“The More of Me I Put in My Classroom, the More My Students Engage”

I went to an amazing session at the Washington Canvas User’s Group conference (WACUG) right before spring quarter and I heard the MOST AMAZING statement from a faculty. They said, “I found that the more of me I put into my classroom, the more my students engage.” The context was that this was a session about adding video, audio and images to “enliven” your online classroom.

This statement completely blew me away.

Think about what that statement is actually saying.

Consider this. How hard is it to read from a book? Let’s assume there are no literacy issues or at least few enough that reading a book is not a great feat.

Now, ask yourself, how hard is it to teach?

There should be a huge difference between those two answers. People could just pick up a book or do a Google search if all they were looking for was information. People go to school and take lessons from teachers for a different reason. They want to understand. They need to engage with the material. How do you get people to engage? Even better, how do you get lots of different people with different learning styles, interests, and backgrounds to engage in material?

Ok, first off, if you can definitively answer this question, you will have solved a billion dollar question that schools of all grades from all over the world are already clamoring for.

Besides that, think about what engages you as a person. Most people would not say that listening to someone talk in a monotone voice for 50 minutes is engaging. According to this article from Smart Classroom Management, students get bored (aka not engaged) for  a variety of reasons. It lists students sitting too long, teachers talking too much, making simple things complex, and making the interesting uninteresting among others.

According to this guest blog post written by a student on the Teaching Channel blog and website, the difference between “lessons [that] go on forever [and lessons that] fly by…lies in the sometimes vague but crucial concept of engagement. When I am engaged, I don’t even pay attention to the passing time. However, when I am not engaged, it can feel like a class is never-ending.”

If students are just waiting for your class to end, they sure aren’t retaining anything you’ve been teaching, whether you’re teaching online hybrid or face-to-face.

Ok, so we know what has a tendancy to disengage students. Now, what DOES engage students? Is it simply the absence of the things that bore them or is it more? According to this article written by Vito Perrone, Director of Teacher Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education, among the top common elements that students of all ages and levels of academic success identify what engages them in educational settings is “teachers [being] passionate about their work.”

Well, that’s huge. First, and most important, ask yourself. “Am I passionate about what I’m doing? About what I’m teaching?” If the answer is no, then you may need to do some soul-searching as to what would make you passionate.

If the answer is yes, how do you translate that to the classroom? Well, that sounds like putting more of ourselves into our classrooms.

Here are some tips and suggestions on how you can start doing that.

1. People who are passionate are constantly learning more about and immersing themselves in what they’re passionate about.

  • Keep up with current trends in teaching your subject. Have there been new techniques, new theories, reinvented aspects?
  • Listen to and leverage your students. Because there’s only one of you and only so much time in a day, use your students to keep up on trends. Create assignments where they are the ones doing the research on new or reinvented ways of looking at issues in your field. A lot of times students can ask a question or think about a subject in a way that is surprising and a totally different way than we ever could have thought. Embrace that.

2. People who are passionate are excited about their content and can’t help but spill over that excitement to others.

  • Is it obvious when students log in to your online, hybrid, or web-enhanced class, or when they walk into your classroom what they’re going to be learning, why it’s important to them, and that you care a great deal about it?
    • In a face-to-face classroom, if you don’t have a designated class that you can decorate or arrange any way you please, bring props or important items to the classroom.
      • Check to see if you can store items in the class or nearby, or enlist help of students, aids, etc. to help you transport the items.
      • These items don’t have to be huge or complicated. Think about what’s important to your subject. Teach your students that it’s not just a warehouse they’re coming to and that the environment doesn’t matter.
      • Enlist help from your students on ideas as to how they could make the environment more engaging and exciting or what objects or tokens they or you could bring.
      • Don’t underestimate using an online environment to enhance your face-to-face classroom. Even if you’re doing work that you don’t want students to turn in online, you can use an online classroom to set up the environment you wish you had in your face-to-face classroom. Decorate it, provide supplementary materials, provide links to work done in class for student who missed or need to review material. Don’t just throw it in there. Design like you’re passionate about it.
    • Hybrid
      • First, check the tips from the face-to-face classroom above.
      • Absolutely use your online environment and don’t just throw things in there. You need to keep in mind form and functionality. Directions need to be clear, but students also want to be engaged. Give them a reason to engage. Use images, videos, audio files and design elements to get students excited about doing their work.
    • Completely Online
      • More than any other modality, you need to make sure your expectations and how to navigate your online classroom are COMPLETELY transparent. Students should not need outside help to understand how to navigate your classroom.
      • Don’t just throw your content in. Structure it in a way that not only makes sense to you, but elicit feedback from students and make sure the layout makes sense to them as well.
      • Design matters. After you’ve made sure your content is completely functional, don’t stop there. Students in online classes are more likely to feel disconnected and disengaged from their courses, instructors and peers. Designing excitement and passion into your online classroom is EXTREMELY important. Use general design principles, videos, presentations, audio, and images to create a dynamic, exciting and engaging environment. The goal is for students to WANT to log in to the classroom, not do it because they have to.

3. People who are passionate aren’t afraid to show their weird or quirky sides.

  • Use videos.
    • YouTube, Vimeo or other videos to demonstrate a concept in class.
    • Video of the lecture for students to review later or if they missed class. If you’re in an online class, students widely report that having “a real person” on the other end of the computer really helps them engage.
    • Funny videos that punctuate a point or (appropriately) lighten a mood or show a commanality between you and your students.
    • Create and edit your own videos.
  • Use presentations.
  • Use personal anecdotes.
    • Just like comdiens, the material is more engaging to the audience when it comes from a real place.
    • Talk about your own struggles with or ways you learned the material.
    • Bring up funny stories in your life that help convey your point.
  • Use audio files.
    • Audio lecture
    • Audio file of content – an example would be a radio broadcast
    • Audio clip from movie or tv (or elsewhere) to punctuate a point or (appropriately lighten a mood or show a commanality between you and your students.
  • Use images, GIFs, or quotes.
    • To demonstrate a concept
    • To decorate and make the classroom more engaging/exciting
    • To punctuate a point or (appropriately lighten a mood or show a commanality between you and your students.

4. People who are passionate aren’t afraid to do the work to make it right, or do the research to make it accurate, or ask for help if there’s something they need.

Try not to get overwhelmed and ask for help and feedback.

If you would like help or more information on any of these tools or topics, just let us know. We’d be happy to help.

Happy Teaching!





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