FOSTERING ONLINE LEARNER ENGAGEMENT

Learning online is becoming more common in the K-12 system. One of the biggest challenges facing educators is how to engage learners at a distance. There are a number of EdTech tools that can help; here we look at Microsoft Bookings to increase student engagement and educator productivity.



Arguably one of the most difficult aspects of online learning is engaging learners. Especially at the grades 10-12 level. Learners choose online learning for various reasons, not all of which are apparent to their educator at the outset. So, the question is, how does an online educator build practices that enhance learner engagement? Considering that an online course has to be built before a learner can enroll, the teacher must anticipate the learner's needs and make choices that hopefully meet the needs of as many learners as possible.


This is where Universal Design for Learning or UDL comes in. UDL guides educators to build courses and practices that support learners with the most complex needs, which in turn effectively supports those learners with less complex needs (CAST, 2018). There will always be learners who are strong self-advocates who will easily contact their teachers without a second thought. Building in practices and procedures that allow the more hesitant learner the time and space to book time with their teacher helps to engage more learners in the process.


EdTech Tools to Engage Online Learners

Building Microsoft Bookings (Microsoft Bookings, 2021) and Microsoft Teams into your online teaching practice can enhance learner engagement in many ways. Anyone with experience working with teenagers knows that having a phone conversation with a teacher they have never met will be a challenging proposition. Moving the meeting or conversation into a realm they are comfortable with can help to encourage more communication, and more communication often leads to stronger engagement. Microsoft Bookings allows a teacher to easily communicate to their learners that they are willing to meet with them and provide dates and times they have set aside. This allows a learner to view the times and dates and make a choice in a stress-free environment without feeling like they are imposing. Streamlining the process of booking a meeting and removing the stressful aspects can enhance engagement (Alawamleh, 2020).



Engage Online Learners and Increase Productivity

It is also good for the online educator. Microsoft Bookings allows the educator to streamline the meeting scheduling process, removing the need to email back and forth to set up a time to meet. The app manages the reminders for both parties. In addition, teachers can set the length of the meeting, availability, and it allows for a tracking system of which learners they are meeting with and why. One maxim to remember when working with educators is that time is a precious commodity and that anything that even hints at taking more time will be a non-starter. Microsoft Bookings has some upfront time requirements, but overall, the time savings will become very evident in their practice. In the Online Learning environment, menial tasks such as recording whom you spoke with and why or booking appointments are often repeated multiple times per day. Even saving 30 seconds can equal a significant time gain over an extended period.


How can I Implement Bookings?

Three effective ways to implement Microsoft Bookings into an educator's practice are to include a link to their bookings page in their email signature, add a link in their assignment feedback and include periodic reminders before significant assignments and projects in their courses. The message is ‘I am here and willing to engage with you’.


In my practice, Microsoft Bookings has had a significant impact on learner engagement and has increased my productivity. Learners who otherwise had never reached out have begun booking regularly. Measuring engagement is always a challenge in an online setting, but if my experience working with Microsoft Bookings is representative of my learner's experience. Productivity and engagement are being enhanced in both directions.


About the author

Lorn Kennedy is a passionate educator, leader and advocate. He currently teaches at Ebus Academy and is a Continuing Teacher Education online instructor for Queen's University. His focus is Indigenous education, Online Learning and Student Engagement, and leadership. His professional journey has led him to leadership roles within his school district and with Search and Rescue. His work includes developing online courses at the high school and university levels and for provincial organizations; and EdTech consulting.

References

Alawamleh, M., Al-Twait, L.M. and Al-Saht, G.R. (2020), "The effect of online learning on communication between instructors and students during Covid-19 pandemic", Asian Education and Development Studies, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.

Microsoft Bookings. Scheduling App for Appointment Bookings. (n.d.). Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://www.microsoft.com/en-ca/microsoft-365/business/scheduling-and-booking-app.

Home. UDL. (2018, January 22). Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://udlguidelines.cast.org/more/frequently-asked-questions#goal.