A woman is seated as she looks at a laptop computer, and a man wearing glasses looks over her shoulder at the same computer.

Engaging Students

Screenshot of course analytics showing when students logged in online and how much they have participated
Examples of course analytics in Canvas. Top graph shows page views by month. Bottom graph shows percentage of late assignments in red and on-time assignments in green.

In a regular class, you can see whether students are engaged, or whether they have confused, distracted, or sleepy expressions on their face. But how do you tell in an online class?

Here are recommended ways to check for engagement:

  • Course analytics
  • Discussion board
  • Grades
  • Ungraded activities
  • Mid-course evaluation

Course analytics shows you detailed information on which students have logged in, and when. You can view course analytics, Google Analytics, or WordPress Stats, depending on what your course uses. However, it’s important to realize that this information is not airtight. Students can open their course website on their computer and walk away for a few hours, and the system will log it as though the student has been active on that page for hours. If you see a student hasn’t logged in, that is useful information that can prompt you to send them an email and ensure they are able to access the course.

For institutions which use Canvas as their learning management system:

You can view overall course analytics, or you can focus on an individual student (see the Canvas instructor’s guide here).

According to Canvas, you can use analytics to do the following:

  • Predict how students react to course activities.
  • See which students are at-risk and need help.
  • View how effective your teaching strategies are in allowing students to learn.
  • See a quick view of what your students are achieving in your course.

For specific information on the Canvas LMS analytics, click here to read their instructor’s guide.


The discussion board is a useful barometer for determining students’ engagement. Are their comments qualitatively useful? Are they posting frequently? Are they replying to other students? Again, it is not a perfect indicator, because students may be emailing each other and you do not see it on the discussion board, for example. Students will also follow your instructions carefully, so if you don’t ask them to respond to each other, they may not.


Just as in a face to face class, grades can be an indicator of a student’s performance and engagement. Are the grades comparable to what you saw in your regular class? Is a student struggling, but their discussion board posts are good? Grades can prompt you to follow up with individual students to ensure they are understanding how the course works and that no technical issues are impeding them from their learning.


Ungraded activities can be a helpful measure of students’ participation. However, some students may simply be busy, so they will skip ungraded items.


Mid-course evaluations can provide insightful data as to whether students are experiencing issues or learning well. Ask questions in an open-ended way so you can get more feedback. Ask how you can improve the class, and how much time they are currently spending on the course, and whether there are any problems they’ve experienced. You will learn more about this in the Evaluate module.


Test Yourself

You must log in to view this form, then refresh the page.

Module Complete

Now that you have completed the module, click here to take an optional quiz to test your knowledge.