Monday, October 10, 2011

10.10.11 Student Engagement in the Classroom

We had a wide ranging discussion based around our reading of an article on active engagement in the class room. We talked about both curricular design considerations and teaching techniques.

Some of the considerations for class structure were the trade offs between focusing instruction on processes and skills or the over arching concepts. When does focusing on a process help student understanding and when does it obscure the larger picture? When does a big picture understanding impede students' ability to execute and solve specific problems?

We weighed the relative merits of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Different students have a variety of levels intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and these differences influence instruction. Of the various ways to extrinsically motivate students grades seem to be one of the strongest. One way to take advantage of the strong extrinsic motivation grades provide is to have content the is only accessible in class. For instance you can have power point slides with _________ that you only can fill out in _______. We then focused on ways that we could foster the intrinsic motivation of students.

The bulk of the discussion was around a variety of teaching techniques that might be used to facilitate student participation, and motivation.
  1. Excitement, it's contagious! When your love of the material shows through it can't help but spill over to the students. A corollary to this to include your research as applicable, as it is something you are excited about.
  2. Know your audience. Make the content pertinent to the students. This can be a challenge for instructors to be "culturally aware." Polling students for their interests or assigning them a project that has personal or geographic significance, e.g. campus energy plan, can also be successful. Additionally a pre-test allows direct tailoring of your content to the places students need help the most. Following up with a post test enables assessment of your instructional efficacy.
  3. Destigmatize being wrong. Have students explain why a wrong answer is incorrect, or point out the instructors mistakes, intentional or not. Laud students' contributions, correct or not, for helping to move the class forward.
  4. Similarly show how science, or your field, really works. What were the events, and mistakes that lead to important discoveries? What were intermediate ideas the lead to the ground breaking ones?
  5. Have a variety of modes of interaction for students who are shy or intimidated. Discussing or presenting in small groups as apposed to large; using hands to show level of understanding, 1-5; voting on parts to present; and possibly asking students before hand which part(s) they would like to present.
  6. In general having a plethora of ways to engage with the students and material is beneficial. Mock debates, explaining fallacies, presentations, critiques of student work etc. can all work in some circumstances for some students.
  7. Model for them the behaviors you expect and desire. Show them how to ask good scientific questions. Demonstrate how to solve problems including how to monitor your own progress and assess the success of your current plan.
The discussion was stimulating and all are welcome to continue the discussion in the comments.

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