Improving Student Engagement

I had the opportunity to take part in a webinar called “Wake Them Up! Engaging Students in the 21st Century Classroom”, presented by Julie Smith, an instructor at Webster University in St. Louis.  The one hour presentation was very good, as Julie presented many great ideas on improving student engagement in the classroom, a concept well worth including in all our classes as students generally learn better when they are engaged in the topic rather than just being spoken to.

Julie presented lots of ideas, some involving technology and some not.  On the ‘non techy’ side, some of the things Julie presented included having related content out in the room before the class starts, re-framing how to ask for questions, and looking for ways to connect with introverts or quiet  students.   Technology ideas included phone polling, using the website Kahoot, and looking for alternative ways to connect with students, along with many other suggestions she had.

Non Tech Ways

  • Setting up the classroom is already something that we all do at PACE: arriving early to connect your laptop to put up your slides.  Julie suggests going beyond that, put out content that relates to the days topic.  As students arrived, they can take in the items out, whether it is posters, drawings, physical items, and students start to wonder about the day’s topic and build interest.
  • A small comment, but the phrasing we use in teaching can have an impact on students.  Instead of asking “Do you have questions”, Julie suggests re-framing this to “What questions do you have”.  This acknowledges that students have questions and they are okay.
  • Students may be quiet in the classroom for a number of reasons: naturally introverted, uncertain of the material, language or cultural barriers etc.  Julie recommends that instructors create methods that can encourage participation and engage these students in their own way: writing questions down and putting them in a hat to randomly draw them later (Julie gives a prize.  Students put their names on the questions, the more questions, and the more chances to win).  Having students email, tweet, or text questions, all ways to get the student who is not comfortable speaking in the class to still have a voice.

Technological Ways

  • Phone polling is becoming a common concept.  This was mentioned in a recent professional development session hosted by Stevi Dram here at PACE; the slides from that presentation our on the PACE Instructor Communication Portal on Nexus if you are interested.  One recent article I read said that 90% of college students admitted using their phones in the classroom; using phone polling is designed to make use of that tendency for students to be on their phones.  Julie commented that by including this she found that students were less likely to text while she was talking.
  • Kahoot is website that Julie recommends, along with others, for building reviews that everyone can access in the room on their phone.  I haven’t looked at it yet, but I intend to try it out in my next course.
  • Julie also presented a number of ideas for communicating and connecting with students using a number of different technology related platforms.  For her, this includes using Voxer, a walkie talkie like program, Flip Grid, sharing 90 second videos accessed only by select users, QR codes, Twitter, etc..  Julie teaches courses related to digital media, so many of these work well for her and may not for our courses, but it does present ideas to reflect on.

As part of the instructor’s role, improving student engagement is an essential component to content delivery.  Students who are engaged are more likely to succeed in the course, and then the program.  At the end of the day though, Julie noted that “Nothing beats enthusiasm”.

If you get the opportunity, I encourage you to take in her presentation or her work:



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