The 3 C’s of engaging students online

Higher ed leaders and educators: Remember that reaching out and keeping students engaged is important when they lose the enjoyment (and familiarity) of daily campus life during closures
By: | April 17, 2020
(Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash)(Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash)
Scott Mobley is the executive director of The National Society of Collegiate Scholars.

Scott Mobley is the executive director of The National Society of Collegiate Scholars.

Online classes. Re-worked syllabuses. Graduations canceled.

We are no doubt experiencing unprecedented times. Across the country, hundreds of thousands of college students are facing a new collegiate reality. For some, the transition has been seamless; yet for others it has been defeating, chaotic, stressful and financially burdensome, to say the least. For many students, displacement from a familiar academic setting to a new online distance learning environment has been haphazard and piecemeal.

Abigail Sepich, a 21-year old junior and a teaching assistant at The George Washington University as well as a member of The National Society of Collegiate Scholars shared how her workload has doubled. While many have joked with her that she gets an early summer break by being home in Kansas, she is quick to point out that it most definitely is not a vacation. Coursework continues, and the adjustment to remote learning takes time and effort.

Additionally, the pandemic has impacted tens of thousands of committed faculty and staff. Many have experienced the same chaotic and burdensome transitions as students with several lingering unknowns. Learning new technology to apply to their teaching is not always straightforward. Their workload in many cases has doubled—yet their unwavering commitment to our students has been awe-inspiring.

Read: Updated: 75 free higher ed resources during coronavirus pandemic

As an ACHS-certified, FERPA-compliant collegiate honor society with nearly 150,000 active student members nationwide, we focus every day on engaging our members nationwide. The following are three tips for maintaining and growing student engagement during these tumultuous times.

1. Be Consistent

Maintain regular communications. One of the best ways to keep students engaged and feeling less anxious is to provide regular updates. At NSCS, we have continued our regular content programming with daily social media posts, regularly scheduled webinars and bi-weekly email newsletters. Our staff communicate with chapter leaders regularly to make sure they are equipped to run their chapters virtually. With the copious changes that students are already dealing with, having a reliable, familiar communication can be comforting and helpful. This doesn’t mean you have to overload students with superfluous content. Remember to keep things pointed and meaningful.

A pandemic is no time to abandon the idea of community. In fact, it should be a time to double down.

Second, continue to explore new ways of communicating. As an advisor, you may not have access to social media that your students follow. Consider using Zoom, sending iPhone videos, or conducting surveys via SurveyMonkey, for instance.

Recently, in my professional and personal social networks, I’ve participated in Zoom meetings, lunch and learn sessions, and virtual happy hours.

2. Be Creative

Adapt your usual way of thinking. NSCS Chapter Operations Manager Maggie Helmus discusses the opportunity for student organizations to adapt their usual ways of thinking during this time. “If you have never experimented with certain social media platforms or types of content, this is a great opportunity to do that,” she says. “Set up a Facebook page or Instagram account and encourage students to contribute.”

If the communications you are sending out are consistent, varying the messages, platform or medium can help to keep students engaged and entertained. For example, NSCS put together a music playlist for students to help them remain calm during this time. While this is not the typical type of content we produce, it has been a well-received and welcome change to help students cope a bit better.

Read: Colleges and universities check in with every student

3. Be Considerate

Approach students with empathy. Above all, don’t forget that a sense of community must not be lost during this tumultuous time. One of the most beloved aspects of the higher education experience and belonging to a student organization is the sense of community it provides. A pandemic is no time to abandon the idea of community. In fact, it should be a time to double down. Take time to connect with individuals and listen to their stories. Show your students and members that you care, that you understand what they are going through and you stand with them in solidarity. Express your community spirit and pride by wearing gear and using hashtags.

Scott Mobley is the executive director of The National Society of Collegiate Scholars, an honors organization that recognizes high-achieving students.

UB’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on higher ed.