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Engagement through interaction

Techniques for maintaining engagement with students when you're new to online teaching and learning.
Lots of people and how they can interact with one another
© FutureLearn

Many teachers transitioning to online report that the interaction with our students, sharing a physical learning space, is what they miss most when teaching online, and students notice it too. Online learning and teaching can be a lonely experience, but there are ways to establish and maintain contact with your students.

First, it’s important to keep a positive tone in your interactions with students, and even more so given the situation we find ourselves in.

Martin Weller, The Open University: “Be friendly!”
Tracey Chapleton, The British Council, Madrid: “Smile lots! It might feel weird at first but it does make a difference.”
Josh Underwood, The British Council, Bilbao: “Remember to relax and be friendly.”
As we mentioned in Week 1, educator presence is key to engaging students and reassuring them that they are supported, while encouraging independent learning.
Claire Beecroft, The University of Sheffield: “I think being as ‘present’ in your programme as you can is really important- showing students you are there helps to create that sense of a relationship with learners, and helps (crucially) to motivate learners to keep up with their course even when not surrounded by their fellow students.”
Below are some suggestions for activities and approaches to establish and maintain contact in your classes.


If you are teaching a group of students for the first time, or even if you’ve been together in the classroom previously, record an introductory video, audio, or written text about yourself. Show or describe your personal work space and the view out your window, talk about your hobbies, passions or pets – it shows you’re human! Ask your students to do the same; it helps to understand their situation and will give you ideas for learning activities that draw on their interests.
Tracey Chapleton, The British Council, Madrid: ”It’s really important to build a sense of community, don’t rush in with your objectives and lesson plan, take time to either get to know your students (if it is your first class) or talk to your students about their fears and anxieties about moving online (if you already know your students).”

Check ins and reviews

Another good practice is to start the week with a message to your students every Monday. You could send an overview of what’s coming up and ask them for PPPs:

  • report a plan they’ve made
  • some progress made
  • and any problems they’re experiencing.

For younger students this may be useful to do with their parents to help you get updates and find themes. You can check in with students as a group through the week, asking about activities they are working through. If students don’t respond you can contact them or their parents individually. Each new week helps them to reflect on their progress, share any problems or reach out for help. it will help you review planned learning activities and an overview of what they are working on next.


For teachers and parents/carers working with students under 18, it’s important to consider online safety. One way to do this is to set some ground rules for online interactions, for example being supportive and respectful of each other in emails and other messages, or establishing rules for how and when to respond during synchronous events. You can establish these cooperatively with more mature students so they feel they have ownership of them; younger students will need to follow more strict rules / laws (especially under 13s).

We have included some links to child online safety guidance from UNICEF and other sources in the ‘see also’ links below. If you find links to online child safety guidance for a different country, feel free to share them in the comments.

Your task (15-20 minutes)

Choose one of the suggestions above and consider how you might use it in your online teaching. Describe what you plan to do in the comments below.

© FutureLearn
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How To Teach Online: Moving online post-pandemic

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