The Get Engaged: Tips for Student Engagement series is a weekly e-mail message that describes an instructional strategy that faculty might find helpful in promoting active learning and student engagement. The Get Engaged tips are based on the scholarly literature on teaching and suggestions from faculty who have successfully used the strategy in their teaching.
Do you have an instructional strategy that improves student learning or promotes student engagement with your class? Send a 200 word (or less) description of your teaching tip to Claudia Stanny at the Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment (firstname.lastname@example.org) for posting in a future Get Engaged mailing.
If you do not currently receive the Get Engaged e-mail but would like to receive future postings, contact CUTLA (email@example.com), and you will be added to the distribution list.
June 24, 2008
Participation in class discussion is a valuable tool for increasing student engagement. Achieving consistent and constructive participation in class discussion can be a challenge. Students may be reluctant to participate in discussion if they are uncertain about faculty expectations for meaningful contributions or unclear about the ground rules for appropriate behavior. Students can be assigned specific conversational roles such as facilitator (in charge of presenting the basic information to be discussed and posing relevant questions for discussion), summarizer (keeps notes of the discussion and provides a brief summary at the close of the discussion), process observer (monitors group dynamics and ensures that others participate in the discussion), evidence assessor (asks individuals who make a contribution to describe the evidence that supports the assertion). Before class presentations in which discussion is expected, individual students can be assigned each of these roles for different presentations. Alternatively, students can rotate through each role during different class meetings. Assigned roles with clear descriptions of the expectations associated with each role will increase student participation, limit the tendency for a few students to dominate discussions, and improve the overall quality of class discussions. A more complete description of conversational roles can be found in Brookfield and Preskill (2005).
Brookfield, S. D., & Preskill, S. (2005). Discussion as a way of teaching: Tools and techniques for democratic classrooms (2nd ed). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
June 17, 2008
Mid-course evaluations are useful tools for getting information about what is and is not working well in your course. Instructors can make use of this formative feedback to make adjustments to the course to improve student engagement and learning. Give students a framework for this evaluation to encourage thoughtful, constructive feedback and discourage irrelevant comments about your hair style or wardrobe. Typical questions include:
What activities or course materials have helped you learn in this course?
Is there anything that is currently hindering your learning?
What changes (if any) would improve your ability to learn in this course?
These should be completed anonymously. Sort the responses into “things that are going well,” “things that might be changed to improve the course this term,” and “things that can’t be changed” and share these with your students. Although students might not be interested in the first category, sharing a few successes will direct student attention to positive aspects of the class. Identify one or two realistic adjustments based on comments from the second category. Students will appreciate your flexibility and willingness to make reasonable adjustments. Finally, explain why some items necessarily fall in the “can’t be changed” category. The course fulfills a particular role in the curriculum and yes, students are expected to be able to use statistical analyses to evaluate data. Students must use correct grammar in their writing. Courses must include tests or other evaluations of student learning. Include a humorous off-base suggestion or comment as a tacit example of the difference between constructive and unhelpful feedback.
Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
June 10, 2008
Encouraging discussions in class not only improves student comprehension of material, it creates practice for public speaking. To offer an opinion and have a classmate agree is an overwhelming confidence booster. Instructors can include group discussions as part of the class, so that speaking out becomes a normal occurrence. Raise the stakes when possible by having presentations in class, and don’t be afraid to comment on presentation and delivery as well as substance of the contribution. If you demand volume and projection, you’ll get it. If not, you reinforce the small, weak voice that will not serve students as they move out of University and into the working world.
Want to learn more about public speaking from the perspective of theatre? Have a student who might benefit from a course that will provide practical practice with these skills?
Kevin Kern will offer a special topics class, Practical Acting, during the C Term this summer (June 26 – August 8). His course will focus on the practical skills one develops in acting classes for those who have no immediate plans for a career in the Performing Arts. Public speaking, small group communication, persuasive speaking, and spontaneity are all important skills to master. The course will provide practice in all of these skills.
TPP 3990 Practical Acting
Monday & Wednesday, 5:30 PM – 8:50 PM
Meets in BLDG 82 Room 299
Regular Registration for non-degree students (and all other students) is open June 16 – June 25.
June 3, 2008
Improve student engagement by offering your students extra credit for using improved study strategies. Junn (1995) offered extra credit to students for engaging in selected learning activities. These activities included attending class sessions and submitting weekly learning activity assignments (on time). The learning activities included creating detailed and well-organized class notes each week, creating detailed reading notes and questions based on the assigned readings following instructor guidelines for reading notes, creating 12 specific mnemonic devices (e.g., developing an acronym) to improve the student’s ability to remember key terms and concepts discussed in class that week, or documented participation in a tutoring session or attendance at a campus workshop on study or test-taking skills. The amount of extra credit earned (up to 2% of the total points associated with the final course grade) depended on the number and frequency of documented completion of one or more of these learning activities. Students who engaged in the extra credit activities earned significantly higher scores on class exams and earned significantly higher final grades (without including the extra credit points in the computation). Students reported that the extra credit assignment required a considerable amount of work, but encouraged them to learn better study habits that actually helped them learn.
Junn, E. N. (1995). Empowering the marginal student: A skills-based extra-credit assignment. Teaching of Psychology, 22, 189-192.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Use student questions to encourage the participation of additional students in class discussion. In larger classes, students might have difficulty hearing a student’s question. Repeat the student’s question so that everyone can hear and then ask if any other member of the class can suggest an answer. Again, repeat or paraphrase the student’s responses so that all students can hear the response. Connect the question and responses to the ongoing discussion of material so that students clearly understand that student contributions and responses to questions are considered part of the class content (anticipating the “will this be included on the test?” question).
Twenty Ways to Make Lecture More Participatory (Online Document). Retrieved October 16, 2007, from the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, Harvard University. Web site: http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/html/icb.topic58474/TFTlectures.html
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
One of the seven principles of good practice suggested by Chickering and Gamson (1987) is to give students prompt feedback. Students benefit from multiple opportunities to perform new skills, especially when they receive prompt feedback about their performance with suggestions for improvement. This practice is well-supported by research on metacognitive skill. Stanovich (1999) reported that 77% of participants were overconfident about their accuracy in answering questions on a test of general knowledge. This overconfidence can lead students to terminate study before they have adequately learned the material they intended to learn. Frequent feedback about performance can reduce this bias to overestimate one’s learning. Renner and Renner (2001) administered multiple quizzes across a term and provided students with immediate feedback on the accuracy of their responses. Student performance improved with this feedback. In addition, these students became more accurate in estimating the quality of their learning on subsequent quizzes.
Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 39, 3 – 7.
Full-text PDF file available through ERIC (Educational Resources Information Center)
detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=ED282491& ERICExtSearch_SearchType_ 0=no&accno=ED282491
Renner, C. H., & Renner, M. J. (2001). But I thought I knew that: Using confidence estimation as a debiasing technique to improve classroom performance. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 15, 23-32.
Stanovich, K. E. (1999). Who is rational? Studies of individual differences in reasoning. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Use the first day of class to set the tone for the remainder of the term. Engaged students are expected to ask questions and participate in class. Create an activity on the first day that will engage students and force them to speak. An easy way to do this is to use an icebreaker activity that will enable students to meet one another. This has the added benefit that comes when students develop a personal connection with classmates and potential study partners.
A simple icebreaker activity is to arrange students in groups of 3-5. Give the students 5 minutes to introduce themselves to each other and identify three non-obvious things they have in common (hobbies, city where they grew up, travel to another country, musical interests, etc.). Each group should report back to the entire class, introducing the members of the group and noting their common characteristics. Students might misinterpret this activity as pure fun-and-games, so take some time to explain your goals to learn student names, introduce students to potential study-buddies, and create a class expectation that everyone can (and will) participate.
Source: Not Quite 101 Ways to Learning Students’ Names, Michael Palmer (Spring, 2004). University of Virginia Teaching Resource Center. Web site: http://trc.virginia.edu/Publications/Teaching_Concerns/Misc_Tips/Learn_Names.htm
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Create a Strong Ending for Your Class
Ask students to write a letter to the future students of the course. Have them summarize the course material, discuss study techniques and learning strategies that helped them learn, explain problem areas they encountered with the material, and describe the class in terms of a general introduction for future students. Grade this work as a pass/fail (done/not done) assignment. The comments and suggestions might be used as part of a handout for students on the first day of class the next time you teach this course.
Haussermann, Carol. "How do you end your class?"
Faculty Center for Excellence in Teaching, Western Kentucky University
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Getting students to read course material increases student engagement, but how can you get them to read?
Engaging students in meaningful discussion during class is easier if students have read the material in advance. Assign students homework that requires them to read the material and prepare a written response that will be brought to class. The homework should require students to make use of the content of the reading. For example, students might complete a graphic organizer for the material, respond to a prompt (e.g., compare the evidence in support of each of two competing explanations or models), or relate the material to an event or problem they encounter in their daily lives or to events in the news. The homework should be meaningfully related to a class activity that builds on this homework. For example, students might engage in a debate, discussion, or pair-share activity that requires them to use the material they prepared in the homework. Collect the homework at the end of class (students will need it to participate in the class activity) and simply mark it with pass/fail (done/not done) points that contribute to a larger homework or class participation grade. Students will initially engage in the activity to earn the points, but the homework preparation ultimately gains instructional value because prepared students are able to participate and make effective contributions to the class activity.
IDEA Paper #38: Enhancing Learning – and more! – Through Cooperative Learning (Barbara J. Millis)
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
How can you engage busy students who don’t have time to come visit you during your office hours? Consider holding “virtual office hours.” You can create “virtual office hours” by identifying and posting specific days and times when you will be logged onto an online instant messenger service (AOL, Yahoo, etc.) or will host an Elluminate session. Instructors who hold virtual office hours commonly create a user name for the IM account that is unique to their name, course, department, or area of expertise. Unique account names make it easy for students to remember and find the account. They also make it easy for you to separate a course account from other accounts. If you host an Elluminate session, each session must be created as a unique event and the link for this session must be sent to students in advance. Use virtual office hours to answer student questions or consult on class projects. If you use Elluminate, you can post a problem or a course assignment on a common workspace. Multiple students can simultaneously discuss, edit, or make comments on the work during a session.
Remember to control your time! Holding virtual office hours does not mean that you must be available to your students electronically 24/7. Just as you clearly identify when you will be present in your physical office and promise to answer the phone or talk to students who appear at your door, you should clearly establish the specific days and times when students can expect that you will be logged into your instant message account, respond to e-mail, or have an Elluminate session in operation.
Thanks in part to Susan L. Brown (Philosophy, Religious Studies, & Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Lucia Bushway (Mathematics & Statistics) for these examples of virtual office hours. Contact ATC for more information on how to use Elluminate to create a virtual office hour or group study session.
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
A peer review assignment is an effective way to engage students in the critical analysis of writing. Peer reviews also provide students with useful feedback to improve final drafts of a written assignment. Adding peer review as an interim assignment for a large project will deter procrastination. Students must prepare a first draft for the larger project in advance of the due date in order to complete the peer review assignment. This activity may also deter plagiarism because students must revise their work based on the comments and suggestions provided by peer reviewers.
Each student submits two copies of the written assignment for peer review two weeks before the final draft is due. These are distributed to two peer reviewers. You can ensure that all students receive at least one competent peer review if you assign papers to peer reviewers based on an index of class performance (e.g., assign reviews so that each paper is reviewed by one student in the top half of the class and one student in the bottom half of the class based on average exam scores). Students are more likely to write peer reviews with good, constructive feedback if they are given specific guidelines and asked to support their comments with evidence. A peer review rubric can structure the peer review process. Contact Claudia Stanny at CUTLA for a sample rubric for peer reviewers. Schedule the due date for the peer reviews so that students receive their peer reviews one week before the due date for the written assignment.
Because students take assignments more seriously if they contribute meaningfully to their final grade, the peer review should be a graded assignment. A Pass/Fail grade that is based on submitting a draft and completing the peer review on time works well to ensure students complete peer reviews and return them to fellow students in time to allow students to revise their work.
Dr. Claudia Stanny, PSY6217
Peer Review: Draft of Research Proposal
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Students frequently think about their courses as if they were independent of one another. Students will be more engaged if they can describe how individual courses contribute to their larger goals. Help students identify the connections between courses in their major by asking students to relate material they learned in other courses to topics under discussion in your course. If two or more courses in the major discuss different aspects of a particular topic, take advantage of opportunities to discuss this shared content. For example, if the major includes a methods course, ask students to identify the research methods or statistical analyses used to evaluate research findings described in a content course. Draw students’ attention to topics that they will encounter again when they take other courses in the major (e.g., “when you take Cognitive Neuroscience, you will learn more about the role played by specific brain structures in the memory functions we are discussing in this class,” “when you take Child Development, you will learn about how children’s understanding of grammar and the pragmatics of language develop over time”). Find students in your class who have completed a specific course in the major with related content and ask them to use their knowledge to elaborate on the topic under review. For example, a marketing instructor might ask students who have completed a course in finance to explain the financial implications of two competing marketing campaigns.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Use collaborative learning activities as class assignments that are later shared in class. For example, Dr. Jay Gould (Psychology) uses the following active-learning exercise in Experimental Psychology (EXP 3082): After reading about research ethics and discussing this topic in class, students are required to work in pairs to prepare a “Code of Ethics for Psychology Researchers.“ The printed codes of ethics are then posted in the hallway (without names) for all students in the class to review and then vote on the best one other than their own. Extra credit is given to the three pairs of students whose codes of ethics receive the greatest number of votes.
Thanks to Jay Gould (Psychology) for this contribution.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Spring Break – no Get Engaged Tip this week
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Relate the material you are teaching to real-world contexts and potential careers. Information in textbooks can often be abstract or very theoretical in nature. Students will understand, appreciate, and remember information a lot better if they can relate it to current events, how it is used in real settings, how it relates to what they will do after they graduate, how it relates to other topics in their field or even other disciplines, etc.
Another strategy to encourage students to actively engage with class material is to ask students to bring a standard 3X5 index card to each class for a brief “quiz.” Present a question on the topic of the day that requires the student to consider how the topic relates to something real in their lives. This strategy requires the student to consider the relevance and implications of the course material to their lives outside of the class. Any response that indicates reasonable consideration of the issue is regarded as “correct” and receives credit. In addition, because the quizzes comprise a portion of the final grade for the course, this activity encourages attendance and affords an easy way for the instructor to take attendance for record keeping.
Thanks to Eman El-Sheikh (Computer Science and CUTLA Fellow) and Ron Belter (Psychology) for these suggestions.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Include examples of findings and ideas from student papers or presentations to illustrate relevant points in your lectures. This practice will help establish a community-of-learners atmosphere that encourages students to take their own scholarly work seriously. You can also promote student awareness of the scholarly work of colleagues in your department by using examples of their current research to illustrate topics in your lecture.
Thanks to Stephanie D. Moussalli, Ph.D. (Accounting) for this suggestion.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Promote a respectful environment in your classroom to improve student engagement. For example, protect your student’s privacy. When making comments in class or while returning graded work, ensure that the strategies you use or comments you make do not reveal information about the student’s performance to the rest of the class.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Student engagement in large lectures can be improved by using a pair-share discussion strategy. Ask students to turn to a neighbor to complete a task (develop an example of a concept, answer a question, or solve a problem from the lecture material). Provide a few minutes for discussion among the paired students, then select students at random from the class roster to share their responses with the class as a whole.
Ebert-May, D., Brewer, C., & Allred, S. (1997). Innovation in large lectures – teaching for active learning. Bioscience, 47, 601-607.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Engaged students are connected to faculty, fellow students, and other campus activities.
Encourage students to develop connections with their classmates. Ask your students to exchange contact information. Encourage students to develop relations with one another for mutual support in your class. You might request that your students form study groups or develop networks for sharing lecture notes.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Encourage students to take responsibility for proofing and checking grammar in their written work.
Before grading any major essay, scan quickly, highlighting grammar errors (you can do this by hand or electronically, using the highlighting feature in MS Word). If a paper contains an excessive number of errors (determined by your criterion), return the paper to the student to correct the grammar before you grade the essay. This correction process takes some additional time that you might build into the assignment deadlines, but the finished papers will be much clearer. Also, your students will have learned a valuable lesson about proofreading before submitting their work, a lesson that will serve them well in college and beyond.
Students may make appointments at the university Writing Lab for a one-hour grammar check before submitting their papers, or they can walk in with a graded paper and receive input on how to correct their errors in grammar and mechanics.
Thanks to Judy Hale Young (Director of Composition) for this suggestion.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Students who prepare for class are more engaged with their learning.
Create a module in D2L that students must complete before they arrive to class for discussion. Students must read material in the module and prepare themselves for the discussion and activities in the class. When students arrive prepared, they can engage in class activities more effectively and learn more from these activities.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Model problem solving in the classroom. When a student asks a difficult question, think out loud in response to the question and engage your students in the process of developing an answer. It is OK to not know the answer – especially if you are willing to find the answer for a later class. Students appreciate instructors who acknowledge the limits of their expertise and model a willingness to learn new information. Sometimes students pose questions that have not yet been addressed in the discipline. This is an opportunity to model how an expert in the discipline thinks through a new question and determines what is and is not known, what additional information is needed, and how that information might be obtained.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Ask your students to spend 5 minutes writing about a topic before beginning class discussion of this topic. You need not grade this writing, although you might consider collecting the writing as an easy way to monitor attendance. Will students benefit from writing that does not directly contribute to their grade? Research findings suggest that they do.
Drabick, Weisberg, Paul, and Bubier (2007) compared the test performance of students who either wrote or thought about a topic for 5 minutes before engaging in a 10 minute class discussion of the topic. Ungraded writing produced larger improvements in student performance on both factual and conceptual questions than did merely thinking about the topic, with a larger benefit for conceptual questions. Even when student writing is not graded, these assignments can be effective strategies for improving student learning.
Drabick, D. A. G., Weisberg, R., Paul, L., & Bubier, J. L. (2007). Keeping is short and sweet: Brief, ungraded writing assignments facilitate learning. Teaching of Psychology, 34, 172-176.
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Engage students with your class and with one another by creating a welcoming class environment. Ask early-arriving students to serve as “greeters” who will welcome students as they arrive. “Greeters” should introduce themselves to other students as they arrive. This activity will facilitate the creation of community within the classroom and help students meet one another.
Tip courtesy of Dr. Donna Duffy, participant at the Lilly Conference on College and University Teaching (Traverse City).
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Students feel more engaged when faculty know students’ names, but learning the names of many students can be difficult.
Bring a digital camera to class at the start of the term and photograph students in groups of 3 or 4, holding a sheet of paper with their name. You can review these photos from time to time to connect names and faces.
Some students may object to being photographed. To avoid potential conflicts, explain to students that participation in this activity is entirely voluntary, the materials will only be used by you to help you learn their names, and photos will be destroyed at the end of the semester.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Ask students to write in class. The minute paper presents students with a prompt for a brief response (answer a question related to material discussed in class that day, provide a concrete example from the student’s experience that is related to the class discussion). Minute papers from a large class can be graded in less than 20 minutes (check (2 points) for an adequate answer, check-plus (3 points) for an exemplary, well-written answer, check-minus (1 point) for a muddy answer that suggests the student was in class but might not understand the concept). Low-stakes writing assignments engage students with course material. When students rephrase topics in their own words, they will retain this information longer. The minute paper can also be a useful check to determine how well students understand the material.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Keep a jar of candy in your office for students who come to visit. This will also lure your colleagues and improve departmental collegiality! (Health Hint: Unless you have wonderful willpower, stock a candy that you won’t be tempted to eat yourself.)
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Keep your appointments with students. Students at UWF frequently must make special efforts to drive to campus to meet with instructors and advisors. Some students need to take time off work or hire a sitter for their children to make appointments.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Can a student be too engaged?
Have a student who talks too much and monopolizes class time? Talk to this student after class. Praise the student for his or her confidence and command of the material. Then ask the student to help you engage other students in the class.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Students appreciate prompt feedback on assignments and exams. If later assignments build on skills learned from earlier assignments, prompt feedback enables students to make good use of your comments to improve their work. Return graded work as quickly as possible.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Ask, don’t tell. Make students responsible for generating some of the content of a lecture. If the reading for a class session clearly describes content, ask students to generate this content in response to a probe question rather than simply reviewing this material in lecture. Research in cognitive psychology on the “generation effect” demonstrates that people retain information longer when they generate the material as a response to a probe than when they simply read this material (Slamecka & Graf, 1978).
Slamecka, N. J., & Graf, P. (1978). The generation effect: Delineation of a phenomenon. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 4, 592-604.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Start and end your class on time. It is exciting to be so engaging that you can’t let your students go. But students may have another class on the other side of campus. Keeping students beyond the class time interferes with their ability to be engaged in their next class. If you arrive a bit early to engage students in conversation before class, you improve student engagement in your class and demonstrate that you value the time in class.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Engaging students with disabilities can sometimes be a challenge. When a student requests accommodations for a disability, refer the student to the Student Disability Resource Center (474–2387) for registration and determination of appropriate accommodations. This may be the student’s first step in attaining access to additional services and support for academic success provided through SDRC.
Faculty responses to students with disabilities sometimes require special awareness and education. Faculty can learn more about the effects of student disabilities on the educational experience by attending the presentations of Dr. Michael Beechem (Social Work) and Dr. Keith Whinnery (Teacher Education) during the Disability Awareness Day activities on October 10.
For more information about working with students with disabilities, contact the Student Disability Resource Center (473-7469).
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Create small groups for class-related projects. Group work promotes social networking. Reorganize the groups from time to time to increase the number of contacts between students. Don’t have formal projects in your class? Create small groups for a think-pair-share activity related to class content. Pose a question, allow time for students to think and develop an individual response, pair the students (or create groups of no more than 4 students) to discuss their responses, and have a spokesperson from the groups share their discussion with the class. This is an effective method for active discussion of course content that requires only about 15 minutes of class time.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Connect with students in your class.
Arrive at the classroom 10 minutes before class begins. Engage students in informal conversation about how their classes are going.
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