How to improve students engagement in virtual settings: PETaL experience

Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree in Play, Education, Toys, and Languages - PETaL. Play, toys and games; intercultural education (IE); second language acquisition (ESLA), and early childhood education (ECE) are the key topics of PETaL. It is jointly delivered by Universidad de Cordoba, Politecnico de Lisboa, Marmara University.

Author: Athifah Utami, EMJMD PETaL student. See contributors page


We were in our second semester when we knew Covid-19 had arrived in Porto, Portugal, in March 2020. Now, I just graduated from a very fun and delightful Erasmus program – Play, Education, Toys, and Languages (PETaL) Program. Throughout our online classes (in the second and third semesters), we had so much fun from the result of well-blended learning experiences brought by our lectures. There were some techniques highlighted which highly promoted engagement and brought less tension during our online learning, they were physical activity at home, on the spot activities, go-visit-and-present (a virtual tour product), and dialogic group work. Furthermore, my digital learning experience has led me to conduct my thesis in digital learning engagement, detailed discussions are presented below.

Physical and on-the-spot activities using stuff at your home were not only successful for little learners (Utami, 2021) but also adults. We had these two courses which asked us to do some on-the-spot physical activities, one for icebreakers and the other one for closure, as a reflection activity. The icebreakers activity was done by drawing our classmates' expressions on a piece of paper on top of our head (so we could not see it), this helped us ready and focus (as we were also required to open our camera during the icebreaking activity). We took a picture of our drawing, signed it, and shared it with our pair-classmate. It was a fun and engaging opening. The closing one was a relaxation session and dance session in our drama and play the course. Our lecture was asking us to follow chain dance movements led by him. We also did a relaxation session with music and narration to help us reflect on matters we have learned during the course. These two activities, the icebreaker, and the reflection ones can be considered to promote behavioural and emotional engagement (Folorunsho, 2016). According to Folorunsho (2016), there are four types of engagement in digital (play) and learning, behavioural, emotional, cognitive, and social engagement. One engagement can overlap with another engagement in one learning activity, like those two activities, where students could be physically involved and emotionally engaged in the sessions.

The second approach was ‘Go-visit-and-present’. I named it that way as that is how it worked, it was in the Toys Museum course, we had to visit or conduct an online interview for a museum (toys and play) museum in our country and we needed to fill a visitation form. As I love creating digital content, I made one virtual visit and uploaded it to my YouTube channel. I recorded my visit, did an interview with the museum staff, went through all the details, edited the footage, asked permission to publish it on my YouTube channel and surprisingly my classmates loved my presentation. I felt that this task had connected me with things around me, brought it to the classroom, and invited my classmates to feel the joy of the visit itself.

Lastly, a dialogic group work. As we came from different nationalities, cultural and social backgrounds, our every session of discussion and project presentation have always been a place where we could see things from wide perspectives. We did not jump to one conclusion to judge one issue from one cultural perspective, instead, we tried to understand it through different lenses. That is how the joint program has provided us with space to have dialog among us toward conception, issue, and the current situation we know in the education field especially.

To conclude, some physical activities which may be more familiar for little learners were also significantly successful for adult learners, as we play and learning should not only for kids but also for adults. Game, play, and integration of physical activities in any possible way during digital learning can benefit and promote engagement in the digital learning environment.

Another example for an icebreaker activity can be found in JPROV's Online Teaching Digital Toolbox. (


Utami, A. 2021. Digital Teaching and Children’s Engagement in Play during Emergency Remote Teaching in Early Childhood Education. A Master Thesis.
Folorunsho, A, I. (2016). Young Children’s Engagement and Interactions with Digital and Non-Digital Activities: A Case Study (Issue June).


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