By now, most educators have experience with some level of video instruction, and many have found effective ways to get students’ attention. As the pandemic wears on, schools are continuing to utilize various forms of distance learning, like partial in-person or, at times, relying on full online learning as cases increase in certain locations.
With this in mind, keeping students’ attention might require some new tools. Fortunately, the media industry has been studying how to keep people’s attention for years. There are some tried and true methods from the broadcast world that can help you to grab and hold attention.
Presentation is important
First, how’s your delivery? In the classroom, you keep attention with eye contact. This is true in video communication as well. If you watch the news, for example, the anchor person looks directly into the camera with a relatively tight shot. This should be your goal even on teleconference platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Employ a tight shot where your face can be clearly seen, and look directly into the camera as much as possible. It’s understandable that you will look away from time to time, but, especially when making an important point, make eye contact.
Speak with purpose
Along with good camera presence comes your level of authenticity. Today’s young individuals have grown up in front of video screens, and are good at spotting a sales pitch when they hear one. To navigate around this, you’ll need to speak directly to them in a sincere, unrehearsed way.
Additionally, you need to be interested in what you’re saying. Children can also tell if you’re not engaged in the subject. If it bores you, it will bore them. That may be challenging with a subject that you’ve taught for years, but try and find a way to be interested and engaged. Your students will too.
Keep the message clear and concise
How do TV advertisers hold attention? Keep it short. Notice how a good, 30-second commercial will hold and engage its viewers. There can be tremendous value in developing short, tight lessons that are uploaded to a platform like Schooltube, where it can be shared with students and made available on a 24/7 basis.
What individual skills do you find yourself repeating over and over? If time permits, record that lesson, upload it, and give the students the link. When they are struggling or need a refresher, they can watch it. For example, a math teacher may need to review reducing fractions. Instead of taking the time in each lesson to review it, she can tell her students something like, “remember, you can review my video on reducing fractions on Schooltube any time!”
Try not to linger
Another important way of keeping viewers attention is to keep it moving. Generally, in broadcast television, the image changes about every 3-5 seconds. That usually requires a director or an editor to mix things in like cut away shots and graphics. This may not be possible when it comes to distance learning, but there are some ways to change the visual from that single shot. If you haven’t discovered it yet, just about every video chat app has a way to share graphics. On Zoom, for example you can “share your screen.” This means that you can display a PowerPoint or KeyNote presentation for all of your participants to view. You can even play a video with this function.
Just as you have experienced in the classroom, one of the best methods to keep students’ attention is conversation. Online, you might find that certain students dominate the discussion, while other students rarely or never participate. As in the classroom, the key is in how you ask the question. Every video producer will tell you that video is a storytelling medium. So questions that elicit stories will often work better than knowledge based ones. For example, “how would you have felt in this character’s position?” Or, “have you ever been in a situation like this historical figure?”
Also, encouraging cross talk will help keep students’ attention. “Does anyone else have a different view?” Of course, you need to learn the tools for your platform like “mute” if the discussion gets off topic. That’s one advantage you didn’t have in the classroom.
Use all the tools at your disposal
Because video is a visual medium, another engagement tool is having students respond to a question in a visual way. Most platforms have the ability to respond to questions in a chat box that allow students to answer in a more exciting way, like with an emoji. Try asking a question and have the response be an image.
Some platforms give you the ability to take a poll. You can ask a question that accepts answers, then gives a graph to visually represent all of the different responses.
Stay determined, even in uncertain times
It is unclear how long distance or hybrid-distance learning will be a regular part of modern education, though it’s fairly safe to say that video will continue to play a larger role in education. Because of that, teachers across society will be expected to develop new tools and techniques that encourage engagement among their students. If educators can adopt a few of the strategies often used by broadcasters and other camera-facing personalities, they will be better equipped for the ever-evolving educational landscape before them.