professor on laptop in library December 20, 2016

Online Course Activities to Increase Student Engagement

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I have learned that a few simple instructor activities greatly increase student engagement in an online course. Here are some of the most effective activities you can use in your courses.

Connect icebreaker discussions to content
The use of icebreakers has become widespread in online learning. But what kinds of icebreakers are best to use? My observations suggest that great icebreakers are those that pique students’ interest in the content while also helping them learn more about each other as whole people. For example, an icebreaker in a course about forensic biology might ask students to share an experience in their lives that made them think forensic biology is an intriguing field of study (their own experience, a film they’ve seen, or stories they’ve read).

The key is that the students begin to get to know each other through shared stories, but these stories are connected to the course content in ways that are personally meaningful to students. This allows the icebreaker discussion to flow into the content discussions that follow rather than create a space for “social chat” that is disconnected from the goals of the learning. Some students will immediately find peers they feel personally connected to through this story sharing. For students who are highly motivated by their relationships with peers, this gets the semester off to a great start.

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Top 11 articles on Faculty Focus December 16, 2016

Our Top 11 Teaching and Learning Articles of 2016

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It wouldn’t be the end of the year without a few top 10 lists. As we prepare to put 2016 in the rearview mirror, we’re offering up our own list, which goes to 11.

Throughout 2016, we published more than 200 articles. The articles covered a wide range of teaching and learning topics, including diversity and inclusion, critical thinking, peer feedback, assignment strategies, course design, flipped learning, online discussions, and grading policies.

In this post, we reveal the 11 articles that most resonated with our readers. Each article’s ranking is based on a combination of factors, including e-newsletter open and click rates, social shares, reader comments, web traffic, reprint requests, and other reader engagement metrics.




students doing lab experiment March 9, 2016

Active Learning: In Need of Deeper Exploration

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Most of us think we know what active learning is. The word engagement quickly comes to mind. Or, we describe what it isn’t: passive learning. Definitions also abound. The one proposed by Bonwell and Eison in an early (and now classic) active learning monograph is widely referenced: involving “students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing.” (p. 2)


The Eight-Minute Lecture Keeps Students Engaged August 31, 2015

The Eight-Minute Lecture Keeps Students Engaged

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In the 1970s, my mother, a fifth-grade teacher, would lament, “The TV remote has ruined my classroom! I can almost feel the kids trying to point a clicker at me to change the channel!” Little did she know that college students today don’t need to wish for a remote control to switch from their professor to entertainment—an endless assortment of distractions are all on their smart phones.


group work July 17, 2015

Cooperative Learning Structures and Deep Learning

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Cooperative learning structures such as jigsaw and think-pair-share are widely used in college classrooms. The two most basic tenets of cooperative learning involve positive interdependence and individual accountability. “Positive interdependence means that group members perceive that the collective effort of the group is essential in order for the individual learners to achieve their goals.” (p. 176) And individual accountability establishes that students are assessed individually on their achievement of the learning goals.


Students at computers June 29, 2015

Using Google Web Apps to Improve Student Engagement

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In general education humanities courses, at least two problems seem universal:
1. How to blend the teaching of content and the teaching of critical thinking skills that are transferrable to other fields
2. How to encourage student participation and engagement

For years, my typical approach to these problems has been to “flip the classroom” and make my students more responsible for their own learning. I have minimized my lecturing and used carefully crafted discussion questions and small group in-class assignments to move my students through critical thinking processes as they unravel the complexities of literary texts.


Student paying attention May 4, 2015

Why Can’t Students Just Pay Attention?

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We have all had the experience of having students sitting in our classes, looking directly at us, and knowing, just knowing, that they are not paying the least bit of attention to what we are talking about or what the topic of the day is. In fact, if we don’t see this in our classes (and I believe we all do…it’s just that some of us don’t wish to admit it), all an instructor has to do is review assignments, quizzes, or exams to find evidence that students don’t understand key concepts that were highlighted as “really important” or “critical” to understanding the material.


January 29, 2015

Finding a Place for Creative Assignments in Your Course

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Can you teach students to be creative? Most of us would say no. It’s more like trying to teach for it—encouraging it, promoting it, acknowledging when it happens, and rewarding it. Despite the difficulties associated with teaching creativity, teachers shouldn’t be excused from trying to cultivate its development. Is there a profession where creative thinking isn’t needed? Is there a problem that wouldn’t benefit from a creative solution? The authors of the article referenced below ask the follow-up question relevant to those of us in higher education: “Where will students get the opportunity to learn and practice creative thinking if it is not embedded throughout the curriculum?” (p. 51)