What role do I play in engaging students?

Promote active participation

Consider your role as promoting and supporting students’ active participation in learning and discovery. To this end:

  • Provide interesting sources of knowledge for students read and view.
  • Design engaging instructional activities.
  • Facilitate learning during in-class activities.
  • Model expert thinking by describing your logic.
  • Provide feedback on newly formed understandings.

Teach students about metacognition

Students with good metacognition, knowledge about what makes thinking purposeful and productive, tend to perform better in meeting learning goals. Most students have never heard of this term, but once they are taught about metacognition, opportunities open for better study habits, more active and purposeful participation in courses, and, ultimately, deeper learning. To this end:

  • Consider using time on the first day or first week of class to discuss metacognition with students.
  • Define metacognition as knowledge about what makes thinking purposeful and productive.
  • Explain that students who attend to metacognition meet learning goals, improve grades, and retain knowledge longer because they have learned more purposefully and more deeply.
  • Make explicit your own thinking by talking aloud when you are sharing your analysis of a problem, your next line of code, or the subsequent problem-solving step; and encourage your students to narrate what they are thinking about moving from one point to the next.
  • Pause during regular instruction to model error-checking, providing students with examples of how many ways they can check their own understandings.
  • Survey students about their study strategies, and provide feedback on good and better examples.
  • Explain (or ask students to explain) appropriate strategies to use to meet the different learning goals in the course (e.g., they should use different strategies to prepare for a quiz on memorized definitions than they should use to prepare for an essay exam).
  • Point students to information about metacognition and proposed study cycles on the college’s Learning site.

Clarify expectations for learning

Make your expectations for learning clear, so that students know how to engage in the course.

  • Explain the purpose of assignments and activities in the course.
  • Provide clear assignment directions.
  • Provide segments of past good work as examples to help students understand your expectations.
  • Use grading rubrics that express the key elements and performance levels of an assignment.
  • Give constructive feedback on deliverables.
  • Offer practice items.
  • Schedule review sessions.
  • Talk with students about how best to study.

Question students’ notions of teaching and learning

Students tend to view teaching and learning as transactional. In their view:

  • Teachers impart knowledge.
  • Students receive, memorize, and restate what teachers have said.

If your ideas about teaching and learning differ from this common student view, engage your students in discussions about each role. Tell them how you will fulfill your role. Ask them about what they can do to more actively seek knowledge and to practice self-directed learning. See the module on metacognition for ideas. Help them understand that learning occurs when students engage meaningfully with materials that instructors design intentionally for learning and discovery.

Reflect on your success in engaging students

Instructors who find success in engaging students are open to learning.  This means reflecting on your teaching. Donald Schön writes about the importance of “reflective practice” in his book The Reflective Practitioner. He calls for two kinds of reflection:

  • Reflection-in-action occurs as you are in the midst of teaching.
  • Reflection-on-action occurs as you process student feedback and your own thoughts after teaching.

Being a reflective practitioner isn’t about being perfect. It’s about being responsive to feedback, self-evaluation and making improvements along the way. Implement active learning strategies. Learn about engaging students in online environments. Experiment in your courses, collect feedback along the way, and adapt as needed. An iterative and reflective mindset will help you to best fulfill your role in engaging students to learn.