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Virtual Student Engagement Toolkit

Brick-and-mortar schools abruptly closed in spring 2020 due to COVID-19, resulting in a disruption to in-person instruction for more than 1.2 billion students. The ongoing pandemic and extended school closures forced teachers, many with no prior experience teaching online, to transition from face-to-face instruction to alternative virtual formats throughout the spring and into the fall. The impact of long-term closures also extends beyond the classroom, forcing schools to consider how to best support their communities and families.

Maintaining student engagement during virtual learning is one of the greatest challenges facing educators today. To overcome this challenge, schools must closely support teachers and implement methods to boost the behavioral, cognitive, and affective engagement of students.

This toolkit:

virtual student engagement toolkit

Increase student engagement in a virtual learning environment

To address students’ overall engagement in virtual learning, teachers and other instructional staff should consider how to support the three interconnected dimensions of engagement:

Cognitive Engagement

This dimension encompasses students’ levels of investment in learning tasks. Specifically, it represents students’ mental interest in and ownership over learning tasks. It also represents their self-efficacy and sufficiency when applying strategies to support their own learning. In a virtual setting, students display cognitive engagement by making thoughtful posts on discussion forums, using all available features of digital applications to complete projects, and harnessing the full capabilities of web-based research to solve problems and find answers.

Behavioral Engagement

During virtual learning, this dimension is observed through students’ participation rates during learning activities, time spent on tasks, and the volume and length of social interactions they have with peers and teachers. A student who posts frequently on discussion forums or who routinely attends a teacher’s virtual office hours can be said to be behaviorally engaged in virtual learning.

Affective Engagement

In a virtual learning format, this dimension encompasses students’ feelings and perceptions of learning, particularly how they relate to elements of the virtual environment. Additionally, this dimension identifies students’ positive and negative reactions to the prominent elements of the learning environment, such as teachers, peer behaviors, and the demands of instruction.

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