Capture & Hold Student Attention Online

Decorative: An image of a human profile surrounded by a wide variety of icons competing for attention


Click on the above image to read "Four Ways to Keep Students' Attention" (post).

Online Teaching at Its Best: Merging Instructional Design with Teaching and Learning Research (book) notes that "[s]tudent attention precedes motivation, engagement, and learning" and offers the following tips for capturing (and holding) student attention (Chapter 5).

1. Project "enthusiasm, animation, energy, and dynamism"

"Online ... [and] in recorded lectures, us[e] a variety of nonverbal communication techniques":

  • Maintain "constant eye contact with the audience."
  • Employ "vocal variety in pitch and speaking pace."
  • Incorporate "dramatic pauses around important statements."
  • "[C]hang[e] [your] facial expression."
  • "[S]mil[e], gestur[e], and mov[e] around the recording area as much as the technology allows."
  • "[D]ispla[y] both the instructor and other visuals (e.g. pictures, presentation slides, animation) at the same time."
  • "[A]dd visual close-ups when details matter, such as when demonstrating procedures or showing parts of a larger whole."

2. Employ "the rhetoric of social presence"

a. In class sessions/online modules

  • "[I]Introduc[e] yourself and your course."
  • "[C]onvey your passion and enthusiasm for the value of what you teach and your teaching process."
  • "[S]hare your own past efforts, struggles, and successes in mastering the same material you are now teaching."

b. In emails, virtual office hours, etc.

  • "[O]pe[n] with a personal greeting."
  • "[T]han[k] students for initiating contact."
  • "[E]xpres[s] concern for their learning."

3. "[I]ntegrat[e] plenty of variety into your lessons"

  • "Introduc[e] facts and insights that are surprising, intriguing, novel, or unexpected."
  • "Dra[w] students into an inquiry with interesting puzzles, paradoxes, challenges, questions, problems, incongruities, and dilemmas."
  • "Offe[r] diverse examples and models."
  • "Incorporat[e] a wide range of activities (e.g. worksheets, cases, academic games, role plays, simulations, discussions, debates)."
  • "Var[y] presentation modalities (audio, graphics, video, animation, text, and multimedia)."
  • "Brin[g] in guest speakers ... [to] gain students' attention as well as offer them diverse perspectives and foster their curiosity."

4. Incorporate inviting presentation features

  • Work towards a "more professional look and layout."
  • Incorporate "better graphic design elements (larger headings, Arial font, and color coding)."
  • Start each session with "an advanced organizer," e.g session outline or agenda.
  • Have "an engaging title" to spark interest. 

5. "Ensur[e] relevance"

a. "Mak[e] connections."

  • "Use metaphors, examples, stories, comparisons, and contrasts to link the subject matter to something students already know." 
  • "[A]sk students for examples and for ways they anticipate using the new skills and knowledge."
  • "[H]elp them see how they can transfer their skills to other courses and work situations."
  • "[P]araphrase the content in everyday, concrete language and different communication modalities (audio, graphics, video, animation, text, and multimedia)."
  • "[E]xplain how your field fits into the big picture and how it contributes to society." 

b. "[H]elp students identify or select useful and meaningful goals."

  • "[H]elp them focus their attention on their future, identify a goal, organize their effort toward it, and develop and follow strategies to reach it."
  • "[O]ffer examples of goals and explain their value to students' lives in the real world."
  • "[D]evelo[p] goal-oriented activities [to] mak[e] it less likely that other things competing for their attention will distract students."

c. "Us[e] student interests."

  • "[A]dapt the course topics, course policies, content organization, and assessments to student preferences, interests, and needs as much as possible" (emphasis added: practical and institutional constraints may limit some of your options).
  • "[L]et students select how to organize what they learn -- for instance, to use concept maps, diagrams, flowcharts, or outlines -- and how they want to be assessed -- by a paper, report, treatment plan, business plan, portfolio, website, a video, audio presentation, or something else."

6. "Explai[n] your methods" to increase student engagement

"[Students'] perceptions of course quality and utility have an impact on their motivation and entire online experience," so ...

  • "[E]xplain why you designed, organized, and developed the course the way you did."
  • "Tell students why you chose or designed the activities, readings, videos, podcasts, assignments, teaching methods, policies, and assessment strategies that you did."
  • If they understand the "reasons for the depth of work on the course topics each week and the need ... to practice high-level analysis and judgment in the field,"they are more likely to engage and participate productively.
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