Engaged students are a joy to have in any classroom. Perhaps that is why we all perk up when we hear strategies to captivate our students and communicate our own excitement about a subject. In the December issue of Online Classroom, Rebecca Zambrano shares wonderful ideas for engaging students by creatively using introductions, adding social presence to discussions, and using humor to communicate expectations. I hope you and your students benefit from her thoughtful and easy-to-implement suggestions.
Introductions that Last
Zambrano’s article recalled some of the advice given by Dr. Cassidy in her 20-Minute Mentor video “How Can I Use Icebreakers to Connect with Students?” As you may recall, Dr. Cassidy (2016) suggested connecting icebreakers and introductions to course content. I loved this idea and decided to forego my typical introductory game of Two Truths and One Lie and instead use the following icebreaker in my literature courses:
- If you could be any literary character, who would it be? Why?
- Share a line from your favorite poem with us. If you don’t have a favorite poem, download the Poetry Foundation app (or go to the Poetry Foundation website) and find one! What is it about this line that resonates with you?
- If you could interview any author – living or dead – who would it be? What would be your first question?
Zambrano (2016) takes Cassidy’s advice a step further and recommends that instructors save information from introductions and use it to personalize interaction throughout the class. For example, instructors could create a spreadsheet like the one below.
|Mary J./Miami, FL
||Bible study, yoga
|Joe S./ Bozeman, MT
|Kim L./Madison, WI
|Jeff R./Tucon, AZ
If you attended a lecture, read an article, or heard an interview relating to your students’ interests or hobbies, you could integrate the material into your discussion, send the student a personal email, or message them via Twitter. I recently did this for a student examining online education in Cambodia. I replied to her discussion post and gave her the title of a Ted Talk that I thought she would enjoy. I also shared the link to the Ted Radio Hour podcast where the student could hear the specific lecture, and posted the link on Twitter using a hashtag followed by the course number. The student was so grateful for my interest in her work and for giving her additional resources for her work in international development.
Modeling Social Presence in the Discussions
Like emails, discussion board responses can be variously misinterpreted. Students cannot see your facial response when reading their work, so consider alternate ways to show your enthusiasm. Students will appreciate what Zambrano (2016) calls “socially present feedback,” and you may find that your feedback will influence their participation in the discussion boards, too. “When professors find ways to offer similar expressions of interest online, students often follow suit in their interactions with one another. This is one way of modeling social presence, which research has shown to be a key factor in student motivation and engagement” (Zambrano, 2016, para. 7).
Let’s look at an example of response lacking social presence:
This material is really interesting. I was unaware of the connection between income level and childhood obesity. According to your research, which initiatives promised the most success for curbing this epidemic?
Now let’s look at an example of a discussion forum post using social presence:
Wow! Although I had not thought of it before, the connection between income level and childhood obesity totally makes sense. I really appreciated the way you outlined this position by citing data on the prevalence of fast food restaurants/convenience stores as well as the lack of recreational facilities in specific zip codes. The discussion you cited on neuroscience and the impact poverty has on food consumption was also fascinating.
Have you ever heard of Dr. Robert Lustig? He is a pediatric oncologist, author, and the board president of the Institute for Responsible Nutrition. (You can follow him on Twitter – @RobertLustigMD.) Dr. Lustig’s You Tube videos on childhood obesity and sugar have gone absolutely viral. (I know several people who were captivated by his 90-minute video called “Sugar: The Bitter Truth!”)
Ok, back to your research. Have any healthy initiatives shown success in lower-income neighborhoods? Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative immediately comes to mind. Are there things you think you could to do help communities in need?
It is easy to see which response students would prefer.
Do students ever ignore instructions? If so, Zambrano (2016) recommends augmenting instructions with a funny video or animation. She suggests using Moovly or GoAnimate, and I found both to be really user friendly. When creating humorous additions to instructions, note that students may get more out of hearing what not to do. For example, create a video of how not to participate in a discussion forum. Or a funny list of items to leave out of a final research paper. Such a list could include personal pronouns, heaps of direct quotes, creative bullet points, family anecdotes, pictures from a recent vacation, and charcoal sketches. You may find that everyone tunes in for instructions if you have a little fun with it.
Happy New Year!
Here’s wishing you engaged students and thoughtful discussions in 2017. Thank you for reading and I look forward to working with you all in the coming year!
Cassidy, A. (2016, November 25). How can I use icebreakers to connect with students?. [Webinar]. In Magna 20-Minute Mentors. Retrieved from http://www.magnapubs.com/mentor-commons/?video=3161
Zambrano, R. (2016, December). Online course activities to increase student engagement. Online Classroom. Retrieved December 12, 2016 from http://www.magnapubs.com/newsletter/online-classroom/154/Online-Course-Activities-to-Increase-Student-Engagement-14307-1.html