Teaching Online

Engaging Students

One of the big differences between teaching in person vs online is the perceived separation.. Because of this separation many people are more comfortable not talking and just listening. I call that phenomenon crickets referring to when the teacher asks a question and nobody responds.

There are several ways to reduce the crickets phenomenon:

  • Ask students to respond in the text chat tool, most people are more comfortable typing a response than talking. As students respond you can discuss their responses, even go so far as to ask follow-up questions.
  • Call out a specific student by name, just like in class that not only wakes up that student but makes other students realize they need to pay more attention because they might be called.
  • Ask students to draw something on the whiteboard. I have a follow-up story to this I’ll talk about in a future article.
  • Utilize the software’s feedback tool by saying “Give me a thumbs up if you can see my screen sharing”.
    • I recommend using this one a lot, anytime a transition from one presentation mechanism to another or switching between applications when screen sharing. Not only does it engage the students but the teacher is confident that their material is getting through.

Once you have taught a few sessions you should get an idea of your online teaching style. From this you can develop a set of expectations for your students, similar to a course syllabus. Example items to include would be:

  • I expect all students to be in the session 5 minutes before class starts, caught in traffic is not an excuse here.
  • When I ask a question to the group, I expect everyone to respond either verbally or via text chat, this is part of your class participation grade.
  • if you ask a question in the text chat, I may not notice it until the next break, if there is a lot of chat or if the question is time sensitive, raise your hand to draw my attention to the question.
  • If you must step away from your computer, please indicate that by … (varies based on tool)


  • Make a list of some of these activities that resonate with you and keep them in mind during your first few online teaching sessions. Hopefully the more you do these the more you can connect with the students and bridge that digital gap.
  • After a few sessions start putting together a few student expectations for your syllabus.


Do you notice the crickets phenomenon in your online class? What do you do when it happens? Do you communicate any expectations to your students that you feel has helped the online class work well. Feel free to leave your responses to these questions in the comments below.


In the next article I’m going to talk about a great way to engage students using the whiteboard.

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