Smoothing the Transition to Online

Battling Zoom Fatigue and Promoting Engagement in Synchronous Online Instruction
Dr. Tami Augustine
Associate Professor - Clinical, College of Education and Human Ecology
At a Glance: 
  • Dr. Augustine strategically redesigned her course to optimize for online delivery.
  • Assignments using digital tools helped students demonstrate learning while developing new skills.
  • Zoom "camera breaks" lessened student stress and improved engagement.

In March of 2020 moving to online instruction was a sudden imperative  Zoom was still novel, and we were all navigating a new reality together hoping it wouldn’t last too long. As the year has progressed and we realized we may be online for the foreseeable future instructors like Dr. Tami Augustine, associate professor in the Department of Education and Human Ecology, moved from a reactionary to a strategic mindset about their now-online courses. 

“Online teaching is its own practice,” said Dr. Augustine. “While there are fundamental overlaps, the pedagogy is decidedly different. The use of carefully chosen technology to support this practice is vital for its success.”

When her course, Social Studies Methods and Foundations of Middle Childhood Education, moved to a synchronous online format she began considering how best to model the flexibility her students, future teachers themselves, would need to employ in their own classrooms someday.

“I was determined to have the same quality of teaching and not sacrifice the student-centered, democratic classroom that is foundational to my teaching philosophy,” said Dr. Augustine. “While I used multiple digital tools in face-to-face settings, I had to rethink my delivery and use of those tools to enhance the virtual setting.”

In her course she focused on a few digital tools to help increase engagement and let students demonstrate their learning in new ways. From using PBL Chats to emulate a Twitter chat to video assignments that allowed students to focus on creating material that engaged students asynchronously, Dr. Augustine’s class leveraged digital tools to help promote learning. Using these tools in class has another benefit, helping future instructors learn how to meaningfully use them in their own classrooms.

“Students have grown more comfortable using the digital tools introduced in the course,” said Dr. Augustine. “They have not only experienced these tools as students, but have worked with them as educators. Student assessments show a greater understanding of how to not only use the tool but to use it to enhance learning outcomes and student engagement.

Dr. Augustine recognizes that more technology is not always better. In addition to her creative assignments, she also builds in zoom “camera breaks” to her course to help students stay engaged during the synchronous online sessions. 

“These camera breaks have helped students stay focused and has also helped to alleviate the performance aspect of being on Zoom,” said Dr. Augustine. “I don’t have the research on this, but students were reporting that they felt the need to perform more when they were on Zoom because everyone was staring at them. Letting students know specifically when to take a camera break has helped alleviate some of the pressure. Students would return from the camera breaks refreshed and refocused. They were also more willing to keep their videos on during the remainder of the class.”

Dr. Augustine’s approach to shifting her course online has been one of flexibility and innovation. Her final advice for instructors new to teaching online?

“I recommend practicing first with someone who can be the “student.” When that is not possible - have a back-up plan. The students have appreciated that when something does not work I do not try to figure it out during class; I go to my back-up plan to be able to maintain the level of engagement.”

Try it Yourself 

From Zoom breaks to new tools, there are lots of ways you can use technology in your course to promote engagement. 

Visit the Teaching and Learning Resource Center to find helpful guides for digital tools provided by the university and workshops you can attend to learn more about leveraging technology in your course. 

Looking to consult with someone in ODEE? Fill out their contact form to get in touch.