Engaging Students’ Learning
Pascarella and Terenzini (How College Affects Students: Findings and insights from twenty years of research, 1991) were the first to pair the terms “learning” and “engagement.” “Perhaps the strongest conclusion that can be made is the least surprising. Simply put, the greater the student’s involvement or engagement in academic work or in the academic experience of college, the greater his or her level of knowledge acquisition and general cognitive development.”
As an educator you are committed and passionate about your discipline and research, and one of your most challenging tasks is to engage your students so they really care about what they are learning. Below we offer you some resources about ways to engage your students:
Bonus link: Carnegie Mellon’s Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence offers “Solve a Teaching Problem,” a site that “provides practical strategies to address teaching problems across the disciplines. These strategies are firmly grounded in educational research and learning principles.”
Step 1: Identify a PROBLEM you encounter in your teaching,
Step 2: Identify possible REASONS for the problem, and
Step 3: Explore STRATEGIES to address the problem.
This resource is well-designed and offers valuable teaching strategies. http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/solveproblem/index.html
Adopt active learning strategies
In “Seven Principles of Good Practice” Chickering and Gamson state that “Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just by sitting in class listening to teachers, memorizing prepackaged 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.” This quote effectively summarizes the value of active learning strategies. Students need to grapple with new information, making it relevant and connected to their prior knowledge. L. D. Fink adds to this perspective with a basic overview of the conceptual components of active learning in the following article http://www.paddlinginstructor.com/coaching/1170-connect-with-your-students-better-with-active-learning.html.
To learn about active learning strategies consider the following resources:
• The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey highlights the core components of active learning by defining and summarizing information to get started. http://cte.umdnj.edu/active_learning/active_general.cfm
• Paulson and Faust paired up to present an interdisciplinary perspective of active learning. As professors of biochemistry, and philosophy respectively their disciplines differ, but their approaches to active learning share a great deal in common. The techniques they present are multidisciplinary and helpful to any person looking for some new perspectives. http://www.calstatela.edu/dept/chem/chem2/Active/
• Felder and Brent describe an eight-step model to help students adjust to the culture shock experienced by students who are exposed to active learning for the first time. http://www4.ncsu.edu/unity/lockers/users/f/felder/public/Papers/Resist.html
• For additional information about active learning strategies, please see Teaching Central’s Developing Your Course, Discover new teaching theories, http://www.bgsu.edu/ctl/page115766.html, and the Center’s Teaching and Learning Guide, Active Learning.T&L Guide: http://www.bgsu.edu/downloads/provost/file107293.pdf
Conduct effective class discussions
In the classroom, the paradigm shift from instructor-centered to learner-centered brings with it a recognition that promoting active participation helps students to think critically and to articulate what they are learning. That said, you are probably thinking, “Easier said than done.” And you are not alone—even the most experienced educators are challenged with designing and assessing participation in class discussions. To help you learn more about conducting effective class discussions, Teaching Central offers you the following resource:
• Faculty Focus Special Report, “Tips for Encouraging Student Participation in Classroom Discussions,” features 11 articles from The Teaching Professor that highlight effective strategies for establishing the expectation of participation, facilitating meaningful discussion, using questions appropriately, and creating a supportive learning environment. Download a PDF file of this special report.
Explore these resources to prepare you and your students for active discussions:
• Columbia University describes a step-by-step walkthrough of facilitating a discussion that is a helpful introduction to the approach. http://www.columbia.edu/cu/tat/pdfs/discussions.pdf
• The University of Wisconsin Whitewater in the document “Plan Classroom Discussions at Least as Carefully as Lectures” cautions readers to plan discussions with great detail for students to have the greatest gains possible. http://www.uww.edu/learn/diversity/classroomdiscussions.php
• To better understand the needs of students in online discussions, both for developing an effective discussion process and dealing with difficult discussion topics, “Tending the Fire: Facilitating Difficult Discussions in the Online Classroom” cites a University of Phoenix three step process of (1) specifying goals, (2) facilitating messages communicating acknowledgement, building and focusing components, and (3) coaching students privately when acting inappropriately. These three steps help to understand the core of online discussions and their effective use. http://www.uwex.edu/disted/conference/resource_library/search_detail.cfm?presid=4379
Using technology to engage students
Technology has forever changed teaching and learning. Seely Brown and Adler in their article “Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0” address the two key advantages to technology: a greater platform for sharing and social learning. Social learning is “the premise that our understanding of content [learning] is socially constructed through conversations about that content and through grounded interactions especially with others, around problems or actions.” This shifts moves learning away from “what” is being learned and toward “how” something is learned. Technology has opened up a whole new list of “how’s” to enhance collaborative learning. http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/minds-fire-open-education-long-tail-and-learning-20
No more will the status quo of just dictating information to students suffice. It is important to be open to teach with, and encourage students to use the technology available to really get the most out of learning.
The following resources discuss technology integration:
• Web 2.0 Tools are widely used Internet tools that either simulate or improve teaching and learning practices. The philosophical foundation of Web 2.0 is that for the first time, Internet users have multiple platforms to be producers of content through blogs, wikis, etc. Most of these tools are also free of charge, making them accessible. In addition to the thoughts about Seely and Brown, Solomon and Shrum (2007) in their ebook “Web 2.0: New Tools, New Schools” address the importance of the integration of technology into academia, and offer practical tips to apply technology. The core ideas of this book are easily subdivided for reader friendliness.
• The Horizon Report is an annual collaboration between the New Media Consortium and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. The results of this collaboration list the trends in technology and their implications for higher education. The timely and thorough information listed is worth reviewing to stay in tune with tech trends. The link below not only gives access to the full report, but also to a wiki that is even more current. http://www.nmc.org/horizon-project/horizon-reports/horizon-report-higher-ed-edition
• The Inverted Classroom (sometimes called Flipping the Classroom) is a new approach that uses modern video recording equipment to invert the roles of homework and lecture. By having students watch videos of core content outside of class (in place of homework), instructors can use the class time to discuss and practice challenging activities that push student learning (in place of lecture). If hands-on practice is of value to course material, inverted classroom techniques are worth consideration. http://www.bgsu.edu/downloads/provost/file109274.pdf
• Teaching with Tablets (particularly the iPad) is an up and coming trend in higher education. More and more students each fall come to campus with tablets and/or smart phones. It is important to consider the value of such devices/software when designing teaching and learning experiences. http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=412505