Keeping Students Engaged

In this article from Xconomy, author Alan Schwartz states “good teachers often say that 95 percent of good teaching is just getting students motivated.” [link to article]

5 strategies to engage students:

1. Let Students Drive. Giving students choice of a content path is key to increasing engagement. It’s the YouTube effect: let learners discover one video that piques their curiosity and then present them with a learning path going forward from there.

I am a big fan of marketing content.

When I changed the name of my assignments to something thematic, I found students were more creative with the project. For example, my digital media students are asked to produce a simple one page website as their first project. The project was renamed to “A Just Cause.” Instead of focusing solely on the technical aspects of producing a web page, the project requires they pick a social justice organization that inspires them, and critique that site for communication design features that are appealing, innovative, and reflect the content. Their critique should emulate at least 3 of those features.

2. Adapt to Students’ Level. Learners need to feel challenged, but not frustrated, and the key to this is real-time adaptive learning. Getting learners content at the right level at the right time, and adapting levels over time is key for keeping up motivation levels.

In an online class, allow sufficient time for students to adjust to the learning management system. The better your course design and organization of materials, the shorter the adjustment time for students.

3. Use Game Dynamics. Online learners react to incentives. Brain training is a great example of giving students “bite size” nuggets of learning that they feel compelled to consume every day. The best game dynamics also involve collaboration and/or competition among learners. Knowing where you stand can be a huge source of motivation to impress and therefore improve.

There are some things all students should be encourage to manage effectively—due dates, exam dates, and discussion times, for example. I know several instructors who create a checkoff list for students. Faculty might find it helpful to break down assignments into steps (or milestones) that students can schedule as well.

4. Go Mobile. Learners spend more time with their mobile devices than with their computers, and mobile access allows them to make progress and engage anywhere and anytime during their day.

Consider 10-minute chunks for some types of content. I like to do this weekly to summarize what we covered last week, and what will be covered in the upcoming week, including content that may need to be reviewed. Video summaries are also great for 3-4 minute chunks.

5. Amplify the Teacher’s Voice. The best courses maintain a strong instructor presence through frequent teacher messaging (which can be automated) such as “I noticed you didn’t complete the practice quiz,” or through tools that allow teachers to provide asynchronous and personalized feedback.

Use the early alert notification tools to identify students who need help staying on track and on task. An unnoticed 2 week absence without intervention is just plain unacceptable.


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