Student Engagement

Student Engagement
The Importance of Community

At their core, human beings are social creatures that crave a sense of community. We want to feel that we belong to something or somewhere. There is a strong desire to fit into a broader community that shares our ideals, vision, goals or creates an affiliation that becomes a source of pride and/or status. It is important to think of your classroom as a community. The more you can help your students to feel welcome and part of something special, the more effort they will put into your course.

Things you can do:

  • Create a sense that we are in it together
  • Talk about yourself and encourage your students to do the same
  • Try and learn as many names as possible
  • Make sure that everyone feels welcome
  • Provide everyone with a chance to contribute

Your Persona Matters

You might not think of yourself as being all that special, but your students sure think that you do. If they think you are approachable, they will ask questions. If they think you know what you are talking about, they will listen carefully. You are an industry professional with years of experience – the type of person they rarely encounter in a classroom.

  • Find strategic moments to interject your experience into the course
  • Students respond to instructors who bring good energy to class
  • Remember, they are watching you. Think about how you sound, stand and interact with them
Reluctant to Speak

Many students are reluctant to speak up in class because they fear they might look stupid in front of their peers. Many just want to fit in and certainly do not want to become an object of ridicule. It is therefore important to find low stakes ways that students can engage with you and each other (especially at the beginning). Inevitably a point is reached where the ice has broken, and you will no longer find it challenging to get them to participate. The easier you can make it for them in the beginning, the sooner you can reach that “magic” moment.

  • Use small group discussions and have one person report out – they are more likely to speak if they are talking for the group rather than themselves
  • Wait for students to respond to questions – an uncomfortable silence is a technique for getting your students to speak up. The quieter the room, the more uncomfortable they become and the more likely they are to speak
  • Every class seems to have one or two students who are not reluctant to speak out. However, the best classes are ones where everyone participates. Try to get everyone involved without appearing to intentionally single anyone out.
Cognitive Load Theory

The science suggests that students are only able to process a limited amount information at a time. At this same time, you are competing for their attention. Being entertaining is an effective way to capture their attention, but you run the risk that because of their limited cognitive resources, they focus on the “entertainment” rather than the course material. If their brains become too overloaded, it is hard for them to learn.

  • Be intentional about grabbing their attention but when it comes time to teach, try and keep the conversation directed toward the most important points
  • Try to keep distractions to a minimum and help them focus on what is important
  • Sometimes you need to call out when something requires more of their attention
Limited Attention Spans

Students think they are great multitaskers. The data suggests otherwise. Yet the desire to do several things at once points to a limited attention span. They easily get bored with a concept or have difficulty grasping it and rather than digging in a working through the problem, they want to move on to something else.

  • Chunking up the material in a way that makes the ideas or manageable increases the probability that they will stick around a put the effort in to figure something out.
  • Emotions are a great way to touch someone and elicit a response. If you can connect with your students on an emotional level, you are more likely to hold their attention and they are more likely to remember what you have talked about
  • Choose things that are relevant/meaningful to students in the class
  • Try to shake things up and avoid routines or patterns that make it easy for them to divert their attention to something else
Wants to Know the Reason Why

Today’s student more than ever wants to know the reason why. Why should they learn something? Why is it important? How will it make a difference? In a technology driven environment where there exists a wide range of opportunities for them to satisfy their curiosity, they want a compelling reason why they should focus some of their limited cognitive resources on your course material.

  • Students better understand and remember concepts told in story form
  • Use your own professional experience or others you have worked with
  • Share stories from your field
  • Create stories in the classroom
  • Provide opportunities for your students to tell stories
Smartphones - The Challenge for Your Student's Attention

Many students have become addicted to their phones and either are constantly looking or want to be constantly looking at it. You should come up with a smartphone policy and then stick with it during the term. What is the policy in your workplace? That might be a good place to start.