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Non-Verbal Engagement

Leveraging non-verbal cues during synchronous video lessons


Non-verbal engagement is a low-risk way for students to display a reaction to what someone just shared during class without interrupting the flow of the lesson. For example, students can use emojis like 🎉 and 👏 to celebrate their own accomplishments or an accomplishment of their peers. The emojis 😂 and 😮 can express that a student is laughing or surprised about what someone just shared. These reactions are especially helpful if students have turned off their cameras, preventing teachers and other students from seeing their facial expressions.

Educators can also use non-verbal engagement to gauge a variety of factors, such as how much time students need to complete a task, how they are feeling in the moment, and what they think their level of mastery is by associating different cues for different answers. This allows non-verbal conversations to occur in a safe setting and in manner that requires little time investment.

When collecting non-verbal data using the reactions feature, it is important to first:

  • Set expectations for students on when (and when not) to use the reaction features. Have students come up with times it would be appropriate to use each reaction (e.g., appropriate use: 🎉 when a student shares an accomplishment; inappropriate use for the same emoji would be when a student shares about their pet passing away).

  • Have students practice using the reactions in low-stakes scenarios (e.g., have students practice using the yes/no reaction in an interesting way by posing icebreaker prompts like: “Basketball is my favorite sport” and “I have a sibling”).

Once students are comfortable using the feature and are clear on expectations, students can use these emojis throughout class time to respond to teachers and to communicate with their fellow students for a variety of different activities. Some ideas for ways to collect non-verbal data include:

  1. Setting different reactions to mean different things. For example, teachers could verbally ask students if they are ready to move on and to share a thumbs-up emoji (👍) if they are ready to move on, a heart emoji (❤️) if they need two more minutes, and a clapping emoji (👏) if they need more than two minutes. This information can also be used through the chat feature in a video conferencing platforms. Teachers can then see the tally for each emoji among participants and use this information to gauge how much more time to allot for an activity.

  2. Using reactions as a quick check on how students are feeling or their comfort with the lesson. These could be integrated as regular questions to allow students to get familiar with what each reaction represents. Teachers can have a guide saved in a place that they can quickly copy and paste into the chat, or have the information built into a slide deck that they share with the class. For example:

  3. How are you feeling today?

    👏 = I feel nervous.

    👍 = I feel OK.

    ❤️ = I feel a little down.

    😂 = I feel happy.

    😮 = I feel tired.

    🎉 = I feel excited.

  4. Giving students an opportunity to share their mastery levels. By offering students a rapid way to share how they've progressed with the content, educators can access a quick read on the class as a whole, as well as individual students, to determine if students need additional support, if the entire class needs clarification around a topic, or if it is time to move forward. For example:

How are you feeling about this material?

😮 = I do not understand this at all.

👏 = I understand parts of it.

👍 = I understand it.

🎉 = I understand it and could share what I've learned with others.