How to spot and support struggling students online

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Black boxes on a video call. Silence after asking a question. An empty discussion board. Teaching online can make it difficult to see when students need extra help.

85% of students said the pandemic has negatively affected their grades and academic performance [1]. To prevent failing, how can you spot students falling behind and help them succeed online before it’s too late?

Have regular check-ups

When asked about what’s helped their learning the most, students pointed to formative assessments such as end-of-chapter quizzes and concept checks.

“The quizzes [throughout the readings] helped me to stay on track of what I was learning and know what I needed to go back and look at before moving on,” said a Laurier University student.

Assigning low-stakes, formative assessments regularly requires little effort but offers huge benefits for both students and instructors:

  • It improves students’ memory and understanding through retrieval practice
  • It gives students a chance to check their understanding and revisit key ideas immediately after learning
  • It provides instructors with more insight into the areas students are struggling with. Instead of waiting until midterms to check their understanding, you can assess progress early as students proceed and adjust your teaching accordingly.  

To save time and avoid additional workload, you can use the pre-built quizzes, essays, and assignments with automated grading in courseware platforms.

“It is helpful for me to create quick assignments that can be graded by the computer, allowing me to save many hours of grading time and follow each student’s progress through the data,” said a Chemistry professor from a university in Alberta.

Some platforms like Revel even have interactive activities and quizzes integrated throughout the textbook so students can read, learn, and practice in one continuous experience.

University of Victoria student works on an interactive activity inside her Revel for Sociology

Be flexible

Each student learns at a different pace and communicates their needs differently. Make sure you give multiple ways students can reach out to you for help.

Having flexibility in assessments can also help students succeed. For students having a particularly difficult time, extend deadlines to give them extra time to achieve mastery.

An instructor drags-and-drops a chapter to assign in Revel before customizing points possible and setting due dates for individual students and the entire class.

Allowing for multiple submission attempts can also enable students to learn from their mistakes and improve their work. A MacEwan University professor shared how “the students love being able to fix their errors and resubmit assignments for higher marks.”

Make use of the assignment customization available in teaching platforms like Revel to make online learning more flexible and drive true understanding.

Teach study skills

Many students have never been taught how to study effectively. Most choose inefficient passive habits like re-reading, highlighting, or reviewing notes.

As an educator, teaching study skills to your students can show them how to take more ownership of their learning. Consider teaching good study strategies through your curriculum. For example, integrate quizzes or exercises throughout their readings to expose students to the benefits of retrieval practice.

Studies show that doing practice tests while studying improves performance more than just spending more time studying

If you’re a psychology professor, most of the psychology content in Revel include an opening chapter on “Learning How To Learn” which guides students through the basics of good study habits.

A little advice can go a long way in preparing your students to succeed not only in your course but also for the rest of their academic career.

Watch for trends in data

One of the biggest benefits to using educational technology is the ability to monitor student progress closely. Aside from a gradebook, teaching platforms like Revel give you a detailed look into how students are keeping pace with their readings and their individual performance.

Two views of the instructor dashboard in enhanced Revel showing student performance (right) and student reading progress (left)

Are students spending an unusual amount of time on an assignment? Has a student been barely submitting assignments or not spending much time on readings? Which questions are most students getting wrong?

These are all questions you can answer using an enhanced dashboard like in Revel. With these visual insights, you get a quick overview of the topics you need to spend extra time on and easily identify any struggling or low-activity students you should reach out to. 

The enhanced instructor dashboard in Revel identifies struggling students, shows student progress, and helps you reach out to them in one click.


Learn more about how Revel can help you spot and support struggling students