Students can answer a “check-in” question by a certain time which can serve as an ice-breaker early on in the semester (Michelle Miller in Minds Online (Harvard University Press, 2016) even recommends “provocative questions”)–or be tied into the theme of the course.
Try offering students multiple ways to “check in” to the class over a certain interval—weekly, for example. Students could write an email to the instructor, send an update to the instructor and other students in the class (I have my students do this on a weekly collaborative Google Doc—I email the class a link to the Doc and give them several days to complete their personal update), or check in to (optional) synchronous Zoom time (or watch a recording of that time and leave a note after). The more options you provide students—and the clearer the instructions for checking in—the more can use attendance to measure students’ levels of investment and well-being while they are in your class.
You suggest that an asynchronous class could include a weekly collaborative Google Doc. Can you provide more details? E.g. type of questions, grading scale.
Sure. At the beginning of each week, I email my students a link to a Google Doc for checking in. I may ask them a single discussion question or prompt based on the reading or work for the course at that time, or ask them to add a summary of the essay they are working on. I combine a low-stakes course-related prompt with something personal and quirky: favorite snack, favorite film, or one cultural artifact they would recommend to the class to see/hear/etc. Students can use this space to “check in” with that answer as well as with anything they would like to include. That often includes greetings, references to pop culture they’ve been thinking about, shout-outs to other students, or life updates. I give them credit for completing their check-in to a word-count minimum. My rubric for engagement like this is: 3 points—(A) in full (B) on time and (C) on topic.
Those check-ins have a set deadline—say Thursdays. Then there’s a second deadline—say Fridays—for students to go into the doc, read, and leave comments on each other’s posts. This counts as a separate 3 points.