Feature: Student Engagement Techniques

Thanks and admiration go out to Elizabeth  F. Barkley for taking the time to review the literature on motivation, active learning, and student engagement to such an extent that she was able to create a text that I believe is already a major classic for faculty in higher-education, Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty (2010).

A quick review of the section on Student Engagement Strategies (SETS) on a recent Sunday afternoon, resulted in my identifying sixteen useful strategies that I could implement right away in my classes, so I felt the time was very well spent. I’ll briefly explain how the book is organized and give a few examples of the tips and SETS she provides.

Each section of the book is organized so that you can hone in on any issue in your class and get practical ways to address it. Interestingly, she also has sections on stimulating creative thinking and fostering attitudes, values, and self-awareness – topics not often found in other texts.

The book is divided into three main sections:

  • Conceptual framework for understanding student engagement
  • 50 tips & strategies that build upon section one
  • 50 classroom tested learning activities that promote student engagement

In section one, I doubt whether you can find a more clearly written or concise overview of the areas of motivation, active learning, and engagement in another text.  It is a great review for anyone interested in these topics. Barkley moves our understanding forward by explaining how these three areas work together in the learning process.

Section two builds upon section one and provides tips and strategies in five main areas: fostering motivation, promoting active learning, building community, ensuring students are appropriately challenged, and promoting holistic learning.

Section three is organized around the kinds of learning goals you might have in your classes. Are you trying to promote knowledge building or recall, analysis and critical thinking, synthesis, problem solving skills, application of knowledge, certain attitudes and values, or self-awareness as learners? Simply find the goal of instruction and you’ll have 10 SETS at your fingertips.

Examples of Tips

  • Promoting motivation
    * promote student autonomy
    * re-build confidence
  • Promoting active learning
    * activate prior learning
    * limit and chunk info
    * give time for guided practice and feedback
  • Ensuring students are appropriately challenged
    * use scaffolding to provide assistance for complex learning
    * assess students’ starting points
    * monitor pacing

Examples of SETS

  • Promoting knowledge, skills, recall, & understanding
    *Focused reading notes – provide students with several key concepts or themes from the reading – students create a table and as they read (for homework), they fill in the table with examples for each theme or concept.
  • Analysis & Critical Thinking
    * Believers & Doubters - Students are broken up into teams – believers and doubters and discuss a reading or video clip from that role’s perspective. Teams fill in a T chart on the board with main points, then present findings to the class. The goal for the class is to: determine the author, purpose (sell, persuade, etc.) – look for illogical or misleading arguments
  • Application
    * Insights – Resources – Applications (IRAs) - students are given a reading assignment…As they come into the room for class, they have to fill in the table on the whiteboard with one I, R, or  A from the reading and be prepared to discuss their contribution…
  • Problem-solving
    * Think again! – instructors provide students with a statement that is a common misconception in the discipline. Take a poll who agrees/disagrees. Reveal the misconception and then provide an activity for student to explore the issue to figure out why the misconception exists.
  • Synthesis & Creative Thinking
    * Variations – students are given a existing product – they are challenged to change one part of it to create a variation on the original. This can be a story, a piece of music or art, an event in history, a machine, an equation, etc.
  • Attitudes and Values
    * Ethical Dilemmas – students are given an ethical dilemma with a given set of possible actions. Students choose the actions they most likely would do and submit the responses anonymously – can be electronically or hard copy. Instructors can then use the responses as a springboard for discussion about the choices and how students arrived at them – they can also help students to see possible alternatives. Students can discuss without having to “own” their answers.
  • Self-awareness as learners
    * Critical Incident Questionnaire (CIQs) – at regular intervals during the semester, student answer the same 5 questions related to their learning. They keep their original answers each time and look for patterns throughout the semester. This also gives the teacher valuable feedback throughout the semester to make better instructional decisions.

This book is a gem, and as soon as it comes out in paperback, it is going to become part of my permanent library. Look for a Conversation in Teaching session on the topic this fall where I will go into greater detail about the conceptual framework of the book and also give more examples of the tips and SETS.


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