Three easy steps to build more student engagement

As regular readers know, I’ve been working on a collaborative project with a local school district for the last few semesters.  The project is in support of a Flipped Classroom initiative in the district and the students in my instructional technology class create learning objects that district teachers use for several classes.  While the project has been successful, I had a few student groups last semester that struggled to collaborate and communicate with each other and didn’t fully engage with the project.  This summer, I wanted to develop ways to foster more student engagement and came across “engagement theory” by Kearsley and Shneiderman (1997).  While usually applied to online and distance educational environments, the theory also can be applied to face-to-face learning environments as well.  Engagement, Kearsley and Shneiderman argue, comes from involving students actively in higher order cognitive processes like creating, problem-solving, evaluating and decision making.  To be successful in these types of activities, students must be engaged in collaborative teams that make meaning of the content and apply the content to authentic situations through problem-based projects.  As I read more about engagement theory, it sounded perfectly connected to the type of activity in which my students were participating and gave me a good lens to examine some areas for growth.  Kearsley and Shneiderman proposed three components to help support student engagement:  Relate, Create and Donate.

1.  Relate.  Communication is critical for student engagement.  Students working in collaborative groups must interact with each other and plan, organize, debate and discuss relevant issues.  While learning is often viewed as a solitary process, in engagement theory, students learn by socially constructing their understand by relating and interacting with their peers.  In my classroom project this fall, I plan to stress the need for communication and collaboration and offer more avenues for students to interact with one another.

2.  Create.  For engagement to occur, Kearsly and Shneiderman argue, students must be involved in some authentic work where they create something that applies the content in a real-world context. This component was the main focus of my project.  My students were creating short instructional videos.  Without intentional support and attention to the other components, however, I saw that some groups floundered.

3.  Donate.  In engaged learning environments, students make contributions through their involvement.  I think this component has two interpretations that are meaningful to collaborative projects.  The authors intend that the project should have some outside focus where student efforts are donated to some larger context or issue.  The term, however, also implicitly communicates that individual students must contribute their effort, ideas and energy to the overall success of the project.  In my classroom project, I assess students’ individual contributions as well as the overall success of the group.  My hope was this would foster more individual responsibility and involvement.  By positioning the project in more altruistic terminology, some students may be more motivated to be involved and contribute their efforts to the project.

By communicating these collaborative components with my students, I hope to foster more engagement this semester and build more success with the classroom project.  Be sure to check back later in the semester for an update.


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