engagement venn“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
– Joseph Campbell

Getting students’ attention and holding it for 10-15 minutes at a pop is one skill— Getting them to invest themselves and truly engage with the class is the Holy Grail for many faculty.

This is with good reason as engagement has been proven as the key element that “…increases (students) attention and focus, motivates them to practice higher-level critical thinking skills and promotes meaningful learning experiences. ” (Univ. of Washington)

CAUTION! Many of the proven techniques/ practices MAY require you as a faculty member to go outside of your comfort zone — whether it be in how you think of your role and that of students to …

Engagement General Best Practices
From the Literature:

  • It’s About Who is Responsible for What in the Teaching-Learning Process
    “Fundamentally, the responsibility to learn is theirs (students) and theirs alone. We can try to force them (Students) into accepting that responsibility along with the obligation to grow and develop as learners, but we do them a much greater service if we create conditions and develop policies and practices that enable them to understand their responsibility and that empower them to accept it.” (Weimer, Learner-Centered Teaching: 5 Key Changes to Practice, pgs 103-104)
  • Make It Social
    “…Give students the opportunity to learn together, to learn from one another and to learn with you…” (Lang , Small Teaching , pg 190)
  • Active Learning
    “Active inquiry, not passive absorption, is what engages students. It should pervade the curriculum. (Johnson et al. 1989, p. 68)” (Bonwell & Eison, Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom, p. 1)
    “Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just by sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing pre-packaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences, apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.” (Chickering & Gamson, “7 Best Practices in Undergrad Education” )

Specific Engaging Activity Ideas:

  • Objective Significance/ Value of Material
    “Consider how practitioners in your field, or the skills you are teaching them, help make a positive difference in the world; remind them continually, from the opening of the course, about the possibility that their learning can do the same.
  • Make Explicit the Connection of Activities to Goals
    Keep the overarching purpose of any class period or learning activity in view while students are working. use the board or frequent oral (or digital) reminders.”
    (Lang . Small Teaching., pgs 191-192)
  • 1st Day of Class Best/Worst Class
    On the first day of class, have students individually fill out a grid:

    BEST Class I have had WORST Class I have had
    [no names/ departments]
    What the Students Did… What the Teacher Did… What the Students Did… What the Teacher Did…

    Have students share in pairs/ small groups and then report out common themes for each as a class, filling it out the grid on the board/ shared forum. Then indicate the BEST Class side and indicate that is the course you want to teach, but that there are clear student responsibilities/ help that is needed to make that happen. Collect/ Capture the class common BEST items and then distribute it to students and frequently call back to this on future class sessions as students come in or on assignments/ overviews etc. (Weimer , Learner-Centered Teaching: 5 Key Changes to Practice ., pgs 108-109)

  • K-W-L Charts
    A KWL chart is nothing more than a 3 column document with 3 headers:

    What Do I KNOW about this Topic?
    [Prior Learning]
    What Do I WANT to Know About it?
    What -Did- I LEARN?

    KWL Charts are a simple way to emphasize that the focus is on the learning. Students can use this as a formative/ summative low/no stakes assessment to help themselves be empowered/ goal directed with the material and acknowledge/celebrate their prior learning/experiences. It also helps make learning transparent for everybody.
    As a faculty member, you can utilize the KW to tailor activities to
    A) not waste class time covering ground that is well understood and
    B) show you care/ responsive to their interests/ needs.
    The L can help identify gaps/ confusions in need of follow-up intervention.

  • Midterm Class Evals
    Set up a short/ sweet ANONYMOUS midterm feedback survey in person hard copy at the end of a class or online via Canvas (For a premade version – Click COMMONS> Search for ‘Anonymous Midterm Class eval’ uploaded by Mike and click it and select class to import into) to ‘Take the temperature’. Make sure to have an option for specific suggestions to improve the 2nd half and emphasize that you will give serious consideration to all serious suggestions. Then take the time the following class/week to then discuss and go over the compiled results and why you accepted/ rejected specific suggestions.
    See our Blog Post on the topic.
  • Authentic & Meaningful Assessments
    “Authentic tests minimize needless, unfair, and demoralizing comparisons and do away with fatalistic thinking about results. They also allow appropriate room to accommodate students’ learning styles, aptitudes, and interests.”
    (Wiggins, “A True Test: Toward More Authentic and Equitable Assessment”.1989)
    Have “Authentic Assessment” or Meaningful Assessment/ Problems wherever possible. We can rant and rave about the real world usefulness of material, but if students can see/ experience the value and relevance of the material beyond the classroom for themselves, then they can get engaged with the material. Likewise, with a Service Learning or Real-World Problem-Based Learning . project, there is a higher degree of accountability and public work product that can activate a variety of student motivation factors.


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