Engaging students in online learning is challenging, even for tech-savvy teachers. If you’re struggling to get your allied health students to stop nodding off in your digital classroom, you’re not alone. Allied health instructors nationwide are on the hunt for innovative online teaching tools to help their students feel more involved in their lessons.

Here’s our ultimate guide to online student engagement tools and strategies that you can start using today for free.

Student feedback encourages more engaging online lesson plans.

When students share which aspects of the digital classroom are the most difficult to grasp, you can better discern which tools from this guide can help.

Survey students before beginning distance learning.

This is a trying time for teachers, but it’s no picnic for your students, either. Allied health students are experiencing unprecedented challenges as they pursue higher education in the face of a global pandemic. Find out what’s on your students’ minds with a free, easy-to-make Adpoll or SurveyMonkey survey. Touch base about learning styles and activity preferences, but don’t forget to also ask, “What are you struggling with right now?”

You’re going to receive remarks about the curriculum and tech troubles, but there might be more. Perhaps, a student’s elderly mom has health problems that put her in the “vulnerable” category, so she’s taking on extra shopping and errands to help protect her. Many adult students are barred from their jobs right now, but it’s possible that someone else is picking up mandatory overtime as an essential employee. Working long hours may make it tough to turn in assignments at the current class pace. Letting your students know that there’s a real person on the other side of the screen rooting for them (and willing to provide reasonable accommodations when needed) is a powerful motivator.

Gather live feedback during digital class sessions.

You (hopefully) don’t just talk at your students in person without asking for their feedback. Teaching is a two-way street. When you know what’s working–and not working–for your students, you’re able to cater your daily lesson plan and teaching approach to their needs. Anonymous polling in Zoom gathers live feedback without embarrassing anyone.

You might ask:  

  • How well did you understand the last section?
  • Do you need more example problems?
  • How comfortable are you with this particular skill?

You can also use the feature to quiz students as you go along, keeping them on their toes since individual names will not be made public, but the feature does share many students selected each answer with the group. 

The Nonverbal Feedback feature in Zoom lets students put an icon beside their name for you to see. They can raise their hands, answer yes or no questions, and request that you move through the information at a faster or slower pace.

Encourage constructive conversation and student collaboration during and after online classes.

Two key features of a productive, in-person allied health class are organic conversation and team collaboration. You can keep students engaged in online learning by doing your best to recreate these in the digital world.

Provide opportunities for students to collaborate on Zoom.

Allied health professionals partner with others in the healthcare field to achieve optimum patient care. You can encourage your students to interact with each other by utilizing Zoom Breakout Rooms. This feature allows you to break students up into separate video chat rooms to complete discussion exercises and problem solve together.

Provide opportunities for peer tutoring.

Give your learners the opportunity to connect with one another. Private Facebook groups can connect students who need help understanding certain concepts with peer support. Learning-management systems may be easier to moderate, so that students remain on topic. Canvas is a popular choice that allows freestyle engagement between students on the group homepage. Google Classroom, another popular LMS, can also help you foster collaboration between peers.However, busy adult students adjusting to distance learning might be put off by learning a new platform, so keep that in mind as you select the platform that will work best for keeping your class connected.

Don’t give up on engaging students that learn best hands-on.

Screen sharing in Zoom is easy; you’re probably familiar with it by now. You can create annotations on the display to emphasize key pieces of information or specific areas of a graphic. Did you realize, though, that students can also make annotations? Use this to your advantage.

Consider calling on billing and coding students to highlight an important section or code. Ask EKG Technician students to draw an arrow next to an abnormal area on the strip. Don’t forget that you can toggle the screen share feature to allow students to share their own screens, too! This opens the door for students to teach a section of the lesson, present special projects with the class, or provide peer feedback on one another's' assignments.

Give everyone a break with games.

Everyone learns better when the lesson is entertaining, even adults. In person, you might elect to have your phlebotomy students toss a stress ball to one another as they list the steps of a successful stick or post a sticky note, Jeopardy-style review game with medical assistant students before a test. This kind of fun competition between students is still possible in distance learning.

Try making a list of course-relevant terms and playing Pictionary on the Zoom whiteboard, making an online review game in Jeopardy Labs, or putting together a Family Feud style online review game in Trivia MakerKahoot! allows teachers to create interactive presentations, games, and puzzles to make online learning less monotonous. Best of all, these platforms all interface easily with Zoom.

Look for alternatives to practicing clinical skills in the lab.

Losing access to the lab environment is one of the difficult aspects of teaching allied health courses strictly online. You might even feel it’s impossible to provide your students with the hands-on training they’ve grown accustomed to without a blended learning environment. These free online tools can’t replace the lab experience, but will help bridge the gap.

Quandary can be used to set up a “virtual clinical”, where students click through an “action maze” of multiple-choice questions and accompanying imagery to practice problem solving, patient screenings, and procedural training. It doesn’t look fancy, but it’s free and functional.

If you’re willing to do a little digging, Skills Commons is a free and open digital library of job driven learning resources. You’ll find videos, simulations, exercises, and even entire online courses dedicated to allied health professionals. Khan Academy provides access to practice exercises, educational videos, and short articles that demonstrate abnormal heart rhythms, lab values, and other concepts and skills adjacent to allied health.

One last tip before you go: Consider your students’ goals.

Clearly, there are tons of free online teaching tools available to add to your student engagement arsenal. Don’t try to add every innovative teaching tool you find into every lesson, though. Your allied health students are dedicating this time to distance learning because they are determined to reap real-world rewards from their education, such as mastering a particular skill set or being more marketable candidates for their dream jobs. Question whether each of the tools, lessons, and activities you incorporate into your lesson plan will ultimately help to prepare them for these goals.

Of course, not all topics are fun to learn about–even with a great game of Kahoot! If your students remain disinterested in a certain lesson, take a minute to explain how it could be directly applicable in their future career. When the real-life benefits of the long hours they’re spending on digital learning are clear, students will naturally be more engaged.

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