How to Retain Online Engagement

As a leader and educator, it’s incredibly challenging to spend this third semester in a row online.  Zoom classes and Webex organization meetings feel like old news, and I’ve struggled to keep myself hyped for classes and hang outs behind a screen after a full year.  It’s truly time for a re-vamp.  

Over the past several months, I have researched dozens of ways to spice up these remote learning days.  Oftentimes, the same icebreakers are used over and over again.  While there’s no shame in asking everyone their name, hometown, major, and favorite hobby, these superficial introductions rarely foster connection like they used to.  In addition to data collection through research, I jotted down several real-life examples that my professors have used during virtual rehearsals and courses.  The remaining ideas can be credited to Dr. Alison Kaufman, who is the Interim Manager in the Institute for Teaching and Learning at YSU.  Here are ten excellent ideas to retain online engagement: five are refreshing icebreakers, and five are engaging activities.

  1. 1. Refreshing Ice Breakers

    1.    Show and Tell Have each member find three items that showcase who they are and what they’re interested in.  After someone shares, have them call a peer’s name and throw an imaginary ball across the screen to that person.  This throw and catch version of show and tell will surely make all participants smile.  

    2.    Where in the world is… As the leader of the call, ask everyone to locate one of their peers on the screen.  Once everyone has found that individual, instruct all members to point in whichever direction this colleague is located on their respective screens.  This is a great tool for helping newer groups learn other member’s names and faces quickly.  

    3.    1 or 2/True or False/Yes or No Everyone loves a simplified, wholesome version of “Would You Rather.”  Do you like Pepsi or Coke better?  Would you ever go sky-diving?  These are mere examples of fun prompts and superlatives which you can utilize.  According to their opinion, have each member hold up one finger for the first option or two fingers for the second option.  This is a fun way to learn everyone’s interests and preferences in a group setting.  Consider creating and projecting a slide show on Canva or Power Point to supplement this activity!

    4.    Mime Reading Lead a mental health check in using facial expressions and body language only.  With everyone muted, ask some simple questions: “How are you doing today?”  “Are you ready to learn?”  “Are you healthy?”  Have everyone answer the question with non-verbal communication such as hand signs, facial expressions, and body posture.  This can be incredibly fun to watch, especially with younger children who are very expressive.  This also encourages everyone to turn their video camera on, which our society has grown incredibly laxed with over the past year.

    5.    Pechakucha These are incredibly fun get-to-know-me slideshows.  Traditionally, this Asian story-telling method utilizes 20 visual slides that are spoken about for 20 seconds each.  Since many classes and meetings are often pressed for time, consider lowering everyone’s limit to talking about 5-8 slides for 20 seconds each.  These presentations provide each member an equal opportunity to share their passions and interests.  Structured activities like this help ease comfort levels for each participant to unmute and contribute something.


  2. 2. Engaging Activities

    6.    Chair Yoga Because we’re sitting all day every day, it’s always fun to switch up the monotony and try something different.  Consider leading your group in some sort of movement activity such as Chair Yoga.  Share a YouTube video or lead the class on your own.  This movement is incredibly helpful for long meetings and classes.  Split up the duration into two halves and use this mini-meditation as an intermission.

    7.    Art Class Have all members get out a piece of paper and writing utensil, then lead them in drawing a picture together.  Similar to Chair Yoga, you can share a YouTube video or lead the class on your own.  After a few minutes, ask for a few volunteers to share their finished products.

    8.    Mad Libs Who else loved these growing up!?  Encourage everyone to get out a pen and sheet of paper.  Ask them to write down a series of words: adjective, noun, verb, another adjective, animal, campus building, best friend’s name, etc.  Then, ask for a few volunteers to share the words they wrote.  You as the leader can go through and read a Mad-Lib story using a combination of everyone’s words.

    9.    Class Outside As spring arrives, consider allowing your students or members to call in with audio only.  This enables everyone to get out of their rooms and spend some time in creation while learning.  Everyone can walk around in their neighborhood or local/state parks while listening to a lecture.

    10.    Virtual Bingo  This is super fun and engaging.  All you need is access to some free bingo cards and a free bingo caller.  Templates can be found online, or you can utilize one on Microsoft Word to manually create numbered superlatives that are specific to your organization!  Use whatever title or theme you’d like.  Don’t forget to create a free space!


  3. 3. Here are some overall tips that may help improve the quality of your calls: 

    •    When using Webex, you can optimize the settings for text and images versus motion and audio.  Use the best setting for your circumstances.  If you’re sharing the screen for a presentation, optimize text and images.  If you’re leading your organization in a group movement activity like yoga, optimize motion and audio.

    •    Don’t forget to share computer sound when you share your screen on Zoom.  This function is located on the bottom left corner of the pop-up when you select “Share your Screen.”

    •    If your internet connection is unsteady, consider muting both your microphone and video for a few seconds.  This may help troubleshoot spotty connectivity.

    •    Plug in headphones when you’re in a meeting with more than 20 people.  In general, audio capabilities sound drastically improved when you plug in for any call.


Consider all of the information above as a buffet: you don’t have to consume it all.  Use what intrigues you.  All in all, you should be proud for having weathered the storms of teaching, learning, and leading in this new age.  Keep working hard; we’ll make it through this together.  Keep pushing boundaries and breaking barriers that stand in your way.  Continue to say yes to things, even if they’re scary, new, and a little bit crazy.  Look out for each other and be responsible for not only your own health, but the well-being of those around you.  Share collective optimism whenever you can.  Try to focus on little joys or simple inspirations throughout each day.