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Symphonie
Macmillan Employee
Macmillan Employee

Connecting with Students in a Noisy World

Even before this attention economy forced educators into competition with social media apps, streaming services, and 24-hour news cycles, connecting with students and maintaining their interest in courses were challenging enough already. As a student, I remember feeling overwhelming moments of complete disinterest and ambivalence, even in courses I had been looking forward to for semesters with professors I cherished. It was like everything else in my personal life and in the world could and should take priority over school. When I had my first position as a teaching assistant in 2013 and the shoe was on the other foot I was at a loss for what to do. 

It’s been several years since I was a student or a TA but I still frequently hear about the challenges of connecting with students in such a noisy world. So, I’m wondering, what success have you all found in connecting and getting through to your students? What advice can you share with your fellow educators?

5 Replies
Justin_Shaffer
New Contributor
New Contributor
This is definitely a big problem as there are constant grabs for our attentions. One element of course design that I think is helpful for the big picture of staying on task is the use of high structure course design with consistent assignment deadlines. In this model, students acquire content and complete minor assessments before class, participate in active learning activities, such as group work, problem solving, and iClickers, during class, and complete homework or weekly quizzes after-class. By keeping students routinely engaged throughout the learning process in a high structure course, studies have demonstrated that student performance increases, students feel more belonging, and performance gaps are closed or reduced. The key though to helping students succeed in this model while combatting a noisy world is to have consistent deadlines. For example, if you have your pre-class readings and assignments due every Wednesday at noon, then students know when to expect these assignments week over week. In addition, if you have in-class quizzes every Monday at the start of class, students will be able to fall into a flow of when things are due and what to expect. While this strategy may not help the dings and beeps and alerts that happen during class, this will help students maintain an overall structure with their learning.

Yes! I think as instructors we tend to either lean into this and try to compete with technology for student attention (which is tough) or to complain about it and try to ban student devices in the classroom.

There's so much educational technology out there, it can get overwhelming to try to find your way. 

But when I focus on keeping my classes as active as possible, the engagement piece more or less falls into place.  In class, students are naturally engaged if I keep them working together (peer learning) on a problem, quiz, current event, or discussion. 

What about the lecture?  I move it online to be watched outside of class.  It takes a while, but I am building my own set of videos with embedded quiz questions to keep students accountable.  I try to keep them short (12 minutes or less) and I use PlayPosit for my video quizzes. (Some schools have site licenses, mine does not by my department sometimes reimburses me for the annual individual license)

Finally, for my completely online classes that don't get any face-to-face contact I try to make short silly weekly announcement videos on my phone using Adobe Spark or any other short simple video maker.  In addition, I try to shake up the discussion boards with video discussions so students can see each other.  Most LMS's have this capability, or you can use Flip/FlipGrid.

Tags (1)
anorbutus
New Contributor
New Contributor

I find that by building camaraderie with the students, such as holding the first few minutes of every lecture to say hello and talk about their day/what they've been doing, and to share anything relevant from current events to the course, it creates a pathway to transition students' attention in from the outside and back into the classroom.

I also try to streamline how I present information to my students.  One thing I do is to create a weekly "wrap-up" as part of my normal classroom management; in the wrap-up announcement, I mention what we covered that week, the pacing of the next week, as well as any assignments due between that announcement and the next wrap-up.  Taking the time to create an easy reference place for a student to look for information, and where information is updated weekly, helps students find what they need quickly and easily.  I've found that this announcement has led to fewer panicked emails from students, as well as gives more guided pathways for students when they realize they might be behind, when they are stressed, when they log back into the course learning site, etc.

jemasfoster
Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

Setting the tone for the class will give the students the structure they need to focus and learn, set aside a few minutes to remind the class how they should enter the classroom. If they enter a calm and quiet classroom, it will set the tone and encourage them to keep to that noise level throughout the lesson.

Jarvis69
Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

Talkative students and loud classrooms challenge all teachers at some point, especially when disruptive or clowning behaviors are present.

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Symphonie
Macmillan Employee
Macmillan Employee

Connecting with Students in a Noisy World

Even before this attention economy forced educators into competition with social media apps, streaming services, and 24-hour news cycles, connecting with students and maintaining their interest in courses were challenging enough already. As a student, I remember feeling overwhelming moments of complete disinterest and ambivalence, even in courses I had been looking forward to for semesters with professors I cherished. It was like everything else in my personal life and in the world could and should take priority over school. When I had my first position as a teaching assistant in 2013 and the shoe was on the other foot I was at a loss for what to do. 

It’s been several years since I was a student or a TA but I still frequently hear about the challenges of connecting with students in such a noisy world. So, I’m wondering, what success have you all found in connecting and getting through to your students? What advice can you share with your fellow educators?