Nicki Murff Goedecke

    Pocket Nurse® recently sent out a survey asking healthcare educators to share the challenges they are facing as they transition to online education. Many educators responded that they are struggling to engage their students and build camaraderie among their class.

    Last week, SimTalkBlog looked at tips for building camaraderie in a virtual classroom; this week, let’s talk about engaging students.

    Why Engagement is Important

    Student engagement is based in the belief that learning improves when students are inquisitive, interested, and inspired. The more invested a student is in learning, the more likely she is to understand and retain information presented in class.1

    Generation Z is the current U.S. generation entering post-secondary education. This generation is unique in many ways, not the least of which is the way they view technology. Gen Z has been surrounded by technology since they were born, and are digital natives. In this time of remote learning and virtual classrooms, this technological literacy can be a boon to educators and students alike.2

    Four Tips for Engaging StudentsSM - BL - Healthcare Simulation Week 2020 300 X 150_08 25 20

    1. Host “Coffee Talks”

    One way to set aside time just for getting to know each other is to host regular check-ins with students via video conference. This can be done with students one-on-one, but group chats can be valuable too.

    If educators choose to host group chats, they should try to make them as informal as possible and try to set them up at least once per quarter. It may be inevitable that topics surrounding what was covered in class or lecture come up, but as much as possible, instructors can structure these as low-stress, informal chat sessions. If the class is too big for an ice breaker at the beginning of lectures or class discussions, ice breakers can be used in this setting instead. Another option might be to use this time to host a virtual team-building activity.3

    2. Strongly Encourage Video Chat

    It may sound easier to allow students to default to not using video on a conference call, but encouraging students to use video during calls can be a positive. Using video can help students begin to recognize their peers’ faces, and it can help with engagement, as they may be less likely to attempt to multitask if they know that their actions are visible.

    While working and learning from home, students (and faculty) are likely dealing with family members, roommates, and noisy pets who can be distracting and may cause students to be reluctant to turn on video. Instructors should understand this reality, and communicate to students that they won’t get in trouble for unavoidable distractions.

    Instructors can model expectations for students by using video and working from a clean, professional space. They can also create realistic expectations by showing how they handle their own interruptions and distractions from pets, family, and technological challenges. A calm demeanor and a glimpse of humanity can go a long way.

    3. Host a Weekly Photo Contest

    A virtual gathering space might be the perfect place to host a regular engagement activity, like a photo contest. Students can share photos of their at-home workspaces, their favorite snacks to have on hand, and their study partners (including the four-legged ones). Not every method to engage students in learning needs to be serious. While this method may not fit a class’s structure, it is a good reminder for instructors to keep an eye out for simple, fun ways to boost morale and obtain regular, active engagement from students.

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    4. Ask The Students

    It can be easy for professors to feel like they ought to have all the answers, all the time. But, as we all adjust to an unprecedented and often uncomfortable new way of doing things, remember we are all learning as we go, and that it’s okay.

    Be frank with students and ask them explicitly what would help make them feel more connected and engaged. Students of Generation Z are much more comfortable and familiar with an online landscape than previous generations, and they may have ideas that haven’t occurred to educators to boost camaraderie and engagement.

    Do you have ideas to improve engagement in the virtual classroom? Tell us in the comments!


    1. Stiger, E., Mangine, D. "Student Engagement Strategies: Identifying and Adressing Student Disengagement in the Classroom and SimLab," Pocket Nurse.

    2. Stiger, E. "Engaging a New Generation of Learner with Simulation," SimTalk Blog, July 2019.

    3. "5 Ways to Build Camaraderie on Remote Teams," Smart Sheet, 2020.