Creative Ways to Engage Students in an Online Course

Published September 18, 2020

By Amanda Sauceda, MS, RDN

One of the hardest things about transitioning to online teaching is trying to capture the essence of live class. The connectedness, the comradery, and the ability to talk with your students in real time without the worry over an unstable internet connection message on Zoom. There’s definitely an art when it comes to communicating with students exclusively online.

While there are many different strategies (and technologies), you can employ a lot of the time you don’t want to make too many changes in your course at once because it can end up being too confusing or complicated.

Here are four strategies that you can use in your course today that will help you and the student capture some of that comradery without being overwhelmed.

Turn your lectures into a podcast. It’s less work than you think.
If you are teaching asynchronous (or even synchronous) you can record your lecture on a Zoom session. The benefit of Zoom recordings is that they give you both a video file and an audio file. You can take that audio file and upload into your learning management system. Students will then be able to listen to their lecture like a podcast. Alternatively, you can take that audio file and upload it to a podcast host like a true podcast. Anchor is a podcast hosting app that is free.

Swap a discussion for a social media post.
Having to a discussion board can be really helpful and at times can also feel like busy work. Give your discussion board a makeover by swapping a discussion with a social media post. Your students can show their mastery of a topic by creating an educational, infographic style social media post. The students can also create their own caption as if they were educating the general public on their chosen topic. I highly recommend Canva as a free graphic design software that’s easy to use. Alternatively, you can have your students draw the picture. This approach would be helpful for those struggling with consistent access to technology.

Turn their social media posts into a study guide.
Study guides are one of the most requested tools by students. Use their social media posts to find what topics resonated with them the most. Then use those posts to create test questions that are related to create a discussion board where the students can share their social media posts along with the caption. The discussion board can serve as part of their study guide.

Capture student’s interest by structuring your lecturers to hit on a small, but popular, problem.
Not many people want to know about the intricacies of carbohydrate metabolism, but I bet if I were to give a talk about managing cravings there would be tons of interest. Cravings are a small problem that you can use as the springboard for the bigger concept of carbohydrate metabolism. Another example would be my redesigned energy balance lecture that is now called: PHFF (protein, healthy fat, fiber) the best way to eat for optimal metabolism. I still hit on the topics of metabolism, hunger/fullness, BMI etc. but in a way that is a lot more intriguing. Reframing your lecture to hit on common questions and pain points your students have and helps them connect the dots. This shows them the real value of the lecture material.

Amanda is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and a Lecturer at California State University, Long Beach. She is passionate about combining technology into her course and learning new communication skills that she can incorporate into her courses.