As students make their way back to the classroom this fall – some virtually, some in person – the need for some kind of safe but effective strategy for student engagement has never been needed more. While the global changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic have affected all communities in some ways, college students in particular have seen major disruptions to one of the most formative experiences in their lives to date.
Colleges and universities have done an incredible job thinking outside of the box to deliver unique experiences to students, but still, forming real connections in a virtual world can present some unique challenges. To help continue to spark new ideas and fun ways to innovate as you work to build a sense of community at your institution, here are 10 tips to drive student engagement remotely:
Be Present & Available (Even After Business Hours)
Students don’t live in a 9 to 5 world. (A noon to 2 a.m. world may be more accurate). So whatever approach you end up taking to your campus involvement strategies for the 2020-2021 academic year, they’ll need to be able to succeed outside of the traditional working day. That means not only offering programming at all hours, but also having staff accessible for chat questions and answers in real-time!
Host a Virtual Movie Night with Netflix Parties
Whether you’re looking for campuswide events open to all students, or engagement and social opportunities for small groups, Netflix Parties offer a simple, social activity that anyone can participate in, from anywhere in the world. Watching a movie in sync with live chat can draw your community together and offered shared experiences, even with social distancing and virtual learning protocols keep students physical separated. It’s as easy as picking a movie, setting up a link, and sharing a calendar event with your community to join in the fun!
Make Zoom Sessions Active to Keep Attention
Let’s face it: We are ALL a little Zoom’d out. And it’s really easy to look attentively at the camera during a Zoom session while playing a game or chatting with friends in the background. If you’re hosting social experiences or virtual student group meetings through Zoom or other video chat platforms, add some physical activities to make the sessions more interactive, more engaging – and more challenging to be disengaged with! It can be as simple as a flash scavenger hunt – ask students to look for a particular item in the space they’re in, and the first person back on camera with that item wins bragging rights or a prize! Host a contest for the funniest Zoom virtual background, and give each person a chance to reveal their submission. Icebreakers can be awkward, but getting students up and moving during their sessions can quickly remove the shyness of a Zoom social hour.
Utilize Live Chat Led By Student Leaders
Without access to in-person student services, new students can feel particularly lost and disconnected from the institution. Offering opportunities for new students to connect with peer leaders can help relieve anxiety while allowing new students to feel instantly more connected. The virtual engagement offered through live chat is low-effort and high yield in a format that’s comfortable for college students.
Offer Pop-Up Giveaways, Swag & Other Prizes
While tabling events, involvement fairs, and other fun, engaging campus events may have been put on hold this fall, there are still plenty of ways to get students excited about groups, departments, and resources available on campus – or just the new academic year in general! Host pop-up giveaways and give out swag for students who participate in your virtual engagement activities. Send a push notification: “First 10 students to answer this poll get a free university hoodie!” Offer digital scavenger hunts with e-gift cards for the winners (Starbucks’ drive-throughs are still open, friends!). Drive engagement and word of mouth excitement with fun digital giveaways.
Connect Students Around Shared Interests
With more limited options for new and returning college students to meet new friends on campus this fall, you can help students by offering shared interest groups. Setting up groups for student types – think commuter, transfer, international – as well as interests – like sports, music, LGBTQ+ interests, spirituality, movies – can improve retention by helping everyone find their place and their people. In fact, this is an area where virtual student engagement strategies can actually outshine in-person experience, making finding new friends with similar interest easier and less anxiety-provoking.
Require Face-to-Face Sessions – Cameras On!
Making sure to have some face-to-face virtual sessions via video chat is a great way to put faces to names in a largely virtual environment. If your institution does have some in-person programming happening this fall, the face-to-face sessions can help “normalize” virtual sessions to make any remote classes more natural for students. Having cameras on helps ensure students are focused and engaged during the session – whether it’s a casual chat, structured activity, or formal information session.
Break Students into Small Groups for Collaboration
It’s easy to get lost in the crowd of a large video or text chat, so breaking students into smaller groups with an end goal or project will help make sure they’re getting real, genuine connections with one another. Breakout sessions, small group projects, and team-building exercises can ensure students have a voice and start building relationships with their peers. If you are working with large groups – whether campuswide, first year students, or other crowds, bringing everyone together to discuss the project, then sending small groups out to collaborate and report back to the larger group is a effective strategy to manage the effort.
Use Polls to Keep Engagement Going & Get Feedback
Who doesn’t love sharing their opinion? Polls offer a very simple, low effort way to get students to begin engaging with the institution and each other. You can also garner valuable feedback and assessments by using polls for student input. Though more formal, official assessments have their place, try also having some fun with it. Age old questions like ‘Dog vs. Cat’ or ‘Coke, Pop, or Soda’ are sure to bring out the opinions!
Distribute All Engagement Through a Single Platform
Remember that while your focus is on engagement, other areas of campus are equally focused on connected with students in a virtual world. This means students are often completely overwhelmed with links to online classes, LMS logins, engagement platforms, communication tools, and much more. Using a single platform to distribute all of your online and on campus events, messaging and communication tools, and campus-wide announcements can save your students a lot of effort while minimizing confusion.
Otherwise, you may just end up losing their attention in a sea of Zoom, Moodle, KaSneezul, Boopus, Dongus Log……