CTSI Seminar: How to Keep Your Students Engaged

A few librarians attended the November 3 CTSI session Keeping Your Students Engaged with Astronomy instructor Mike Reid and CTSI faculty liaison Martha Harris.  Here are some highlights that should provide some food for thought. (Thank you Elena Springall, Patricia Bellamy and Joanna Szurmak for sharing your notes.)
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Student heart rates will start going down after 5-10 minutes once they have settled into the classroom. The only way to wake them up is to stop talking and get them to do something.

The point of the lecture is for the students to ask questions; not for you to talk. Alternatively, ask a challenging question before you teach and have students work on it in groups. 

Ways to foster engagement:

  • Reducing intimidating factors and increasing student-instructor interaction
  • Recognizing individuals, talk to individuals, not the group;
  • Think Relevance-Based Instruction: Start by asking students “what is interesting in this to you?” This will kindle their motivation. There should always be a very good reason why you are teaching something, and you should make that explicit. (You teaching) does not equal (students learning). Always return to the WHY question — why should I learn this?
Even with a large introductory class, use class time to have your students experience something they cannot get any other way.  This will show them the value of your class vs. YouTube lectures from somewhere else.
Benefits of a big class: 

  • Many ideas circulating at any time – lots of room energy.  Someone will  always ask a question or volunteer with a demo;
  • Consider audience response systems like iClickers, coloured cards or even show-of-hands, but do not use them naively.  Students should discuss ideas / questions in groups, then think and then respond, not regurgitate facts.  You can use feedback from the clickers to see how well students understand the topic.
Recall is affected by rehearsal, so get students to practice what you want them to know as soon as possible.
Use virtual office hours: synchronous (chat) or asynchronous (discussion boards). Discussion boards are better than e-mail because you answer a question once and everyone can benefit.
When you use PowerPoint, make it visual. Aim for ONE idea per slide and little (or no) text.

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