Why This Class Matters: From Discovering to Doing: Mar. 20 @ 12 PM ET
Presented by Mike Shapiro & Marissa Dahari
For many students, school is not an objective in and of itself. Rather, it is a step on the road to their futures. By emphasizing how the class supports those future goals, instructors help students see why their course matters. Students can move from first discovering a new skill or concept to applying it in real-world situations. Join a panel of faculty advocates to discuss how teaching with applications motivates students and helps them keep their eyes on the prize.
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Ask an Author! Building a Bridge between Classroom and Career: Mar. 6 @ 12 PM ET
Presented by Kevin Revell, Stacey Cochran, and Paul Gore
As instructors, your goal is not just to help students see the beauty of your discipline, but to help prepare them for their lives in the wider world. Students benefit when they see how the skills and content they are learning in the classroom might be applied in their jobs and in their lives. Join our interdisciplinary panel of Macmillan authors to learn practical tips for showcasing the connections between the classroom and students' future careers.
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The pandemic turned education on its head for more than two years. That isn’t new news but many instructors and students are still trying to navigate changes to classrooms, campuses, and attitudes after the disruption.
Peer learning in particular was something that was made harder during the pandemic. Group activities, peer tutoring, and the organic conversations that happen before and after class were suddenly lost. Even with students back on campus and great innovation in fully online classes, many instructors say that students are noticeably less interested in engaging with their peers.
Yet peer learning is a proven active learning technique that can strengthen student understanding and help them develop valuable communication and collaboration skills. Peer learning, sometimes called collaborative learning , is an umbrella term for activities and approaches that require students to work jointly in groups of two or more to teach, learn, and review information. It can be an effective approach for educators regardless of the subject matter they teach.
In this article, seven educators teaching psychology, biology, history, chemistry, and English share their experiences with peer learning in the classroom as well as what they’ve found works best.
“I can see the dissonance when students have different explanations, and I can see a shared acknowledgment when the correct answer is explained.”
Robert Feissner, Biology Educator at SUNY Geneseo
During the pandemic, I made some observations about how restrictions guided students away from peer learning opportunities. Students went from working together in person to suddenly working alone in their bedrooms at home. Upon return to campus, many seemed to have lost the risk-taking drive to initiate collaborative work, discussions, or peer-led opportunities. Almost like exercising in the New Year, peer learning is something that is desired, but is hard to start. It takes time to see success and requires dedication to push through the hard spots (for both students and faculty). The pandemic was an extended period of solitary learning that short-circuited our attempts to foster peer learning.
So many of the metacognitive strategies that help students understand their own learning require peer input. It is so easy to convince oneself that we know and understand a concept, but without discussing our reasoning or sharing a product of some sort with another, how can we be sure we are right? What about those upper-level Bloom's Taxonomy skills like evaluating and synthesizing? Students build their conceptual understanding by identifying and explaining when things go wrong.
I provide opportunities for students to work in small groups, often in pairs for very short periods of time in my freshman lecture courses. These are typically large (more than 100 students). So group work can be difficult to manage. Think-Pair-Share in combination with iClicker works great. Students explain their thinking to each other, come to a consensus, and respond anonymously. I can see the dissonance when students have different explanations, and I can see a shared acknowledgment when the correct answer is explained.
I am the campus coordinator for Supplemental Instruction, so I encourage all students to attend voluntary sessions led by upper-level students that focus on active learning and peer collaboration. Like the exercise analogy above, the more students are able to maintain a routine, the easier peer learning gets and the greater the gains.
“These connections often help students to persist and succeed throughout their academic, personal, and professional journey.”
Gina O’Neal-Moffitt, Psychology Educator at Florida State University and Tallahassee Community College
I foster peer learning in my courses by having students review the draft submissions of other students' research papers. The 18-page paper is due at the end of the semester, but students have submission points at 3, 5, 10, and 15 pages.
As papers are submitted at each checkpoint, a different student is assigned to review each submission. This means that each student gets comments and suggestions from at least four other students. While this is something that can be accomplished even in remote classroom settings, it really helps to build community in our in-person classroom.
Students often set aside time outside of class to go over each other's notes. The collegiality is infectious — students then use those relationships to set up times to study for exams and work on other projects, and occasionally, that relationship persists into other classes and outside of the academic setting. These connections often help students to persist and succeed throughout their academic, personal, and professional journey.
“Sometimes a student can provide their peer with an explanation that makes more sense to the student who is struggling than I can.”
Christin Monroe, Chemistry Educator at Landmark College
All of the college chemistry students I work with are neurodiverse and I find peer learning to be very important for this population of students. Sometimes a student can provide their peer with an explanation that makes more sense to the student who is struggling than I can.
I also find it empowering for students to work together because I have students who can take on leadership roles in the classroom. Using the flipped classroom model and having students work through problems together during class is a great way to help students identify topics they may need additional support on.
I find Achieve very useful for peer learning because students can focus on the questions they need the most help with and know right away the content they have already mastered. Students can then work together on the problems they are struggling with.
“Content aside, I'm always pleased with how quickly the students begin to form a community.”
Suzanne McCormack, History Educator at Community College of Rhode Island
At a community college with no dormitories, students are often very isolated. By working in small groups from the start of the semester — using ungraded, Think-Pair-Share activities — I give them the opportunity to get to know their classmates.
I require students to introduce themselves and then have one person introduce each group member to the class — this works well in my 28-person intro classes. Content aside, I'm always pleased with how quickly the students begin to form a community. They notice people from their other classes who they haven't spoken to and make connections that help them to be more successful over the course of the semester. It gives them someone to share notes with, study with, etc.
“Peer learning breaks the static of 50 minutes of lecture and makes the students responsible for learning and understanding the material.”
Jennifer Ripley Stueckle, Biology Educator at West Virginia University
I teach large 250-seat lecture courses. We do group work almost daily but it is counted as participation instead of graded for accuracy. I use this time for students to form connections with their peers in what is a large class at a large University. It also gives them an opportunity to interact with me as I walk around and visit the different groups.
Peer learning breaks the static of 50 minutes of lecture and makes the students responsible for learning and understanding the material. The sense of community goes a long way for the entire learning and classroom experience.
“Regardless of their career path, students need to know how to express their ideas to others and how to critique, redirect, and collaborate with colleagues.”
Jennifer Duncan, English Educator at Georgia State University Perimeter College
As a writing instructor, I see teaching students to interact with their peers as an essential college-to-career transition skill. Regardless of their career path, students need to know how to express their ideas to others and how to critique, redirect, and collaborate with colleagues. Writing only for an instructor is an artificial activity and it makes sense that students find it frustrating.
The question then becomes how do we teach them this skill? First, we have to provide them space and time not just to create their own ideas and work but to think about the things their classmates have written and how to best respond to them. Sitting in a circle and providing instant responses to the work of a classmate can be daunting and usually isn’t productive. Instead, let students take their peers’ work with them (physically or electronically) and make reviewing and offering feedback an out-of-class activity. This gives them time to process the best way to respond.
Second, teach them how to ask the right questions of their peers. What about asking students to end a research essay with a question of their own? Encourage them to ask their classmates about what they’ve written, to raise another point of view, or to identify an effective strategy they’ve used.
Finally, encourage them to think of their work as public writing (unless, of course, it’s a journal). What can they do with their work after this class? Where could they send it to affect change? If we ask them to think this way from the assignment’s start, they can view their classmates as colleagues rather than just other bodies in the room.
“Students trust, respect, and value the experience of their fellow students who are dealing with similar pressures, academic challenges, and course loads."
Marissa Dahari, Biology Educator at the University of Guelph
I have coordinated a class of over 1000 students a semester for a few years and I cannot stress the importance of peer learning enough. Students trust, respect, and value the experience of their fellow students who are dealing with similar pressures, academic challenges, and course loads.
When peer learning is encouraged in smaller class settings, such as seminars or tutorials, students have the opportunity to teach each other and promote understanding of important concepts. Students can also learn from each other and gain meaningful insights not enforced in the classroom.
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It goes by many names — cooperative learning, collaborative learning, peer learning, and sometimes just “group work.” These terms are often used synonymously to describe educational approaches that require students to interact with one another to explore, master, or apply course material and concepts. No matter what you call it, students working together toward an academic goal can be an incredibly effective way to learn.
In this article, we’ll cover…
what collaborative learning is and how it might differ from peer learning.
the benefits of collaborative learning for students.
examples of great collaborative learning activities and tools to facilitate peer learning.
a few tips for using collaborative learning in any course.
What is collaborative learning?
In the 1992 collection, Collaborative Learning: A Sourcebook for Higher Education , Barbara Leigh Smith’s and Jean MacGregor’s article define collaborative learning as “an umbrella term for a variety of educational approaches involving joint intellectual effort by students, or students and teachers together. Usually, students are working in groups of two or more, mutually searching for understanding, solutions, or meanings, or creating a product. Collaborative learning activities vary widely, but most center on students’ exploration or application of the course material, not simply the teacher’s presentation or explication of it.”
Is there a difference between peer learning and collaborative learning?
Terms like peer learning, collaborative learning, and group work are often used interchangeably but some scholars of teaching and learning believe it's important to distinguish between peer learning and collaborative learning.
They argue that collaborative learning takes place when students work together to solve problems, discuss ideas, and create products as equals whereas peer learning requires that students with different knowledge or ability be paired together so that one can lead while the other learns. Some believe that both collaborative and peer learning describe instances where students teach and learn from one another. Others believe peer learning encompasses many types of collaborative learning activities such as peer instruction or peer work.
Regardless of the terminology and distinction you find most compelling, it’s important to understand the benefits of peer learning and collaborative learning and how to effectively use these tools with your students.
How does collaborative learning support students?
Collaborative learning is considerably well-researched. A recent study found that among students at 17 institutions, collaborative learning had a positive influence on students' academic motivation.
In part, peer learning is so effective because it is a form of active learning. Learning is understood by many to be an active, constructive process. In their article, Barbara Leigh Smith and Jean MacGregor described what makes collaborative learning active.
“To learn information, ideas, or skills, students have to work actively with them in purposeful ways. They need to attach this new material to, or integrate it with, what they already know—or use it to reorganize what they thought they know. In collaborative learning situations, students are not simply taking in new information or ideas. They are creating something new with the information and ideas. These acts of intellectual processing—of constructing meaning or creating something new—are crucial to learning.” - Barbara Leigh Smith and Jean MacGregor
4 Types of Collaborative Learning Activities
Think-Pair-Share or TPS is perhaps the most well-known and used collaborative learning activity. They can easily be done on the fly, with very little planning required of instructors. First instructors can ask students a question and give them time to think about it on their own (THINK). Next, students partner up to discuss the question and their thoughts (PAIR). Finally, the groups share what they discussed with the rest of the class (SHARE).
Case studies can be used in any discipline, though they’ve been used by instructors in the professions (business, law, medicine, education, etc) for many decades. While activities involving cases may not inherently be collaborative, discussing cases with an entire class or asking students to work through cases in small groups, makes this an engaging opportunity for peer learning. Teaching with case studies allows students to apply what they’ve learned to identify solutions to a problem, solve a mystery, or generate new ideas.
Peer review is common in writing courses but is great for any course where papers have to be written, problems have to be worked, or processes have to be demonstrated. Students may initially feel uncomfortable giving feedback because they may not want to say anything negative about another students’ work. It is important to set clear expectations and guidelines with peer review activities.
Peer instruction is a student-centered type of instruction that allows students to learn by explaining core concepts to each other under the guidance of their instructor. There are several types of peer instruction activities. Jigsaw for example can be used to assign a single section of a reading assignment to one student or a small group of students and have them present or “teach” that section to the rest of the class. With the student engagement system iClicker , instructors can create peer instruction activities on the fly by pairing students who’ve picked different answers to a question together to explain their reasoning.
Tips for Facilitating Collaborative Learning
When implementing any new type of activity or method in the classroom, it’s helpful to keep a few things in mind.
Explain the activity clearly. How you introduce the activity matters, especially when it comes to peer learning. Students might get nervous about the idea of working with peers they don’t know well. Give students clear guidelines and let them know what your expectations are.
Give them time. Give students the right amount of time. It’s equally important not to give them too much or too little time. If students are rushed, perhaps only one will have the opportunity to present, discuss, or provide feedback. On the other hand, if given too much time, students might get distracted and let the task at hand slide.
Know what happens next. What do you want students to do after they’ve completed the collaborative learning activity? Think through what goal(s) the activity is working towards and how it will support their understanding of the course material or development of skills.
Collaborative Learning: A Sourcebook for Higher Education Cornell University, Center for Teaching Innovation University of Michigan, LSA Learning & Teaching Technology Consultants
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Using Digital Tools to Encourage Human Connection: Feb. 20 @ 12 PM ET
Presented by Mollie Anderson, Germán Rosas-Acosta, & Suzanne McCormack
With online homework, hybrid classrooms, and virtual lessons it can be a challenge to feel connected to your students. But technology doesn't have to divide you! Join this webinar to hear how our panel of faculty advocates use digital tools to feel closer to their students than ever.
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Ask an Author! How to Build Stronger Connections between Instructors and Students: Feb. 6 @ 12 PM ET
Presented by James Morris & Betsy Barefoot
It can be disheartening to speak to a sea of blank faces or black Zoom screens. Meaningful connections between instructors and students are at the core of the educational experience, and for many of us, the very reason we teach! Join an interdisciplinary panel of Macmillan authors for a conversation on the importance of instructor and student connections and practical tips for helping to forge that bond.
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Fostering Peer-to-Peer Learning with Technology
Presented by Jennifer Duncan, Kiandra Johnson, and Justin Shaffer
Join our interdisciplinary panel of Macmillan faculty advocates for a discussion on how they help students to connect and learn with each other, in and out of the classroom. They shared practical tips, best practices, and some of their favorite peer-to-peer moments.
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Back to Campus: iClicker
It's almost time to bring your students back to campus! iClicker makes it easy to create a welcoming, interactive classroom. This webinar recording is for iClicker users, old and new, who want to know what's new with iClicker and get a tour of features like updated quizzing functionality and our new Groups feature. We also discussed ways you can use iClicker in your classroom, whether it’s a traditional brick-and-mortar classroom or a hybrid approach.
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Back to Campus: Achieve
It's almost time to bring your students back to campus! Achieve makes it easy to create a welcoming, interactive classroom. This webinar recording is for Achieve users, old and new, who want to know what's new with Achieve and get a tour of features like Goal Setting and Reflection Surveys and iClicker integration, as well as see the new improvements to the Gradebook and Reports and Insights. We also discussed ways you can use these resources in your classroom, whether it’s a traditional brick-and-mortar classroom or a hybrid approach.
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We asked some of our super users how Achieve and iClicker helped them demonstrate the value of education to their students. Here’s what they had to say:
“I am constantly leveraging learning objects including videos, simulations, and demonstrations to bring psychological science concepts to life for my students. Via these tools, I am able to demonstrate the value and the relevance of these Intro Psych concepts for my students' everyday lives. Students leave with an appreciation for how numerous course concepts are manifested in their lives on a daily basis.” Mark Laumakis, San Diego State University
“Macmillan tools help me create a blended learning classroom where I can focus on honest discussions, emphasize how the material connects to their lived experiences, and provide meaningful assignments targeting technology-mediated competencies.” Matthew Ingram, Dakota State University
“Indirectly, the engaging materials display the joy of learning. It's not a statement, but an experience that students have when interacting with the materials.” Jillene Seiver, Eastern Washington University
“The Case Studies and How Do You Know boxes in the text provide a launching point for a discussion of how real scientists do their work. By working through these cases or experiments, students gain confidence in their ability to address scientific questions, design experiments to answer questions and participate as "real scientists". These tools allow students to gain confidence that this class and content is preparing them for a career in science.” Candace Timpte, Georgia Gwinnett College
Looking for more ideas? Schedule a demo or training to discuss how Achieve and iClicker could support your class.
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Prospective students face the difficult task of deciding whether or not a college degree is worth the cost. To deliver the best possible value to students, institutions are looking for ways to improve student outcomes. A perspective shift from instructor-focused content to a student-centered approach can be the starting point to ultimately improving outcomes.
For instructors, this shift can prove difficult to navigate, as it requires moving away from curriculum delivery as the sole or primary focus and moving towards a focus on the expectations and desired results of the students. This highlights an important difference — one between learning objectives and student outcomes — and is central to creating more enduring, impactful learning. By focusing on student outcomes in addition to learning objectives, institutions and educators can involve students in the learning process, resulting in increased motivation and higher achievement.
Learning Objectives vs.Student Outcomes: Why the Distinction Matters
While learning objectives and student outcomes may seem similar and even synonymous, the key difference lies in the target audience of each statement. Learning objectives describe the actions the instructor aims to take, whereas student outcomes describe the results of the student experience. In other words, student outcomes refer to the knowledge or skills that a student gains as a result of an applied learning objective. Student outcomes can also be described as learning outcomes, as a result of learning objectives.
Learning Objectives center the instructor
Student Outcomes center the student
Learning Objectives are what the instructor intends to teach
Student Outcomes are how the learner will demonstrate achievement
Learning Objective Example:
We will discuss the varying character tropes across Shakespeare’s most popular comedies.
Student Outcome Example:
By the end of unit 2 of An Introduction to Shakespeare, students will be able to analyze and compare common character tropes across popular comedies.
Stating the goals of a course, unit, or lesson as a student outcome involves the student in the process and clearly states the expectations, which can be helpful to set the student up for success from the very start.
Tying Learning Objectives to Student Outcomes
Establishing learning objectives is the first step to drafting concise, measurable, and impactful student outcomes. In writing a learning objective, you establish the actions you will take as the instructor to deliver student outcomes. However, because learning objectives tend to emphasize instructor actions and can alienate the student, considering how you can alter your objective to best center the student is a key step whenmoving from objective to outcome.
Student outcomes should be:
Specific : students should understand what they are expected to demonstrate or produce as a result of the learning process.
Attainable : the outcome is a reasonable expectation for students, given their level of knowledge and preparation
Realistic : the objective can be achieved within the established timeframe
Active and Observable : students will know whether or not they have achieved the objective
Measureable : students have a way of measuring their success
Given the above parameters, it’s clear that language and wording of student outcomes are paramount. To create a more lasting and actionable level of learning, instructors can use language that encourages students to strive toward a place of synthesis, evaluation, and creation, in addition to knowledge and comprehension. The verbs that instructors use in their learning outcomes can inspire this kind of thinking.
When writing student outcomes, consider language derived from Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives:
Knowledge – to know, remember, and recite facts and concepts
Comprehension – to understand and explain
Application – to apply learned knowledge or skills to a novel situation
Analysis – breaking information or concepts into its parts
Synthesis – to integrate ideas, create something new, or propose a plan of action
Evaluation – to judge the value of information or ideas
Creation – combining parts to make a new whole
Incorporating language from the higher ends of Bloom’s Taxonomy – synthesize, evaluate, and create – will set higher expectations for student outcomes and enable students to visualize the products of their learning.
Improving Student Outcomes for More Valuable Learning Experiences
By considering the factors impacting a student’s ability to achieve a learning outcome, instructors can intentionally incorporate strategies to address these factors and, in turn, bolster student achievement. Many great instructors have the ability to blend teaching strategies and their pedagogical approach to reach diverse learning styles.
For example, instructors who provide opportunities for self-paced learning will find that many students thrive with extra time for processing and applying their learning. All students learn, process information, and complete assignments at varying paces; allowing students to learn on a flexible timeline relieves them of the pressure they might feel when up against a strict deadline. As you allow students this flexible time, however, it is also important to guide them as they learn to self-monitor and manage their time. The quality of learning time is just as impactful as the duration; some students may require more guidance than others as they learn to navigate a self-paced learning schedule.
In addition to allowing for a flexible learning schedule, instructors might also consider modeling and encouraging a growth mindset in their students. A growth mindset is defined by an individual’s belief that they can improve upon something that is difficult for them; in contrast, someone with a fixed mindset believes that they are defined by their current abilities and unable to grow, change, or improve upon themselves.
A student with a growth mindset might think, “Math is hard for me. If I dedicate extra time to studying, attend office hours, and take some practice tests, I can improve my grade from last semester.”
A student with a fixed mindset might think, “Math is hard for me. I’m not very good at it, and my brain is better at literature and languages. I’ll just get through this requirement and then I won’t have to do another math course.”
Chances are you’ve encountered students with a fixed mindset. They may have even had additional barriers to accessing education. Social stereotypes can also impact a student’s mindset. Even girls with a strong growth mindset in education may find that their mindsets become more fixed when studying STEM disciplines. Women are less represented in STEM careers than men. Because such stereotypes are often introduced early, they become more difficult to combat as students grow older.
One of the most impactful ways to instill a growth mindset in a student with a stubbornly fixed mindset is to have them experience success as a result of their own hard work and dedication. Students often find this success through inquiry-based learning ; or, a process in which students take the lead in their learning and explore topics through high-level questioning and investigation. For inquiry-based learning to be successful, however, students need to have first established a strong basis of knowledge from instruction-based learning. Therefore, a strategic blend of both instruction- and inquiry-based learning is the most likely to encourage a growth mindset in students.
*It is important to note that leading an inquiry-based classroom is inherently more difficult to navigate than an instructional-based one; interested educators might consider undergoing training or professional development to help incorporate inquiry into their classrooms.
Measuring Learning Outcomes
You’ll probably want to measure the success of your learning outcomes. One way to do this is by trying to identify any changes in students' performance on assessments — both formative and summative. Formative assessments can be used throughout a course for ongoing measurement of student understanding, areas of confusion, and readiness to move on. Formative assessments can come in the form of quizzes, surveys, class discussions, debates, written responses to prompts, or in-class polling with tools like iClicker . You can track student progress across formative assessments, both as feedback for their own instruction and as useful insights for summative assessments; to do so, consider using analytics provided by courseware platforms like Achieve .
The cumulative summative assessment should be aligned with the stated learning outcomes of the course or unit. In this way, students will not be surprised by the summative assessment, as they will have already aligned their expectations based on the learning outcomes. It is a mark of truly student-centered instruction when students feel confident, capable, and prepared for the summative assessment, as a result of well-established and communicated learning outcomes.
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What is the value of an education? College enrollments have declined steadily in recent years with hundreds of thousands of prospective students choosing not to pursue a degree. Students have to weigh the cost of college against the perceived value they’ll take away from it. We all have a role to play in helping students realize the greatest possible value from their investment in their education. Listen to the Macmillan Learning executive leadership team, product designers, and engineers discuss why we care so deeply about helping students connect to their learning and to recognize the value in their experience, every day.
Featured in this video:
Susan Winslow, Macmillan Learning CEO
Tim Flem, Senior Vice President, Product
Chris Paddock, Senior Director of User Experience
Jason Walker, Director, Product
Steve Hill, Senior Vice President, Engineering
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As an instructor, you likely have some idea of who your students are – their demographics, their fields of study, and their academic strengths. But how do you get to know students on a deeper level? With shifting course formats, a challenging past two years, and a more diverse student population than ever, this question is becoming ever more important to address.
For one thing, it’s been a whirlwind two years with the COVID-19 pandemic bringing change and uncertainty to academic life. Most courses are in person again, but some students have chosen to remain remote or hybrid – and the fallout of the past two years includes notably high levels of disengagement on campus. After experiencing so many disruptions to their learning, students reasonably need support to get back on track.
On top of that, the postsecondary student population is more diverse than ever , and your students are bringing different learning and studying skills, cultural backgrounds, academic goals, and expectations to your course. How do you get to know students who feel increasingly disconnected from academic life, and how do you connect with the diverse perspectives that they bring to the table – all while you are preparing and teaching hours worth of lessons for your course subject?
It can seem daunting to find a way to connect with students individually on top of your heavy academic workload – but tackling one or two manageable strategies can go a long way. In this guide, we’ll share a few approaches for connecting with your students more deeply so you can help them to engage with your course and feel more invested in their own academic success.
What is engagement?
You’ve probably heard a lot of buzz around the concept of “student engagement” in recent years. So how do you know when a student is engaged? The Glossary for Education Reform describes student engagement as “the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education.” Research shows that engaged students are more likely to be motivated to learn and persist. Getting to know your college students and incorporating their perspectives in the learning process is a powerful way to help them feel invested in their education. Here are a few strategies you can try.
Ways to Get To Know Your College Students
One simple way to set the tone for your course is to offer meaningful but no-stakes in-class icebreakers. Questions like “What do you want to learn in this course?”, “How are you feeling?”, or “What’s one thing you love about your major?” give students a chance to check in and opens up a channel for two-way communication in your course — while students are learning from you, you also want to hear from them. These get-to-know-you questions don’t need to be reserved for the first few days of the semester. Throughout the semester, ask students what they think in real-time to continue the conversation and encourage students to engage actively with the material.
A simple way to create this in-class feedback loop is through iClicker, which is available for free with Achieve courses and allows students to answer in-class polls through their smartphones. To get started, you can use iClicker’s sample icebreaker polling questions .
Continue to connect with students and how they’re doing with your course material by conducting quick temperature checks throughout the semester. The iClicker polling feature offers an option for “anonymous mode” in your question formats, which you can apply if you think students may feel more comfortable answering a question honestly without their name attached. You can use the short answer option for open-ended questions, and student responses will be merged into a word cloud so you and the students can see trends in class responses.
There is always the tried-and-true office hours approach. Office hours present a prime opportunity to get to know students’ perspectives and challenges. But as you know, it can be a struggle to get students to show up. Many students may not understand the purpose of office hours or may think that they need to have a specific question to meet with you. And since students have gotten used to the decreased in-person interaction of digital courses, they need even more encouragement to show up now. Emphasize the reason behind office hours in class, in your syllabus, and even in course materials or quizzes. You can create an inviting atmosphere in your course by letting students know that you want to talk with them. During your office hours, ask students about their goals and what they need to be successful, and encourage them to visit you any time throughout the semester – not just when they have a specific homework question. These one-on-one faculty-student interactions have proven to lead to higher achievement and increased engagement , and an engaged student is more motivated to learn.
Goal Setting and Reflection
Knowing students’ goals allows you to better address their learning needs. One way to get students thinking about their goals for the course is to start the discussion during class. Have students fill out inventories where they are prompted to reflect and answer a series of questions about their interests, goals, concerns, and inspirations. You may be surprised by what you find, and you can use this knowledge to highlight the connection between course concepts with students’ interests.
If you’re looking for a way to administer inventories, you can try the Goal-Setting and Reflection Surveys in Achieve. These pre-built surveys prompt students to set goals and reflect on their learning, and you can assign them throughout the semester to get a read on the interventions or support your students need as your course progresses. This small action can have a major impact on students’ participation. In our research, we’ve seen that courses that assign at least two of these surveys result in at least a 15% increase in assignment completion, which leads to an 8 percentile point increase in student grades in the course.
Start a Conversation
If you find students are still hesitant to come and speak with you even as you offer multiple ways to open the conversation, remember that you don’t always have to wait for your students to come to you. Reach out to individual students to start a conversation, ask questions, share your own goals for the course, and listen closely to their feedback. What goals emerge? What challenges may be holding them back? The spectrum of personal experiences and cultural backgrounds represented in your course means that your students may come to you with different expectations and learning styles. Initiating these one-on-one conversations with students can provide the context you need to create a learning environment where all of your students feel encouraged to engage.
Apply What You've Learned with Your Students
Once you’ve started getting to know your students on a deeper level, there are many different ways you can use that knowledge to engage students in your teaching. If you’re looking for ideas, try a few of these:
Connect your instruction to students’ interests. Look for patterns in what you hear from students in surveys, polling, and one-on-one conversations. Look for ways to connect your academic content to students’ goals and interests to help them engage.
Encourage students to apply their knowledge and experiences. Practice culturally responsive teaching by encouraging students to bring their existing knowledge and lived experiences into their course experience and assignments. Acknowledge that their unique perspective is an asset to learning and discussion in your course.
Incorporate different communication styles into your course . As you get to know your students, you will see a myriad of communication styles that students bring as a result of their differing personalities or cultural experiences, some of which are not naturally facilitated in the standard college course format. As you learn where your students are coming from, find opportunities to incorporate different approaches into your instruction so you can support all types of learning styles.
Incorporate interventions and supports based on student feedback. As you connect with students throughout the semester, use what you see from your poll and survey check-ins to address challenges and misconceptions as they arise.
All in all, every semester’s group of students has a different set of strengths, needs, interests, and perspectives, and it can be overwhelming to figure out how to get to know each new group in a progressively more digital university learning environment. As an educator, you have the expertise to forge these connections and the power to make a huge impact on your students’ academic careers. When you make ongoing efforts to connect, you prime your students to be more successful with your course material. Give your students many ways to connect and engage with the expertise that you bring, and your whole course will be enriched by the unique perspectives that interact with your teaching.
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Hear from Eric Chiang, Professor, Author of Principles for a Changing World, about the importance of using resources and course material that connect with a diverse body of students. Whether they are first-generation college students or students working full-time while pursuing their college degrees, having course material that fits each of their unique situations is paramount. By delivering course material in a range of formats, professors are able to create closer connections despite the diverse needs of their student body.
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At Macmillan Learning, we strive to provide educators and learners with course materials that promote inclusive learning environments. We know that the tools you choose to use in your courses will work best for all of your students if they prioritize equitable approaches to education for the most marginalized students. We are designing all of our resources and tools with a commitment to equitable outcomes so you can feel confident when you choose Macmillan for your classroom. How do we accomplish this work? Listen to some of our product developers, researchers, and executives to learn more about our commitment to DEI and why it’s so crucial to integrate these evidence-based practices into our tools and into your classroom.
Featured in this video:
Chris Paddock, Senior Director of User Experience
Marcy Baughman, Executive Director of Learning Science & Insights
Tim Flem, Senior Vice President, Product
Jason Walker, Director, Product
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