Engaging the Socially Distanced Learner

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The Pre-brief

When you give an in-person lecture, the learners are looking at your slides, but they are also watching you. Walking around the room, making eye contact with individuals, and other physical gestures are all means of enhancing engagement. Obviously, much of this is lost when giving a presentation via a video conferencing platform (such as  Zoom). Sure, you make an appearance in a small box in the corner of the screen, but your slides have now become the predominant focal point. If you have any experience watching a slide deck on a computer screen, you probably know how easy it is to lose focus.

So how to keep an engaged audience in a virtual setting?

The first question to ask yourself is, does this really need to be in a lecture format?

1) Yes, I think a slideshow presentation is the best format for this content.

Brevity should be the goal. Think twenty minutes as a maximum. Ten is even better. If you feel you have so much content to cover that fitting into that short of a window is impossible, break it down into multiple shorter presentations with scheduled breaks that allow your learners to look away from their computer screen for a few minutes. If this is a lecture you have given before, use this moment as an opportunity to step back and ask yourself if there is information that is not pertinent and may be removed to hone it down into a tighter, well-crafted message.

Incorporate features such as chat bar discussions and annotation to make your presentation more interactive and dynamic. See the previous post in this series for a deeper dive into these topics.

Also, remember that there is no rule that once you press the share screen button that you must have your slides on the screen until your presentation is done. Consider intermittently interrupting screen sharing so your audience can see your face and break up the monotony of the slide deck. This is a great time to check the chat bar and answer questions.

2) You know what, you’re right. Everything doesn’t need to be a lecture. What else can we do?

I’m so glad you asked. There are two interactive formats that work quite well virtually: small group sessions and whiteboard teaching.

You may already have some experience with case-based learning and small group discussion formats. These are easy to do by using breakout rooms. The host can create multiple breakout rooms and assign learners to one of these rooms to create closed groups. Everyone should be encouraged* to turn on their video and unmute themselves now that they are in a smaller group to allow for active discussion. If you have colleagues available to help out, it is useful to have an educator in each breakout room. Otherwise, the host can freely move from room to room, checking in and helping to facilitate discussions. Bringing everyone back from their breakout rooms into the main room at the end to have a group review of the discussions is a great way to summarize what was learned.

As mentioned in the previous post, when screen sharing there is the option to select Whiteboard, on which you can free text, draw, and add shapes and images. You even have the option to share the whiteboard so that participants can annotate on it as well. If you have never tried whiteboard teaching, it is a stimulating learning format that encourages learners to teach each other.

The Debrief

The bottom line when trying to maximize engagement in virtual learning is to limit the time your learners are staring at a static slide on a computer screen and leverage opportunities for group participation.

Footnote

*While the ideal scenario is that every participant in a video conferencing room has their video on, it is worth considering that learners may have limited options from where they are able to participate. Not everyone may be comfortable sharing their environment, especially if they are in a communal space with others present.

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