Equity in Remote Learning: Keeping Online Students Engaged

5 min read

Remote learning expands educational opportunities. But to fully harness these opportunities, colleges and professors need to consider how to achieve equity in remote learning so that online students receive the same education as their in-person counterparts.

According to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the share of college students taking advantage of remote learning peaked in 2020, with 75% of undergraduates taking at least one online course and 44% studying exclusively online. Those numbers remained high in 2021 at 61% and 21% respectively.

This surge in remote learning provides underserved communities access to higher education. Older students, students with full-time jobs, and students who are raising families can now attend college without uprooting their lives. But with this access comes a new challenge: How can you keep online students engaged when they aren’t in the classroom?

AV technology, such as lecture capture solutions, PTZ cameras, and digital projectors, can be useful tools in unlocking the answer.

The Challenge of Creating Equity in Remote Learning

When trying to create equity in the classroom, there’s a lot to consider. Students come from different social and cultural backgrounds, have different learning styles, and have wildly different home lives. And these are just the considerations for traditional, in-person classes. In hybrid learning scenarios where some students are remote while others are in-person, it’s easy to see how students may receive different classroom experiences.

The data backs this up. A recent report from the Center for Community College Student Engagement provides context. Some of the key takeaways include:

  • Student Interaction: 50% of online students report never working with classmates on projects during class. Only 17% of their in-person counterparts report the same. A similar disparity is present when asked about collaboration outside of class hours.

  • Instructor Interaction: While not as stark as student collaboration, there is also a gap when it comes to interacting with instructors. Only 45% of online students report that they often talk about grades or assignments with instructors. This figure jumps to 54% for in-person students.

  • Perceived Difficulty: Perhaps unsurprisingly, this engagement gap leads online students to perceive courses as more challenging. Half of online students report classes being somewhat or extremely challenging compared to only 38% of in-person students feeling the same level of difficulty.

While this report highlights some of the challenges when it comes to achieving equity in remote learning, it also highlights an opportunity. Online-only students report significantly lower rates of skipping class and higher rates of completing coursework. This shows their desire to engage.

Strategies to Promote Equity in Remote Learning

Online students want to engage. Institutions and teachers want to ensure equity in remote learning. What strategies can help us reach these goals?

One methodology that has shown potential with K-12 students is the OLS approach. This strategy focuses on three stages:

  • Own it: Students work with their teacher to specify learning goals.
  • Learn it: Students work to meet their learning goals through a defined plan including activities and collaboration.
  • Share it: Students express what they’ve learned to an audience.

OLS models have become more relevant as more students opt for remote learning. Simply put, when students aren’t physically present in the classroom, it’s important for them to be engaged from the very start of a lesson, as a higher level of independence will be required for them to succeed.

And while the OLS model focuses on K-12 students, the principles behind it align well with the idea of active learning in the college classroom. Active learning shifts the focus of class time away from traditional lectures and Q&As and encourages more collaboration and interaction. When implemented intentionally, this can help close the engagement gap and create equity in the classroom.

Enhanced Lectures (And Other Video Solutions)

Active learning encourages a shift away from traditional lectures, but that doesn’t mean they won’t remain an incredibly important tool in college education. The approach to lectures just needs to shift to make sure both in-person and online students can get the most out of the material being provided.

It’s analogous to watching a movie in the theater versus streaming it at home. Streaming may be convenient, but the distractions of home make it hard to focus and more likely you’ll miss an important detail.

Lectures pose the same problems for online students. One way to combat that is to take the same approach Hollywood does: make things cinematic.

Technology can help in many ways:

  • Audio solutions such as wireless mics and high-quality podium mics will ensure professors can be heard clearly by every student.
  • Point, tilt, and zoom (PTZ) cameras allow professors to move dynamically with no worry that remote students will suddenly lose sight of them.
  • Digital projectors help integrate visual aids into lectures that can easily be seen and accessed by both in-person and remote students.

These are just some examples of lecture-capturing solutions that can enhance the lecture experience for all students. And lectures are just one example. Professors can also use this AV technology to record short videos that students can view at any time that introduce new topics or answer frequently asked questions. These quick videos can help build rapport with students and encourage engagement.

Stop Lecturing, Start Collaborating

For some larger classroom settings, class time dedicated to lectures may be the best (and perhaps only feasible) way to reach every student. But, when possible, one way to encourage equity in remote learning is by posting lectures online and dedicating class time to student collaboration.

This style of hybrid learning is similar to what is being adopted in hybrid workplaces. Some of the same strategies can be applied:

  • Team makeup: Assuring that groups are made up of both in-person and online students can help close the student interaction gap discussed earlier. This can also help students build trust in each other, leading to better results in the classroom and relationship building that can continue long after the class environment.
  • Access to resources: Let’s say your classroom utilizes a digital display. It’s easy to see how remote students would feel that they’re unable to experience the benefits of such technology. However, in a group setting, online students and in-person students will work together as a team, allowing equitable access to all resources.
  • Autonomy: The first step in OLS models is Own It. By providing students autonomy during class, they gain ownership over how they learn while still having the professor as a resource when needed.

Hybrid learning poses challenges. But by using some of the same technologies used to enhance hybrid work environments, classrooms can become more collaborative and engaging for all students.

Be Available

Another challenge to equity in remote learning is ensuring all students have access to professors. Simple steps like personalized emails, zoom office hours, and timely feedback can go a long way to ensuring online students truly feel like a part of the class.

Equity in the Classroom is Possible with the Right Tech and Intentions

New technology creates opportunities. It also creates challenges. AV tech can help professors meet those challenges. Tech solutions allow easier integration of strategies that encourage online student engagement and promote real equity in the classroom.