Student Engagement Techniques

Student Engagement Techniques

Student Engagement Techniques offers tips and tricks for getting students engaged.

By: Roberta Richards, PCC Faculty Librarian

January 8, 2011

Engaging students in the college classroom has gotten tougher. This reality has inspired a new book by Elizabeth Barkley, award-winning community college instructor, called Student Engagement Techniques – A Handbook for College Faculty. Barkley writes from her experiences as an instructor turned administrator and then instructor again. She reports that in the first phase of her teaching career she was by all accounts a popular and successful teacher, and that students responded well to her teaching techniques: “I lectured; they listened; they studied, I tested” (xi). After moving into administration for a decade, her eagerly awaited return to the classroom in the mid-90s was a rude awakening. Students had changed. They did not seem to want to be in the classroom and responded to her with indifference, sometimes hostility. Creating a classroom community had become a struggle. Her once-popular lectures and discussion techniques were now flops. What happened?

The reality that students have become harder to engage is well-recognized in the education literature. Barkley mentions some of the possible factors in her introduction:

“The ‘twitchspeed’ pace and multi layered delivery of modern media can make a lecture feel incredibly slow and boring. Globalization and open door access have filled our classrooms with learners reflecting such a dizzying array of backgrounds and academic preparedness that teachers are often hard-pressed to find a collective starting point or commonalities that create a sense of community. Abundant information at split-second access has redefined what students should be learning and created unprecedented opportunities for academic dishonesty. A panoply of pressures makes some classrooms a crucible of pressures that can erupt in incivility ranging from simple lack of consideration to overt aggression. (xi-xii)”

Engaging students, for Barkley and the rest of us teaching today, has become a daily challenge and a top priority.

Student engagement is defined by Barkley as “the synergistic interaction between motivation and active learning”. Her new book is a practical guide to fostering motivation and active learning, providing over 300 pages of teaching tools for use in a variety of disciplines. The first section of the book, A Conceptual Framework for Student Engagement, draws from research in educational psychology to provide the theoretical basis for the book. The second section, Tips and Strategies, provides 50 concrete suggestions about how to “increase motivation, promote active learning, build community, help students learn holistically, and ensure students are appropriately challenged”(xiii). Topics range from strategies for learning students’ names to the effective use of rubrics for grading. In the third section of the book, Student Engagement Techniques (SETs), Barkley draws from the experiences and curricula of successful instructors to provide detailed instructions for 50 learning activities with a range of applications. Here are a few examples of these Student Engagement Techniques:

Believing and Doubting
“This develops dialogical thinking skills through a collaborative approach to reading and discussing. This technique involves presenting students with an article or excerpt that takes a position on a controversial aspect of a discipline. Students are invited to read the article from an empathetic perspective, and then work in groups to list the convincing points presented by the writer. When it is clear that students understand the supporting arguments for the perspective, they are asked to repeat the process, this time reading the same article from a skeptical perspective, looking for flaws in the reasoning.”

Team Concept Maps
“This involves identifying the central phrases and terms of a topic, and then having students diagram the relationship among these terms in a variety of ways.”

Stand Where You Stand
“This starts with having students read two essays taking opposing positions on a particular topic, and then deciding if they strongly agree, agree, disagree or strongly disagree with a statement on that topic. Students stand together based on which group fits their level of agreement, and then students in each group can explain why they selected that level of agreement. If other students change their positions based on the arguments presented, they move to that group. This activity promotes critical thinking and listening, as well as engaging each student to make a personal commitment to the issue.”

Additional Student Engagement Techniques described by Barkley include Background Knowledge Probe, Learning Logs, Analytic Teams and Field Trips.

For librarians, the challenge of engaging students is heightened by the paucity of student contact time we have with them. Most of our formal instruction consists of what we call ‘one-shot’ sessions, such as when a psychology instructor brings a class to the library to prepare students for a research assignment, and librarians have a mere 50 minutes or so to introduce students to the skills and resources they need to know to complete their assignment well. Motivated students are easy to engage, as Barkley notes, and librarians have become adept at packing a lot of active learning into those one-shot sessions. Many college students, however, are not motivated to take on the complexity of college-level research. These students assume that a simple Google search provides all the information they need to know. For students who have not been trained to distinguish between the gold and pyrite of information sources, or who assume that Google delivers only gold, it takes a partnership between instructor and librarian to motivate students to take on college-level research.

Fortunately, those of us taking on the challenge of engaging students at PCC have the support of an institution where quality instruction and innovation are valued. We are also fortunate to have such truly wonderful students as partners in this endeavor. PCC students, for the most part, really do come to class prepared to be engaged, in spite of the relentless money and family pressures that consume so much of their time and energy. These students deserve all of the time and energy we invest in curriculum innovation. Barkley’s book Student Engagement Techniques is available for checkout from PCC Library. If this book is in use, a copy can be requested from other college libraries through Summit. Additional resources on engaging students available at PCC or Summit libraries are listed below, and PCC librarians are available to assist with locating further information and to collaborate with instruction. Good luck to all of us in the classrooms of 2011!

Works cited

Library & Learning
Vol. 3 Issue 1 January 2011

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