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Student engagement is a term being used more and more often -- but what does it mean, and how can instructors use it to support student success? To find out, we checked in with Michael B. Shapiro, a Clinical Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Georgia State University about how he gets his classes involved with the course materials, motivated to learn and even more curious about criminal justice. Shapiro has been teaching for nearly 20 years and was the recipient of the Excellence in Teaching Award for the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies in 2015 at GSU.
Here are seven reasons why he likes to use a student response system like iClicker to better support student success.
- Use technology. “Our job is not just educators, we also need to be edutainers” Shapiro explained. One way to keep students both informed and engaged is with the technology that students are using both in and out of class on a daily basis. While educators try to encourage focus on the class lecture and activities, “it’s naïve to assume students will disconnect from the technology they use every day, so why not take advantage of that connectivity in class.” They’re using a digital device for non-class purposes more than 20% of the time whether we like it or not, he noted. One of the tools Shapiro uses for his edutainment is iClicker.
- Have they or haven’t they read the materials? iClicker helps to gauge just how prepared students are. Shapiro said that using iClicker to ask students questions and gauge their familiarity with important points helps him remove the guesswork and also allows for him to adjust the lecture as it’s happening to better meet that particular class’ needs. For example, understanding what students in each class already knows helps him understand when he has the flexibility that would allow him to get into more nuanced areas of criminal courts, law, procedure and ethics in the courses he teaches. Shapiro explains that in the journey of learning, “knowing where the students' "knowledge gaps" are is the difference between paving the entire road and filling in potholes.”
- Get students involved! Polls and real-time questions throughout class help encourage students to become more engaged in their learning -- something that’s even more challenging when the class is virtual. To hold students’ attention, Shapiro gives out points for correct answers throughout the class, but noted that he’s seen instructors use them in other ways, including offering points for participation. The polls and questions can range from multiple choice questions to heat maps and can even be short answer questions that can generate a word cloud, which can prompt a continued class discussion around the students' perceptions of what is significant in a lecture.
- Mitigate students’ fear of getting the “wrong” answer by allowing them to answer anonymously. All of the questions and polls in iClicker can be anonymous, helping students to feel comfortable giving honest answers and feedback -- something especially important for students who don’t feel comfortable raising their hand in class. In his criminal justice class, Shapiro asks “Yes or no, have you ever committed a crime?” in anonymous mode. The question encourages students to think about what a “crime” is and allows for a spirited discussion to follow, while allowing students to safely answer challenging questions anonymously.
- Use class time. Shapiro adds that iClicker helps him understand just how much students learned in class. He doesn’t just rely on their homework and written assignments to gauge how well students are understanding the various aspects of criminal justice. How does he know? He uses exit polls to get feedback about the day’s class and see if there were any points that need clarification in the next class meeting. Two of his favorite questions are “What was the most significant thing you learned today” and “What surprised you most about today’s class?”
- Assess often. You can do more than just create polls and questions; Shapiro uses iClicker to create on-the-fly quizzes or check in with students ahead of exams. According to Digital Promise, frequent quizzes and other assessments are one of eight instructional practices identified as contributing to more effective online teaching and learning.
- Finally, student response systems make taking attendance easy. Taking attendance can be challenging -- especially in larger classes, but Shapiro said that using an iClicker makes taking attendance easy. Not only that, but automated attendance reminds students when class is about to start by pushing out notifications. Attendance can be run at the beginning of class or throughout the class. It can also be used to take attendance at non-class events, such as a presentation or conference simply by setting a geofence around the location.
In sum, there’s no shortage of reasons to use a class response system -- whether it’s for attendance, for “edutainment”, or to gain a better understanding of what topics students need extra help with. To learn more about iClicker, click here.