learning platforms, and students can access the learning resources online prior to attending their online tutorials.
During class time, we will then do a short recap and summary of the lessons before we provide in-class activities to reinforce what they have learnt. Implementing a flipped classroom method allows students to come to class with sufficient knowledge about the content matter and this is reinforced through meaningful learning activities during live sessions.
Flipped classrooms provide students with the flexibility and freedom to manage their own learning, and the in-class activity aids in comprehension and mastery of specific skills acquired from their independent learning.
Besides flipped classrooms, we also incorporate the use of creative online tools to enhance the learning process. The activities in class are designed to produce specific outcomes to meet the objectives of the lessons. These outcomes are measured by the successful completion of tasks, which is easily seen at the end of the class.
For our in-class activities, we often use one or two learning tools, for example, Kahoot, Socrative, Popplet, and other online applications that are interesting and fun for students to use. Using a range of digital tools while teaching breaks the monotony of normal ‘teacher talk’ lessons and allows students to learn collaboratively when using these tools.
It is vital that during these sessions, positive reinforcement is given as students will appreciate being told that they are doing well, or if they have completed a task successfully. Even commenting on a particularly interesting answer or praising the student directly increases their confidence and motivation to engage with the learning during class.
We also ensure we ask questions when students are doing in-class activities. Asking open-ended questions or prompting questions helps orientate the students and causes them to slow down, reflect and think about their work carefully before they commit to an answer. This promotes reflexive thinking and helps to build their self-efficacy skills when they become more critical of the subject matter.
Finally, one of the most effective strategies to encourage self-efficacy is by allocating some time for consultations with students. This is arguably the easiest but also the most time-consuming way to increase student confidence and engagement with the content material.
When lecturers make time for the students, they can find out which aspects of the unit students are experiencing problems with, and are able to address these problems immediately and effectively. With the shift from face-to-face learning to online learning, lecturers often find themselves spending long hours consulting students either by ‘live’ consultations on Webex, emails or WhatsApp.
Ideally speaking, the above strategies are the best ways in online learning as it maximises students’ learning potential besides training them to be lifelong and independent learners.
Online learning will shape a new generation of learners that are resourceful and tech-savvy. As teachers brave the new digital classroom and online learning, the strategies discussed above are just some steps that educators can take to encourage engagement and motivation during online classes. Despite the challenging times, it is imperative that we focus on not just encouraging, but building and facilitating our learners to not just enjoy, but benefit from the learning process. This in turn will enhance motivation and hopefully build up students’ self-efficacy, and consequently, achieve academic success at university.
Dr Anita Jimmie and Dr Noraisikin Sabani are lecturers, and Esther Tong an associate lecturer, with the Department of Culture and Language Studies at Curtin University Malaysia’s Faculty of Humanities.