Aiming for active student participation in online university lessons: A case study of two teachers during emergency remote teaching

How can teachers make online lessons interactive? Why do some teachers succeed in making their lessons interactive while others do not? We addressed these questions in a study from COVID era. Our findings indicate that teachers’ views of online teaching can significantly influence their teaching practices. We found that the view that online teaching can serve as a substitute for contact teaching has a detrimental effect on teacher ability to employ the practices necessary for active student participation in online settings. We suggest abandoning the idea of online teaching as a substitute for contact teaching. Instead, online and contact teaching should be seen as two distinct entities requiring different teaching practices.

We look at active student participation in the synchronous online university lessons of two teachers with shared views on the importance of active student participation but differing approaches to online teaching. We employed a range of tools, including multiple lesson observations over time, line-by-line micro-analysis of the lessons, analysis of discourse moves based on Hardman’s coding system, network visualizations of interactions, and interviews with the teachers reflecting on their teaching.

While our first teacher – Cora – was able to maintain rich interaction during her lessons, our second teacher – Ben – struggled.

While both of our teachers provided ample opportunities for their students to actively engage – both teachers posed many and mainly open questions – Cora was much more successful in activizing her students than Ben was. This suggests that the key guidelines for teachers on how to provide lessons with active student participation based on actively posing questions and incorporating student contributions into teaching may not be sufficient. Quite the opposite: while actively posing questions and incorporating student contributions into teaching are necessary prerequisites for active student participation, our findings suggest that, in the context of online teaching, further teaching practices are necessary to maintain active student participation.