Staying focused is an ongoing struggle for any student. Yes, any student—even those most motivated and talented rising stars.
From childhood, we’re told that the education is preparation for so-called real life. But everyone knows that life isn’t limited to class content. Life is also a tornado of competing priorities of family, friends, fun, health, jobs, and of course, those digital devices lighting up with new notifications about it all.
Great works of Western civilization, reaction mechanisms, differential equations. On their own, these human triumphs are no match for the likes of Instagram (and for getting likes, for that matter).
Higher education today lives at the crossroads of different worlds. Most universities aspire to uphold certain Scholastic traditions born in the Middle Ages. For the ideal path to knowledge, a young person leaves everything behind and dives into study. The environment is insulated, nearly monastic. Think of any but the urbanest of campus settings. Typically it’s enclosed like a castle, featuring a grand gate. The idea is for a student to hide away from society in order to prepare for it.
A couple hundred years ago, this model worked perfectly. Universities trained elite students to become scholars who then moved up the ranks of the academy. Monastic-style study worked well because the pursuit of learning did not compete with streaming videos, social media, parties, internships, driving for Uber, and of course, figuring out what happens after graduation.
As a professor today, you’re doing double duty. You, too, may be teaching Plato and Aristotle, but not only to future scholars like yourself. You are also teaching app developers, accountants, nurses who have other priorities and may not share a passion for your field. Many of your students are in danger of losing interest from Day One. But don’t despair, there really are ways to engage even the most resistant minds!
Modern life has perhaps added some challenges to the pursuit of study, but modern neurological research has answered with ways to make classes more engaging.
For example, connect the reading material to a story in the news or a popular TV show. New information has a way of adhering to knowledge that is already present in the brain. When the content builds on things students know, it is more likely to remain in their long-term memory. Rote memorization or dry theories are made for cramming for the exam and immediately forgetting.
Shift gears every 20 minutes or so. Lectures, slides, discussion, video. The mind can focus 15 to 20 minutes, even when interest level is relatively high. Get the most mileage out of your lecture period by surfing the mind’s waves of attention.
Stress can make a sharp mind go blank. Leverage small groups online chats for those students who shrivel at the idea of presentations and debates.
Having students practice taking an active role in the class is an important way to help them internalize the material and, in turn, become lifelong learners after graduation. Thanks to online communication tools, there are ways for students of every learning style to take ownership of their education.
At the beginning of the course you can break the ice with a Beginning of the Year Student Questionnaire. You can ask students to respond by the first or second class meeting and report back on the trends revealed by the responses. Showing how much you value student satisfaction is one more way to foster student engagement. Use a Stress Management Questionnaire to fight burnouts and determine the factors that feed student anxiety.
Sometimes students are clearly engaged during class time, while between meetings your course falls out of sight and out of mind. That’s especially true for classes that involve a big projects or exams instead of daily or weekly assignments. Try some history quizzes or online geography drills to keep the lessons from fading into, well, history.
The professor doesn’t have to be the only one leveraging online tools for learning. Have your students craft their own online questionnaires or surveys regarding the issues being discussed in the course material. They can poll their classmates, or even try to get worldwide feedback via Twitter.
Good Old Email
Sending out a little bulletin midway between classes can be a great way to nudge your students forward. The email could include a little recap of the previous class plus some hints about the current assignment. Your own engagement is linked to that of your students!
Collaborate and Learn Online
How about #hashtaging for your course? See if that makes the discussion come alive on Twitter throughout the week! Got a lot of commuter or long-distance students? Meet up in Google Hangouts! Want to limit discussion to just your students? Do it in style on Padlet, which is also a great place store your syllabus and other materials to reduce printing.
The current millennium is a challenging place to go to school. Tech distractions, relationship issues, and uncertain futures take a big bite out of your students’ attention. Just remember that the same modern-day factors that make engagement difficult are where you can look to find innovative ways to re-engage your students.
123FormBuilder is here to help you engage your students with powerful online forms and surveys. Use any of our available templates to create the form or survey you need. Get the best out of your students through modern ways. Happy form building!