Evaluation and Reflection

Gauging student engagement and understanding remotely – some tried and tested methods

The rapid pivot to a re mote education format during the 2020 pandemic, necessitated an agile approach to teaching and assessment. With bioscience class sizes ranging from ~25-720 students, ascertaining how well students understood taught concepts, was an essential yet challenging task. Despite the diversity of class sizes and subject areas, some tried and tested methods were found to be more effective and user friendly, for both our students and staff.

Asynchronous delivery of didactic lectures as recorded lessons, led to clear student benefits (e.g. ability to control viewing pace and availability of closed captions). However, the ability of staff to get an at-a-glance view of how well students were engaging and understanding that content, was not straightforward. Whilst KEATS provides a log and activity reports of who has clicked on a resource, it clearly cannot tell you how well they engaged with it.

Gauging student engagement 1

Synchronous live online sessions were designed to provide an opportunity for students to raise any concerns and questions that arose from their asynchronous recorded lessons. Unfortunately, the nature of the live virtual classroom meant that staff could not readily ‘see’ students who were disengaged or struggling in the same way they would in an actual classroom.

Challenges arose when it came to running these live sessions, including the need to accommodate multiple time zones, unpredictable bandwidth issues, navigation problems in and out of breakout rooms and varied levels engagement with live polling or Q&A. These all rapidly ate into the timetabled teaching hour, whichoften meant only a fraction of the original intended learning outcomes were covered.

Teaching staff soon recognised the need for significant pre-planning, post class reflection and an adaptive approach in order to future make sessions as educationally valuable and inclusive as possible.

Within the department of pharmacology many approaches were tried but one universal approach emerged as being a particularly effective way to encourage students to review taught content and assess their understanding, without over burdening them with activities. This approach simultaneously provided granular information to staff about individual student engagement and understanding.

Students were provided with thematic quizzes, questions or set a problem at the end of a series of recorded lessons – recapping a number of key concepts. This approach appeared preferable to a quiz at the end of each lesson which tended to be onerous and often had poor uptake.

For my level 6, 30 credit module, 3 quizzes were created recapping the 3 major taught themes covered during the term. Students were directed to the MS-Forms link in KEATS positioned below the asynchronous lessons for that theme. Students were typically given 1 week to 10 days to complete this before the live consolidation session.

Thematic quizzes and student answers were then reviewed in a live follow up session chaired by the tutor but necessitating live student interaction.

Preferred formats to create the quizzes were the KEATS quiz functionality or MS-Forms. The breadth, depth and number of questions were dependent on the topic and the class size for different year groups but I opted for about 5 short answer questions which could then be explored in more detail in the live follow up.

The format of this activity meant that those students who wished to fully engage were able to do so – submitting complete answers to all questions, prior to the live session. Similarly, those students who preferred to take a cursory look at the questions but engage verbally in class were free to do so. Finally, those students who were less confident in engaging in the live session, had the opportunity to read the questions (which highlighted what they should know) and then passively engage with both the tutor and their peers during the live session.

Gauging student engagement 2

Gauging student engagement 3

Deidentified answers were occasionally shown during the live session and as a tutor I was able to illustrate the diversity of students answers, draw attention of specific elements within those answers and highlight areas of interest e.g. praising a student for a solid, accurate answer or expanding on an answer to provide more depth or correct any common misunderstandings.

Gauging student engagement 4

A review of pre-submitted answers allowed me to prepare better for the live session – allowing me to rapidly recap topics where students seemed confident in their understanding whilst spending more time on concepts where students were struggling. This allowed all learning outcomes to be covered within the timetabled session. At the end of the session, indicative content for each question was made available providing more support for both active and passive learners.

Importantly, as a tutor, I was quickly able to ascertain 1) which students were actively engaged on the module – using the quiz analytics and noting live interaction 2) the depth and degree of understanding that students had about the key concepts from their answers, such that I could adapt future teaching accordingly supplementing content/resources where necessary.

Irrespective of the class size or year group, 3 modules within the pharmacology department recorded 50-62% engagement with quizzes prior to the live session and, for my module, there was 100% attendance at the live sessions.

It takes significant time and effort to create/record content and design and plan the synchronous sessions. This should be factored in when preparing for content for a module.

Coupling thematic quizzes/exercises with a live consolidation supported active and passive learners. Live sessions encouraged peer to peer learning, overseen by a tutor. This approach simultaneously allows the tutor to gauge student engagement and understanding in a remote learning format.

Written by Manasi Nandi

Manasi Nandi is a Reader in Integrative Pharmacology. She teaches undergraduate and postgraduates, primarily in the departments of Pharmacology and Pharmacy. Manasi is the departmental digital education lead and sits on the Digital Accessibility Task and Finish group. This group has created and is currently implementing a set of baseline standards to ensure all digital content is fully accessible for all staff and students.


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