By Amy Erickson
Teaching and Entertaining
In the April edition of the Online Classroom newsletter, Dr. John Orlando brings up some excellent points about expectations surrounding instructors. In this article, he discusses an instructor who asserted that her role was not to entertain students; Orlando disagreed. He felt that instructors have an obligation to deliver engaging content. If that means that we change the way we deliver material, then so be it. It is simply not enough to say, “This is how I teach. Now everyone needs to adapt to me.” As a teacher, you are tasked to teach to everyone; not just the motivated students. Orlando goes on to offer five helpful strategies to further extend our classroom reach.
Many instructors cringe at the idea of teaching being equated to entertaining. They may think that being entertaining means being a stand-up comedian. Orlando is certainly not asking professors to run amok on stage or online. Instead, Orlando (2017) says we need to start by getting students’ attention. He proceeds to share a great example of doing just that by using the following story in his medical ethics class:
“I begin by describing my experience of sitting with a group of doctors in a medical ethics course. One of the doctors described to the teacher how death was determined at the hospital. The teacher responded with horror and started banging his hand on the table, stating that the hospital was not using the correct method and was declaring patients dead who were not dead. A stony silence followed. I tell my students that most doctors do not know the legal definition of death, and because of this, many people are declared dead in hospitals who are not dead.” (para. 6)
A story like that ought to pique their interest! Orlando (2017) also recommends watching Ted Talks to get ideas for engaging an audience. Think about how long it will take a student to tune out and log onto Facebook or Instagram and then plan accordingly.
Orlando (2017) reminds instructors to find ways to make the content significant to students. How can the information you are sharing serve them now or in the future? In the past year, we’ve seen a lot of material on alternative facts in the news. This sparks discussion about current events and how communicating with clarity and precision is incredibly important. Weaving current events into the course material is a great way to get and sustain student interest. Even a cursory glance at Yahoo will give you an idea of what your students are seeing in the way of news.
Concerns Around Learning
The third tip shared by Orlando (2017) involves showing concern for students’ learning experiences. This can be done by showing empathy when communicating with students. Excelsior College asks instructors to email every student regarding their classroom performance before Week 4 in an eight-week course and before Week 8 in a fifteen-week course. This is a great opportunity to show your concern if a student is not participating or if the student is submitting substandard work. Instructors can say something like:
Right now, you are at 80% in the class and I have really enjoyed your contributions in the discussion boards. In terms of the written assignments, I’m concerned that you are struggling with APA formatting. I really want you to master this skill, as you will be using it throughout your degree and likely into your graduate degree, too. Let’s make sure you get this down, so you can be ahead of the pack as you move forward! I’ve included some tips and tricks surrounding APA formatting here and some helpful websites, games, and PowerPoints for future reference. I’ve also included a brief video of me giving some of the reasoning behind APA formatting. I’ve found that students have an easier time with APA if they know the reasons behind the rules. Know that I am also here to help if additional questions come up. I check My Messages daily and am only a click away.
Clearly an instructor should reach out before Week 4 or Week 8 if a student is entirely absent from the course. Using the Last Accessed column in the grade book will allow you to keep tabs on students’ course access. A kind email to students who miss a few days in the classroom shows that you care about them and their academic success.
Orlando (2017) recommends letting students know if their insights, experience, or research has changed the way you think. That means a great deal to students and can encourage and inspire them beyond the classroom. Showing interest also means sharing relevant resources and ideas. I had one student last term who was studying the impact of creative arts on refugee assimilation. This student was eager to help make the assimilation process easier in her community. I introduced the student to a friend who owns a theater in the student’s community and said I would be happy to connect her with the owners of a school dedicated to production and recording. I also shared a link to a grant that may help this student get funding to make her dream a reality. Showing this kind of interest and encouraging students to put their research to use can make all the difference.
Keeping it Real
Finally, Orlando (2017) recommends telling students about yourself. This will help them feel connected to you and perhaps even enjoy the idea of your company. Maybe you have a funny story about how you got into teaching. Maybe you volunteer in your community. Maybe you were once an online student juggling family, work, and school. Maybe you are a first-generation college student. Let them get to know you, as that will draw them in, too. Best of luck to you!
Orlando, J. (2017, April). How to motivate online students. Online Classroom. Retrieved April 19, 2017 from http://www.magnapubs.com/newsletter/online-classroom/158/How-to-Motivate-Your-Online-Students-14450-1.html