Encouraging Student Engagement During Synchronous Meetings: Preventing Midterm Drop-Off

Student falls asleep at desk with computer, papers and books open

Some students become busy, overwhelmed, or unmotivated by the middle of the semester. This phenomenon has become even more apparent with COVID-19 protocols. Which is why building a community of learners has become so important despite physical distancing, but it’s also much more challenging. Below are six scenarios with strategies and ideas to encourage accountability and build in motivation from the start of the semester so the momentum continues until the end.

Scenario 1: Your student logs onto the synchronous meeting, but they do not move in or out of their breakout room, or they are still logged in after class has ended.


  • Create a shared workspace for students (Google doc, virtual team story board, Microsoft Teams)
  • Tie participation points to the submission of an in-class activity
  • Assign a reflection piece about the activity, or have students’ self-grade their effort on a learning activity and identify skills they can build
  • Embed hands-on activities or real-world relevance in which students are obliged to work together
  • Have students complete a writing activity after the class meeting to answer a question. To encourage academic integrity, phrase the question as a synthesis and have students connect previous class material, personal experience, or have them critically assess their reasoning or the steps they completed for the activity
  • If grading is burdensome, have students submit as a group assignment


  • Assign roles to each student and rotate them during the semester to ensure an opportunity in each role
  • Let particular groups know beforehand you will call on them to share with the class
  • Let the class know you will randomly call on groups to share with the rest of class
  • Contact individual students with a kind email: “I noticed during the past few classes you are still logged onto the LMS when class finishes. I hope everything is okay. I am concerned that you are not engaged in the class and wanted to let you know that I have noticed.” When I’ve sent these to students, I often receive a speedy reply. Students either explain what is going on or commit to make a better effort in the class

Scenario 2: You ask a question of the class and the inevitable cricket noise occurs.

During in-person classes, I am comfortable sitting in silence as part of my wait time. I usually frame it as: I personally need more time to process what I want to say (even though most do not wait more than three seconds for students to respond). This has not been working as well in the blended learning environment, where students may not “feel” the awkwardness. Sitting behind a computer makes it more comfortable for them to remain silent.


  • Use chat comments or verbal contributions as participation points. Be explicit about how these are graded and what constitutes a substantial contribution
  • Create a discussion board before or after class. A discussion board before the meeting provides students with an opportunity to gather their thoughts and see what others are saying. During the subsequent class meeting, point out that everyone has something prepared. You can even go to the discussion board and share your screen to look at the comments as a group
  • If you ask students to complete the discussion board after class, ensure that you visit it before the next meeting. You could title the Discussion “Lecture Questions for [Topic]”


  • Pause and ask students to explain in their own words the difference between two concepts just introduced, to connect concepts from theory to the real world, or to relate some concepts to their own experience. This can stimulate students’ higher-order thinking abilities and check for understanding
  • Wait longer for students to type their answers in the chat box. Some students feel more empowered writing their answers rather than speaking spontaneously

Scenario 3: You ask students to complete a poll and there are eight students who are not voting.


  • If the polls are not anonymous, provide participation points for replies
  • Create a summary of answers for the next meeting and address misconceptions
  • Call on students to explain why their answer is correct or where they found it in the course content


  • Depending on the polling platform you can identify the students: “We are still waiting for Sina and Carissa to decide”
  • If the polls are anonymous, I joke that those eight students are in the midst of an epic Minecraft or Pub G battle. Adding humor is effective and the students usually vote

Scenario 4: There are many students who are not doing well in the class. You contact them and ask that they attend office hours. Now you have 25 appointments in one week.


  • Have students sign up in slots. Ask them to review their current grade and identify the areas they need to improve.  Have them prepare five ways they can improve their grades and offer extra credit points for office hours attendance. You can then move them into breakout rooms to talk individually if needed.

Scenario 5: There are several students who have multiple missing assignments, despite the fact that you send frequent reminders and have increased communication in your class.


  • Define the connections between topics in class, the assignments, and student learning. Have them apply their learning and make those connections themselves. Transparency in why you are asking students to complete the assignments and how their work contributes towards achieving the learning outcomes can be a motivational tool to help students recognize the value of their effort
  • Let students have choice and some control over their learning. Offer options for types of assignments (video, slide show, writing, etc.) or assessment (essay question choices, project types, papers, or presentations)
  • Build in oops tokens or free passes where students can re-submit assignments they did poorly on
  • Drop a certain number of quizzes or activities, or count them as extra credit
  • Finding out student knowledge and interest can help you design learning activities in which students who are experienced and inexperienced with the topic can contribute
  • Build in make up work as part of your course options for all students. Allow a certain amount of resubmissions for some key, low-stakes work. This will promote self-regulated learning. Set a time limit for accepting the resubmissions

Scenario 6: Attendance was great at the start of the semester, but by midterm, students stop attending in person or synchronous conferencing.


  • Use responses from assignments to clarify misconceptions and point out excellent work. Collate the discussion posts or connections made in the assignments and share these (anonymously) in class
  • Design tasks that engage emotions to increase motivation and spark participation and engagement. Set up ground rules and prepare for a lively discussion
  • Identify the relationship between online components and synchronous sessions. Use synchronous meetings to extend and apply concepts rather than repeat content that is already online. Interactive tasks can provide an opportunity to apply, contribute, and develop understanding
  • Model the amount of effort you want your students to invest in the course. Provide quality content and resources. A well-designed and interactive course can reduce barriers to engagement and encourage students to participate. Students realize the care and effort you have in their learning through your course design

Lastly, sending a survey can assist with all of these issues. It can gauge student perception of the class, the materials, the teaching methods, and their effort. A survey can also help you redesign learning activities, assessments, or content. It has the added bonus of showing that you care and are committed to improving the educational experience.