Student Engagement Tips from Teaching Professor Conference Attendees

During the opening keynote at The Teaching Professor Conference, Elizabeth F. Barkley, a professor at Foothill College and author of Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty (Jossey-Bass, 2010) presented on a topic she titled Terms of Engagement: Understanding and Promoting Student Engagement in Today’s College Classroom.

At the conclusion of the session, she asked attendees to write on a note card one or two ways they promote active learning in their classrooms. As you can imagine, the exercise generated hundreds of great ideas; too many to share in one post. But over the next few weeks we’ll publish as many as we can, and encourage you to add in the comment box your own strategies for engaging students.

Tips for engaging and motivating students

I encourage input from the students throughout the semester so that they have an opportunity to share what they want to gain from the class, how they value (or not) the things I do and have them do, and make assessment opportunities regular and fairly evenly weighted (plus add “bonus” options) so that they feel like they have been and are “setup to be successful.”

Several smaller value assignments. Total point grading. One idea: To motivate students to succeed, I give several smaller “low-risk” assignments in addition to “high-risk” mid-terms and finals. This helps build knowledge throughout the semester and shows students what they are learning.

Explain to the students how the brain works and how it relates to the techniques I use in the classroom.

Active Learning-I ask students to use their prior experiences (interests, hobbies, coursework) in a service learning project for my class, using what they know, and connections they have been able to make, to benefit others. They propose their own projects.

I share details about my personal life so students would better know me and understand I care. My tone (in history class) is conversational always. It’s less intimidating.

Timely feedback-It is important the students know where they stand. If they meet the deadlines. I feel my feedback is a motivation to keep working.

To construct a DNA model, each group (15) would make their model and at the end all 15 newly constructed models are connected together to make 1 huge large DNA strand. Teamwork.

Active Learning-Redefine what research is-all students in science be engaged in research to understand the scientific method at its most basic and elementary. Does not need to be Nobel-prize level research-just be engaged in inquiry in science.

Award bonus points for hours spent in study groups.

Motivation: Finding a scenario or a situation to explain/share how that scenario/situation relates to the topic. This could be shared at the start of the topic, so as to inject an interest-to see importance of the topic.
Optimal challenge: Allow students to select lower level reading-can read Wikipedia, elementary texts before reading textbook, those very challenged can read primary sources.

Holistic-I teach an Adapted Physical Education course in which our students create, design, and build an activity station modified for a variety of disabilities. Then we invite 300 kids, ages 3-22, from local school districts to our “fantastic Field Day” special event which is organized and administered by these same students who created the games. This applied learning project encompasses the holistic nature of this particular class. The students tend to go ‘above and beyond’ the basic expectations of the class because they realize that they are creating an experience of a lifetime for a special child. The desire to provide for others is the culminating, holistic experience of this particular class.

When students are stressed by the lesson, find a way to show how you (the teacher) messed up learning the topic, make it funny. When they laugh, give another “classic” example, followed by a short statement of how the material was used successfully in their “current” lives.

First day of class: When introducing class & trying to establish rapport, have the students say where they see themselves in 3 to 5 years & their name. If they do not know, do they see themselves as being successful as a RN or LVN (LPN). These students are in an ADN program.

Have students partner up, introduce themselves to each other and share name, program, hobbies. Their partner then introduces them to the class.

Emphasize life skills and life balance in the “start” class for all adult degree programs
a. Associates’ degree-study skills
b. Bachelors degree-org. behavior & work
c. Master’s degree-business, technology thinking skills

Students team-taught in a foods lab for the entire quarter. Each of 4 students depend on each other to share leadership for preparation of recipes and prep of a budget meal.

Community: I teach a module on using the library’s resources (primarily online resources) in two courses for English majors-one undergraduate, one graduate. I make assignments, and grade them, for 20-25% of the course grade. I have students choose a partner at the beginning of that module and work with the partner, in class, every time we do database research activities. Some of the students have hold of what they need outside of class to work together on their homework assignments for me-and then also on other assignments in other courses.

Include psychomotor skills-positive example
b. Teaching career progression/promotion eligibility
c. Known/unknown within segments to include instructor one-on-one feedback with possibilities to further study-no project has a single end.

“Who Uses This Stuff” Project: Students in my lowest level of developmental math are required to create a brochure highlighting a math problem that is used in the “real world.” They must give an example of the problem and demonstrate how to solve it. It should be bright & colorful like an advertisement.

I suggest having dry erase boards installed 360 degrees (or as much as possible) around the classroom and create activities that send students to these boards in groups or as a class to work out problems, brainstorm, or write…because a teacher can immediately assess the outcome and give feedback. I have used my boards to have students work through Thesis Statement creation, solve a dilemma in a group, demonstrate vocabulary decoding, and so on. Students think better, participate more, & have fun.

Share with my students some of my personal stories as a student, my stories and failures, hopefully to motivate them.

I teach a 3rd year/level class and on the first day of a particular subject, in this case hydraulics, I give them an exam of what they should know from 1st year. I eventually let them take it home to complete it on their own.

Explain Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences to students and have them design a project that fulfills one of the domains of intelligence.

Community: especially for a larger class; divide into smaller groups (3-6 students) to discuss a particular question related to the subject material. A smaller setting, where each individual is required to contribute, will often draw out ideas and comments otherwise kept silent in the larger classroom. Small groups often more comfortable for the shy or hesitant; peers learning from peers; and discovering new things together.

When you grade a course on the basis of a 1000 system, with opportunity for extra credit points, you provide a motivation from the first day of class.

Teacher Education (Educational Psychology): Students work in groups where they are a faculty-they end class by saying how they will (or won’t) apply today’s theory or best practice in their class/school.
a. Motivation-expectancy: Variety of Assessment that values effort
b. Value- Real life relevance: Why do I need to understand this
c. Their experiences as a student or what they will do when they have their own class
d. Optimal/community/holistic: Collaboration as a faculty

In my library research course, I have students do a tutor assignment.
a. They must use listening skills to translate a friends question into a searchable question, then decide the best resource to search, using their searching techniques they have “hopefully” learned in the course.

b. Some students have completed some meaningful medical literature searching for newly diagnosed relatives. Others use comparative techniques to find the best car, and that’s ok too.

I provide a menu of choices within a task or a paper in a doctoral class:
a. Write a conference proposal
b. Synthesis of literature
c. Develop a white paper
Each needs to be a max of 1500 words so students experience word limitations for publications as future faculty. Then the students must present a “Pecha Kucha,” on the topic.

Faculty as students-Faculty Development
a. Workshop on Brain Rules by Medina Faculty teach each other a chapter they choose for the book-content is shared &-how it is applied in classroom. (Collaborative Community Building).

Using orders in both face-to-face courses & online course to promote discussion-these are orders demonstrating events in Business course that relate to the course’s topics-“Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words!”

One of the ways I use to motivate my students and help them “belong” to our class is to take them out for a drink for a review session on a problem solving one before an exam. We up very close, a small community and they are not afraid to speak their mind and ask questions and eventually learn and be happy too.

I work hard to create a community through learning names and asking my students to learn each others’ names. I then take time to review some student work in class in front of the class, inviting student input. It challenges many students to work harder on their own work. Also students get to know & learn from each other. I always call students if they feel comfortable with me reviewing their work. If they don’t, I do not review it.

Expectancy: Value
a. Have students interview a “real practicing nurse” and include questions about concepts & want them to learn more about on the grading rubric. They then write a paper and compare & contrast what they learned during the interview & and the nursing literature. Students say they dread it but they were surprised how much they learned and it was a favorite part of the course.

To build students’ confidence in a skill or concept, I first give an activity assignment that involves group participation. It is followed with a learning activity that the individual student performs to demonstrate competency.

I give an exam which I grade and return as soon as feasible to the students. I identify the learning outcomes that most students missed and offer students another test that focuses ONLY on those learning outcomes using different test items. They know they have a chance to improve their exam grades with the subsequent test score.

Be enthusiastic (& show it!) about what you are teaching. “Enthusiasm is contagious.”

a. In pairs, 1 student sits in a chair & the other is given the goal of having the other partner & his/her chair raised up 4” off the ground. Eventually, students realize they cannot reach their goal on their own. The debrief involves facilitating student discussion on asking for help from others and using college support services in order to achieve goals.

Use of Post Cards: Place assignment on a table and have group of learners respond to a prompt. Ex: Teaching philosophy—which represents you & why?

Teaching research methods to future healthcare professionals is a tough role. I have to connect research to practice repetitively to motivate them to learn. One very important skill they need is to be able to locate, retrieve, and evaluate current literature to support care (evidence-based practice).

Continued referral to how this information-knowing-will be useful in the professional practice. Always bringing it back to the reality of USE.

Motivation: Provide practical examples to be used on students. Target careers and show how important the subject/class (s)he is taking.

Allow students to be invested in assignment-each student must figure out how to accomplish assignment outcome in ways that speak to his/her interests (perhaps main field, etc.).

Active Learning: My students are expected to engage in discussion to apply newly acquired knowledge to themselves or someone they are familiar with. Putting a ‘face’ on a concept greatly increases understanding.

Act as a facilitator to get students actively motivated /actively engaged in the learning process.
a. Teach half of class
b. Allow students to process and share knowledge with each other

Got a tip? Please share it below.