Getting and Keeping Student Engagement

Making adjustments on the fly to keep lectures “organic”

A classic challenge for the lecturers is how to fit all relevant material into the timeframe of a short class period, not to mention a short semester. When a student makes an insightful point that would take the class in a new direction, instructors must decide: Do I go on a worthwhile tangent to address the student’s point, or do I proceed as I had planned? In this video, Brett Flehinger shares why he allows student contributions to shape the path a class takes and how he makes strategic adjustments on the fly.

Taking the classroom temperature

Paying close attention to what’s going on in a classroom can help determine when to delve deeper on a given topic and when to re-teach something that may have been confusing. Through keen observation and “show of hands” solicitations, Bob Kegan stays attuned to the classroom’s ebbs and flows. Regular “temperature-taking” allows him to adapt lesson trajectories accordingly and gain insight into student understanding.

Circulating the room to elicit participation

Although the physical setup of a classroom typically points toward a lectern or podium, moving around the space intentionally can send important nonverbal signals to students. In this video, Dan Levy describes how he rarely stays “tethered to the front of the room,” especially when trying to elicit participation, stimulate debate, or encourage a particular student to venture deeper on a particular point.

Capturing students’ contributions on the board

While slides can be helpful for displaying class material, they also tend to be static and relatively passive. Conversely, co-constructing knowledge on the board with students can help make definitions and key concepts come alive. In this video, Paola Arlotta describes how recording students’ ideas on the board engages them in collaboratively “building the class material” and involves them more deeply in the learning process.

Providing wait-time for students to process and gain confidence

Silence in the classroom can feel uncomfortable for students and instructors alike, but processing information takes time. Waiting for several seconds after asking a question so that students, particularly introverted ones, are able to gather their thoughts before responding is proven to expand participation and improve the quality of student responses. In this video, Bob Kegan and Dan Levy discuss their strategies for using wait-time in the classroom, which Levy calls “one of the most underused weapons that an instructor has at his/her disposal.”

Breaking up lecture with frequent questions

A lecturer who acts primarily as a “sage on the stage” for an entire class session will likely struggle to gauge or sustain student attention and energy. By incorporating frequent, purposeful questioning into lectures, instructors can keep students energized and deepen their understanding. Brett Flehinger uses factual, analytical, and overarching questions during his lectures to draw out student voices and check the class’s “temperature.”

Using the iPad for interactive problem solving

In a conventional lecture class, an instructor typically finds out whether students have learned the material only after it has been assessed, which can happen days, weeks, even months after the material was presented. But particularly in a class that demands mathematical reasoning skills, inviting students to show their thinking publicly during class allows the instructor to get a sense of students’ understanding and reasoning in order to make adjustments in real-time. Dan Levy invites students to use an iPad projected to the front of the class in order to demonstrate the...

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Employing handouts as a study guide to highlight important concepts

In lectures, students often have difficulty discerning what is most important. Some students resolve this dilemma by frantically copying down as much as they can, whereas others might assume the most important information will appear in assignments. Both of these sets of students leave class without clear takeaways. Dan Levy gets around this challenge by offering interactive handouts that serve as in-class note-taking guides and after-class “study guides.” Levy uses his handouts to orient the class to the key questions, and he provides students space on the handouts to answer those...

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Regulating the flow of energy in the classroom

Instead of the “I talk, you listen” structure of traditional lectures, mixing up the activities in a lecture course is likely to nurture deeper understanding. Bob Kegan peppers activities throughout his lectures, adding variety and dynamism into what could otherwise be a lengthy, teacher-centered lecture. In this video, Kegan suggests that university instructors think more like bike instructors: It’s not enough to just talk about your content, you must give students a chance to “get on” and try it out.

Planning ahead to facilitate the inclusion of student contributions

One of the lecturer’s biggest fears remains ending class without having addressed enough of the material he/she planned to cover. To prevent this, Paola Arlotta identifies four or five key topics to address in a particular lecture before class. If discussion runs long on one of those topics, she makes quick decisions about how to reshuffle timing to ensure her objectives are met by the end of the lesson.

Sequencing materials to build student energy and excitement

Tapping into the energy in the classroom to make real-time decisions for keeping students engaged, curious, and challenged may prove more effective than blindly following a scripted lesson plan. In this video, Paola Arlotta describes how she uses advance planning and in-the-moment data from students to know when is appropriate to increase the level of difficulty or reveal surprises in the content.