Classroom Engagement

Fostering Engagement

This handout, from the Office of the Provost, is filled with excellent strategies to foster student engagement, especially in lower division courses.

The Importance of Day One

Below is a summary of key points from presentations by Mary Lynn Crow, Professor of Education and Distinguished Teaching Professor; Bob Kunovich, Department of Sociology and Anthropology; Marykate Earnest, Department of English; Nilakshi Veerabathina, Department of Physics; and David Silva, Vice-Provost for Faculty Affairs during the Engaging Students Conference at UT Arlington on March 26, 2010.

Four Factors That Determine 70 Percent of Student Attitudes

  • Instructor attitude, credentials, demeanor
  • The manner in which the instructor manages the course
  • Topic: Is/can student become inherently interested? Is it meaningful to students?
  • Physical environment in which course is housed

(Curran, James M. and Deborah E. Rosen. “Student Attitudes toward College Courses: An Examination of Influences and Intentions.” Journal of Marketing Education, 2006.)

What Students Want to Know, Believe, Feel After Day One

  • Know what is expected, how work will be graded, what materials are required, what the style of the course is, office hours/location
  • Believe course will benefit them and how: in life, future academics, career, etc.; that you are knowledgeable, professional, organized, credible, fair, caring (students stay because they care about a professor)
  • Feel safe (not embarrassed; you are approachable), positive toward you as a person, valued by you (not just a number), excited, interested, enthusiastic, not “alone” (meet others there)

Student Participation on Day One

  • On Day One allow verbal participation, in small or large classes, small groups, larger groups, to introduce themselves, tell where they are from, discuss carpooling possibilities, and similar topics.

Your Goal as Instructor

  • Be the instructor you always hoped to have when you attended a college class for the first time.

Pre-/Post-Assessment: Why?

  • Evidence that what you are doing is working
  • High return on benefits: for yourself, your department and chair (unit effectiveness plan data), society (Tier 1 institutions are ideally excellent in their contributions to society in all ways)
  • Help in assessing goals and outcomes for students: What sorts of knowledge/comprehension/application/analysis does a successful ____________ (linguist, literary scholar, L2 methodologist, sociologist, engineer, art historian, chemist, etc.) draw upon?

The Ultimate Goal of Day One

  • Students believe this course might matter

Day One Sample Activities

In a class on probability and statistics: Guess probability of students having same birthday, of coin tossed heads or tails on 101st time, of coin landing heads 100 times in a row

In a class on argumentation: Students begin separating themselves physically within the classroom (yes, no, maybe/undecided/no answer) regarding mundane “ice-breaker” topics, e.g. “If you have seen Avatar, go to the west side; if you haven’t go to the east.” As they become more comfortable during the next few minutes, add controversial issues, to develop an atmosphere of safety to share and explore different opinions.

In an astronomy course students are asked to decide which items to take if they are stranded on the moon and have to make a 200- mile trek to the mother ship. Students are then shown the ways in which they understand the physicality of the moon and ways in which they do not. (Don’t take along the matches, as there is no oxygen on the moon.)