Tips To Increase Student Engagement
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Creative Strategies For Student Engagement

My first semester of teaching Public Speaking taught me that student engagement with the course material is essential. The link between student communication and engagement is authenticity, which is possible through being open to students’ contributions, telling stories, incorporating visual media, and being personable. An instructor can transfer all this to online instruction as explained in my "Teaching My First Online Course" article. Anxiety and fear disappeared because my Public Speaking students wanted to see my human side: my passions, goals, and enthusiasm for learning. A gradual development of connection where my authentic self shined.

Be Personable

A personable instructor involves a modicum of the ego because you have to focus on what you want to reveal about yourself. An instructor who focuses too much on themselves loses the main point about openness and connection with students. Students can feel when an instructor is self-centered. When I was an undergraduate student, I had many professors who would only talk about themselves or their own research. Students can be impressed by your academic record, but that can only go so far. I have learned that they want you to take an interest in them and make them feel validated. You should know how to talk about yourself, but find ways to make connections with your students. One student commented on how he enjoyed Jim Carrey’s speech at the Marashi Institute, which we watched to help break down the structure of a speech. I asked him if he was a fan of Jim Carrey and which movies he saw. The student had seen all of them and we bonded over our interest in comedy and film.

Be Open To Student Contributions

A student will open up when the class has sparked a strong interest. One of my students wanted to share a video of the poet Sarah Kay’s, "Dreaming Boy." I suggested that we watch it after the class and asked the rest of the students to stay. This student appreciated that I welcomed their class contribution. You need to encourage students to share in the classroom and welcome their ideas, such as this, and it will even help you grow as an instructor. You are exposing yourself to new ideas. When I was a student, I always wanted to share alternative examples connected to the course content. In my Media and Production course, I had shared Guy Maddin’s Heart of the World short film, and my professor pointed out how we can learn from this example. My ideas were validated, and it confirmed that I was understanding the course objectives.

From my past experiences as a student and instructor, I have noticed proactive discussion is not common in the classroom. A lot of factors create this, such as the personality types of students. Even if months have passed, there are a handful that won’t take a conversational initiative. If you have made yourself more personable and expressed openness yet still don’t receive the engagement that you desire, there are other alternatives to bring students in. One way to get students engaged is through storytelling.

Incorporate Stories

Storytelling is a traditional art form that remains popular today. I made my public speaking students participate in narrative speech exercises. This is also part of my online Communications course as students talk about themselves through video journals. One popular prompt was “tell me something that happened at work.” Most of my students had customer service jobs and were constantly talking about their experiences with horrible customers. I used this as an exercise for them to take from their own personal experiences and create a compelling story. Many students told stories about obnoxious customers. At the end of the exercise, I shared a story about my experience as a box office sales associate, and what I learned from helping customers that unsuspectedly bought scalped tickets. I figured out the best possible way to help their situation, and customers were gratefully appreciative. I reminded my students that there are as many grateful people as there are ungracious. I followed up with a question about any perceived commonalities between all their stories. I explained that they all share a human experience. Take from your personal life and create meaning from it. Storytelling is a beneficial addition to the classroom and teachers can be storytellers as well. I was able to effectively weave stories into lectures through the use of visual media.

Incorporate Visual Media

I would begin my lectures with pictures that encapsulate the main idea of the lecture and are easily receptive to students. When I was a graduate student, I came across Mark Johnson’s philosophical work on schemas, cognitive patterns of information. There is a connection between images and schema formation and how people retain information through continuous exposure to visual imagery as explained in The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding. I learned to use images at the beginning of the lecture to help situate the students into the current lesson plan.

When I taught persuasive speaking, I began with a collection of images that represented controversial issues. I asked students to express their first impressions of what they saw. The feedback was incredible because they were so ready to express their opinions and were all eager to communicate with each other. The main point is that a still image ignited some sort of response that they needed to express. Mark Johnson’s research explains how we have stored and organized patterns of information and this can be a pedagogical tool to help students become critical thinkers.

I would even use film clips at the end of my lectures as examples that represent the current lesson. Most of the film clips came from recognized and popular films or Ted Talks. When I taught my students about speech preparation, I incorporated Dr. Shauna Shapiro’s "The Power of Mindfulness." I thought it was a useful video to help students handle stress or anxiety with public speaking. The video presented a speech, and I instructed students to find commonalities between Dr. Shapiro’s speech on mindfulness and the textbook’s established preparation techniques within public speaking. Students expressed issues with anxiety and found her video comforting. Some had heard of mindfulness before, but this video sparked their interest in exploring this practice. Videos intrigue students and help them retain information.

Students retain more when they search for connections between the video and the class lecture. Anyone can incorporate visuals but we need to encourage students to make comparisons back to the course material. Mark Johnson’s work comes into practice here, as students are building schemas through the incorporation of visual material and abstract ideas. This helps students remember information as they try to recall ideas connected to a visual source. Furthermore, this builds a classroom structure because lesson plans will always conclude with a video. All of which is the key to student engagement because the visuals are not intended for entertainment but for edification.

Conclusion

Students remain engaged if an instructor is personable, open to student contributions, incorporates stories, and incorporates visual media. All of these work together to create a transcendent learning experience for students. I look to my students to teach me what works for them as I keep myself open to their needs and how they communicate with me.

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