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Six Important Tips for Designing Student Engagement Activities

NextThought team — October 31, 2018

Learning Guide


Currently, there are a number of effective models circulating that show how easy it is to offer participatory, engaged learning experiences in our classes. These models utilize our innate desire to be creative – perhaps, our innate need to be creative – in ways that are fun, that stimulate thought, and that encourage learning.

Creative Learning Models

The Daily Try activity, part of the UdG Agora Project, provides a daily prompt and asks users to tweet their work to the community using a common hashtag. Today's hashtag is #agoratry82, and you can see my response there.

Two other recent, open engagement activities are the #blideo challenge and the

#blimage challenge. These challenges get people to send video clips and images to others and ask them, with no context, to create learning-related blog posts about them.

Of course, there's also the #StoryShop Twitter story challenge activity. This involves the announcement of a daily #StoryShop theme – or challenge – that requires participants to write a Twitter story that's then included in a Storify feed. Challenge 5 was the word "lead," and here is one of the submitted stories.

Adding to these examples of easy-to-create engaged learning experiences, I would also point to our recent Twitter chat on re-imagining learning in Higher Education. (Our simple instructions for the chat are here). Like the other activities, our Twitter chat is about creating simple prompts and providing clear and easy channels for sharing ideas.

Not surprisingly, instructors have used face-to-face analogs for decades before the advent of similar online activities. We've known about the value of engaged learning for quite some time. For example, as a writing activity prompt in composition classes in the late 1990's, I used to have my students buy disposable cameras, take all the pictures on the roll, and then swap cameras with another student (this was done through a random exchange exercise so students wouldn't know whose camera they might receive). Their assignment was to write a narrative using the pictures from their classmate's camera. This is very much along the lines of #blideo and #blimage.

Shared models for student engagement

The good news for everyone teaching today is that there are more shared models of student engagement and more tools for designing and creating great activities than ever before.

The good news for everyone teaching today is that there are more shared models of student engagement and more tools for designing and creating great activities than ever before. Any instructor in any discipline can create meaningful learning engagement activities to enhance student performance. And no one has to start from scratch!

There are, however, some important ideas to keep in mind as you design activities to foster student engagement.

Here are six tips to help you create successful engagement in your courses this term.

1) Modeling and teaching out loud are key.

Just because our students are regularly using digital tools to network in their personal and professional lives doesn't mean they know about models for engagement or formal models for networked learning. So it's important for us to provide those models and to discuss them explicitly. Part of our work is to help students understand the process of engagement and networking as it applies to learning. (see also -- /2015/07/teaching-engagement-by-teaching-out-loud)

2) Instructor participation is critical.

A big part of modeling engagement for students is for us, the instructors, to participate in these engagement activities. Yes, it's extra work but it's rewarding work. And it helps us develop our own networking skills. Promoting student engagement means adopting teaching models that are dynamic and open-ended. It requires us to stop looking at our courses as finished constructs and see them instead as living and evolving systems. I find it helps if I teach "out loud" and describe and discuss my processes and goals as I go along. Sure – sometimes my plans work out and sometimes they don't. And sometimes I have to evolve in the moment and when I do, I talk out loud about that as well.

3) Communities do not rise spontaneously from the primordial soup of learning.

Learning communities do not emerge spontaneously in our classes. We must help them form by identifying affinities between participants, and we must provide frameworks for communication and collaboration.

4) Find motivation in the real world.

We must make information less abstract if we want students to engage. We have to bring it into the real world where it becomes relevant for students. There they can connect with it and make it their own. (see also -- /2015/07/connecting-learners-to-the-real-world)

5) Low-stakes situations with many right answers are important.

We want students to engage and become part of powerful learning experiences, so we need to provide them with low-stakes entry points where participation is comfortable and presents little-to-no risk. We want to design activities where there are many right answers – or no immediate right answers – so participants will feel less threatened. Then they'll look forward to jumping in and giving it a go. This will assist them to gain an understanding of the importance of process, of becoming better learners.

6) Instructors must become custodians and curators of connections.

Finally, if we want to encourage student engagement through centrifugal or networked learning, we must realize that our role as instructors is to curate and facilitate network connections for students. This means helping them find affinities within their own class cohort and providing connections with past and future cohorts. It also means introducing them to information sources and to other networks of people in our related field. (see also -- /2015/06/custodians-of-connections)

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NextThought team
NextThought team

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