Faculty Focus


More Tips on Active Learning

As we mentioned in the June 28 post, 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; which we will share during the next few weeks. We encourage you to add in the comment box your own strategies for engaging and motivating students.

Here are more student engagement tips from attendees:
Promoting Values: I list the topics that I have to cover according to the curriculum and I allow the students to tell me what they want to know about the topic or what do they already know about it. I set the course according to that info.

In many sciences, students are concerned about memorizing information (ex. Periodic Table). I tell them that we never have to memorize an atlas, but we learn how to use it as a tool/reference.

Get to classroom 10-20 minutes early, greet students by name as they come in.

Active Learning—have each student read another student’s paper and provide feedback. I provide a list of questions and comments as a guideline.

Use “participation quizzes” (for extra points) to keep students on task.

Motivation—when starting a project, ask students probing questions to help them break down the tasks so they are manageable.

Community Building: On the first day, I hold a “Mocktail Party.” Students out of seats, shaking hands, and meeting one classmate at a time. After 2 minutes, I say “switch” and students move on to the next classmate.

Send students motivational quotes via the vista (Blackboard) each day…that apply to something that each of them have shared at one point & time with the class. Student response has been exceptionally accepting.

“The Daily Quiz”
a. 1 question the minute class starts-fixes attendance issues and makes good into the lecture. It offers a reflection from previous lesson and gives a good segue to the next.
b. If you’re late?—no luck, typically easy marks too!!
c. If class is lagging??—I will ask if it is from material yet to be covered.

Motivation/Task is Tough Enough: Hold student/instructor conference for larger assignments (ie: first drafts). It helps student feel like he/she is important, treated as an individual. It also allows instructor to tailor the rest of the assignment to the student needs & abilities.

I try to help students “unlearn” previously experienced situations. For example, many of my students have had negative experiences in math. I work with them to overcome those experiences and learn.

Putting them into learning groups.

“You can do it, just like others did!”
I post previous semester grades and explain how test, attendance, & activities impact previous students grades.

Active Learning—I create a worksheet with course concepts & have students work in pairs in class with their books to define terms. We discuss terms as a class to make sure everyone agrees. Then we watch a film/movie in class looking for examples of course concepts. In class & online discussions.

Optimal Challenge Zone
a. I try to create a Friendly First Day. While the syllabus is clear, it is not designed to be scary. The first day of my Composition One class, I have students meet together and discuss the Best Writing they have ever done. I point out that academic as well as career and personal writing counts. When they finish, I emphasize that we are all already writers.

Community: Seek to know and call on students by name. Note when they miss class and remind them of their role and contributions to the class. Their absence lessens the whole.

Motivation—At the beginning of each class, have the students close their eyes and imagine something silly, like a red bunny driving a yellow corvette listening to Michael Jackson. Ask them, “can you see it?” Well, take the concepts presented in class and “visualize” them so that you are motivated to imagine the info.

Motivation—At the beginning of each class (face-to-face or online), tell the students how the information is important and how it relates to the overall course and beyond. Students will be deterred to ask “Why do we need to learn, do or read this?”

I teach young undergrad students in large classes (250 students), for two hours or so. Half-way in the class, I use ice breakers to keep the momentum going and try to enhance the learning.

Motivation: Create student-friendly positive learning affirmations for in-class focus on tasks.

Community: Each class session begins with a discussion. Students share thoughts & feelings about whatever topic is currently being presented in the media. They learn about each other & from each other.

Have a pre-lecture quiz online that you will analyze for problem concept to cover better once the class meets.

Using a group quiz to reinforce previous class concepts.

“Got it-don’t get it”
At the end of each lecture topic, students hand it a slip of paper with two items: “Got it”-what they understood and “don’t get it”-what they don’t understand. Once a week, results are posted on Moodle and explanations given for the “don’t get it” items.

All students work together to plan, produce, and complete a project (in this case a film production) in a limited time frame and on a limited budget. This goal creates a common goal and they will work 12-16 hours a day to complete the task.

Community: I stress that in our “learning community” classroom, we are all teachers and learners. Everyone is equally responsible for the teaching and learning of everyone in the community.

We have a capstone project which requires the students to apply what they have learned into a presentation at the end of the course. Students are put into teams divided by their experiences. The presentation is done by the team.

For mental health nursing I have students engage in role playing and afterwards the class critique appropriate and non-appropriate therapeutic communication techniques that the students demonstrated.

Motivation—Be more than just a professor, become your students’ cheerleader. Help them to see that they can be academically successful, that they can earn a certifications or a degree. Unless they believe in themselves and embrace the sacrifices and the challenges, they typically won’t achieve anything.

Have students in construction management technology develop a photographic journal of actual construction projects as we discussed specific topics during the semester-illustrating their conceptual understanding.

Motivation—In the syllabus, highlight the fact that effort is the preeminent of the subjective factors that is rewarded in terms of the grade.

Using clicker questions that involve application of concepts into real-life situations (it motivates since it identifies why knowledge is useful, it is active learning since using clickers, and it is appropriately challenging since it can involve individuals at all levels of understanding).

Motivation—Lots of small assignments building to larger ones to encourage students to continue.

“Testimonials” from students who took the class previously and examples of their final projects (Helps students see end result).

Area: Community
Do icebreaker exercise at the beginning of semester so that they learn something about each other.
Continue to do group exercises throughout semester, so they continue to talk and interact with each other.

Sense of community:
Students sit and work in groups of three throughout the entire course. I feel by doing together and explaining concepts to one another, they will learn more then they will ever learn just from me.
Group homework, group quizzes, group projects, group work on problems in class.

Show the students where we are going, how we will get there, and remind them where we are now and where they came from.

On day one of class, assign a homework assignment where students have to find a specific apartment, in the location where they plan on living after graduation, and then come to class with the specific rent amount. This sets the tone from the first day, letting them know that rent won’t pay itself.

Community: Bring in a professional in the field of study to interact with the students. They find that the professionals ARE interested in them and want them to succeed, and it is a bonus to reinforce the need to know.

Active Learning: I use analogies to help students relate new concepts to previous understandings.

Students are assigned the task of summarizing a challenging academic essay. They must work in pairs to co-author the summary. They get the same grade, but if the paper earns a C+ or lower grade, it may be revised and resubmitted for a higher grade, but single authored. The new version is attached to the earlier one. Once the paper earns a B- or higher, the option to revise is gone. But students have all semester to work on the revision, turning it in when they are ready.

Establish 2 ground rules for our freshman/sophomore seminar style of facilitating Leadership Development class:
Confidentiality—no quoting anyone outside of class.
Listen with respect—critique ideas but no putting down others, including the “teacher.”

Collaborative learning: I found that students learn better and smooth out their rough edges when they combine conflicting analysis to produce a bounded unit of learning.

Community: Promotion of student engagement by allowing them to work together to understand, and subserviently explain, physiological processes.

Active Learning: Video tape a lesson/topic and have class review key elements of group work in activity by watching it over again (replay).

I try to get students vested in the topics of the course through a statistics project where they decide the data they collect—the questions they ask in their survey.

To help students make connections to the content I like to start with a story or have the students share a story about the content. This helps them build on their prior knowledge.

Frustration is often a barrier to motivation. Helping students capitalize on the positive outcome of their learning process opens the door to motivation.

Collaborative assignments in distance education
M=I open the students to collaborative assignments including how the students will benefit from all diverse students. The time invested has been worthwhile and students participate fully in collaborative assignments.

Community—Engagement in online discussions in online class. Active Learning—Students perform a skit (they write the script) that explains reproduction in plants.

Active Learning: In my intro Stats class, after I lecture, I present a problem tied to one of the concepts and allow the students to get into small groups and work together to solve the problem.

In my Arts & Humanities class, I teach about religion. I developed a project that builds throughout the semester. The students discuss their religious views and opinions. They discuss good and evil in the world and how they process those terms (and give examples of both). Then, we discuss examples of what people say constitutes good and/or evil. Then, we look at good and evil in the world through current events. We get to discuss and challenge each other.

Holistic: Create an environment within the class that welcomes differences and puts emphasis on each person’s learning.

Motivation—Expectancy & Value
Active Learning—connect new to existing learning
Work at optimal challenge level
Holistic—I teach with a variety of assignments so students have lots of opportunity to demonstrate they know the material in a learning stage that suits them. These assignments are:
i. Journals
ii. Papers
iii. Presentations (formal or poster)
iv. Tests
v. Projects (often using software)
vi. Take-home quizzes
vii. On-line discussions
viii. Reenacting scientific experiments

Motivation—Small prize (refrigerator magnet) for doing the best job on a class exercise.

I teach 500 person sections. Every few minutes I ask a question (multiple choice format) and I encourage the students to work together and get a consensus on what is the right answer, to bubble it in AFTER THEY agree .

Community: Students having supper and learning conversations at same time has work extremely well!

Show students why what they are learning is important and how it will impact them.

Active Learning/Community: Put class in small groups of 5. Give group a critical thinking problem related to content of lecture (usually clinical application). They solve it together. I randomly call on groups to share responses.