Engaging Our Learners: Tips, Tools, and Strategies
Author: Sean Smith, Nicholas Hoekstra
Today’s blog about tips, tools, and strategies for enhancing engagement in the classroom is based on the following video produced by Professor Sean Smith of the Department of Special Education, University of Kansas.
Whether your class is presented in a hybrid format, fully online, or face-to-face with social distance, engagement is still an important factor to keep in mind. The framework of Universal Design for Learning, combined with right technology tools, can support us in making sure our students are fully present, wherever they might be. Engagement isn’t only about the teacher’s efforts, though. It’s also about supporting students, be they elementary or graduates, to take control over their own learning. Check the UDL Guidelines for specific guidance on designing engaging learning environments.
A great way to promote student engagement is by giving learners the opportunity to work together. Whether it be in the classroom or online, a number of tools can make collaboration a breeze.
One tool that can help promote collaboration while offering guided support is Google slides. Slides are a flexible tool that students can use to build multimedia presentations with video and text. At the same time, teachers can use slides to create project templates that support students with comments and examples. It’s as though you’re right there with your students! Until they delete your video and make their own, that is.
Another tool that was designed with collaboration in mind is digital whiteboards. For example, Google Jamboardallows students to work together, synchronously or asynchronously, with images, text, and video. With Jamboard, students can connect from a smartphone or tablet and sketch, draw or write their ideas in a collaborative space.
Another digital workspace is Padlet, where students can post notes, videos or even audio files, then rearrange them into whatever order that best suits their project. Even better, teachers can drop in to leave comments, suggestions, or just to watch.
Create a Schedule for Engagement
In creating a schedule, we not only create a structure for our class but also help reduce stress and increase engagement by giving students a pathway to follow. This way, students know what is expected of them, when it is expected of them, and allows them to plan accordingly.
A number of learning management systems (LMS), such as Google Classroom and Canvas, offer a myriad of features to support learners. In particular, the calendar and scheduling features of many LMS provide a great place to list upcoming projects and deadlines and allow students to personalize their own notifications, add tasks, and make note of important scheduled meetings or sessions. Not only can features of LMS help students engage with their courses by helping them plan for the future, students can also see all that they have accomplished: another great way to increase engagement.
Of course, one of the best ways to promote engagement with students is through frequent positive reinforcement. How do we reinforce students who might be online or in a hybrid setting?
Again, many features of our LMS come to the rescue. For example, formative assessments with
- Automatic scoring,
- Checkmarks for completion, and
- Links back to related information
All provide immediate feedback, confirmation of a job well done, or simply a note to say the student is on the right track.
No matter where your students might be, it’s important that they feel a part of the class. UDL, combined with the right technology and tools, can help students get interested in any course. The goal here is not to do all the work of engaging your students, but to provide students with the tools and resources that will help them take control of their own learning. We might build the bicycle; but it’s up to our students to do the pedaling.