Why don’t they attend? 12 ways to boost student participation in synchronous sessions

Student using a laptop

Why don’t they attend? (Teaching Tip)

12 ways to boost student participation in synchronous sessions

Attendance expectations continue to be challenging due to Covid-19. In the fall semester, we heard from students that they needed and appreciated the flexibility in accessing lecture material; however, they sought more in-real-time experiences. We also heard from instructors that offered many synchronous opportunities but that students sparsely attended these. We gathered the following strategies for encouraging participation and attendance from the CELT Advisory Board, CELT Staff, and colleagues across campus. 

Before each synchronous class session — connect with your students.

During the synchronous session — encourage attention.

  • Check-in with your students. Start each session with an agenda slide to know what is coming and have a moment to gather necessary materials. As they log in, ask students a question of the day via the polling function in Webex or Zoom. Or share a Word Cloud that changes shape in front of their eyes. Create a one-question survey in Qualtrics, focus the question on the content, such as one word to describe the most recent class reading or a check-in regarding their current mood. Display the word cloud results in real-time or share them during the next class session using the Engage students with a Qualtrics word cloud in your course guide.
  • Make it meaningful. Why just read class notes or review the textbook material during a live session? Provide an experience that necessitates their attendance. Perhaps this is case-based learning, small group discussions in breakout rooms, or working on challenging problems.
  • Clarify. Identify common mistakes or errors from homework problems and offer a mini-lesson with a similar situation that students can take then-and-there. This step can provide valuable feedback to both students and you as the instructor – what are they still not understanding? 
  • Motivate. Start the session with a mini quiz drawn from the last session’s material. If for points, this can provide a small incentive to attend and provide valuable information regarding their current knowledge.
  • Engage. Share a document to take collaborative notes and emphasize these notes could be used for open-book exams by all, so the more attendees, the better and more precise the notes. 
  • Invite guest speakers. Both Evrim Baran, School of Education, and Elizabeth Stegemoller, Kinesiology, invite guest speakers to the synchronous sessions to connect students with professionals working in various settings (e.g., industry, academia, schools, etc.). They both carefully aligned the speakers with the current week’s focus and activities.
  • Incentivize proactiveness. Melissa Tropf, Veterinary Clinical Sciences, taught a class with all asynchronous lectures (pre-recorded) and weekly virtual synchronous review sessions and labs. Weekly quizzes incentivized students to stay current with the asynchronous material and come prepared for the live sessions. When Tropf reached out to students who struggled in the synchronous sessions, they shared that they were behind in their asynchronous material, inhibiting their ability/willingness to engage in the synchronous sessions. Students appreciated the accountability measures.

Closing a synchronous session — share highlights.

  • Finish a session with an exit ticket. Ask students to share one thing they have a better understanding of today’s class meeting. Save the chat transcript in Webex for tracking purposes. Sharing the chat and increasing student clarity encourage other students to attend future sessions (see the Save a meeting chat guide). 
  • To record or not record? Some faculty shared that they upload a recorded version of the live synchronous session. Others stated that they synchronize sessions so engaging and tailored to the specific experience they do not record and upload. Instead, they provide a synopsis document or short video sharing content, clarifying questions, reminders, and highlighting positive trends (e.g., lots of students submitted work on time, the discussion board is very active, etc.). 

As we continue to endure the pandemic, flexibility is vital (see the Be Flexible page). However, finding ways to ensure the students are aware of the sessions, making them interactive, collaborative, and timely, can go a long way towards encouraging participation. For more ideas, tips, and strategies, check out CELT’s Engaging students online page.

With a joy for teaching,

Sara Marcketti, Director

Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching

Full Teaching Tip

View the published CELT Teaching Tip: Why don’t they attend? 12 ways to boost student participation in synchronous sessions (January 28, 2021 – Constant Contact) page.

Prefer a Print version?

To view the Teaching Tip as a printable document with web addresses, download the CELT Teaching Tip for January 28, 2020 (PDF).