Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Engagement in the Classroom

This post is the third in our new series dedicated to sharing SLATE member expertise on the same topic as our monthly meetings. Look for information below to get involved and write a post for us!
Angela Velez-Solic
Angela Velez-Solic

This month our guest author is Angela Velez-Solic, Associate Director for the Center for Innovation & Scholarship in Teaching and Learning at Indiana University Northwest. I have been a big fan of Angela's for some time, because she always has great insight into how to use technology to further rather than hinder teaching. This post is written to accompany our March 19, 2015 meeting about Engagement in the Classroom at Kendall College.

I have to be honest and admit that it’s been 14 years since I’ve sat in a seat, in a room with walls and a chalk board (we didn't have dry erase boards yet), with a person in front of the room who was called my Professor teaching me, or trying to.

It’s been 8 years since I stood in a classroom with walls and a dry erase board (times were nice) and taught a group of students who, for the most part, weren't completely distracted by their buzzing and dinging cell phones. However, I am still a teacher and a mother and while I am no longer in a walled classroom, I know full well how difficult it is to get someone focused and engaged in a culture of continuous electronic distraction.

What I am about to share are methods and resources that can be used in all types of learning environments. Some might be better suited for traditional classrooms while others might lend themselves better to online. But one of the best things that you can do for yourself as an educator is force yourself to think differently. Stop trying to fit teaching and learning into the ideal of what it used to be because it isn't, and never will be, and you can stomp your feet and mourn that if need be, but let it go and focus on the positive. Focus on how much fun engaged learning can be for you and your students.

Start low-tech

If you don’t know a tweet from a snapchat, perhaps you need to start slowly and get your students up and out of their desks and doing more in the classroom. Who said learning needs to be a transaction going from your mouth into their ears and their brains (ideally speaking, of course)? Here are some quick tips that don’t involve a lot of technology.
paper airplane
Start low-tech, like sending questions
to students on paper airplanes
(photo by Malachus on Flickr)
  • Use your Learning Management System! The more you put there for them, the less you have to do and give them in class. This frees up time to "do" more, talk less.
  • Before class break the class off into small groups. Put numbers on strips of paper for group numbers. As students walk in, hand numbers out randomly. Assign a topic from the lecture to the groups. Give them 15 minutes to come up with a 5-minute synopsis they teach to the class. Give out candy to the best group presentation.
  • If you can't give up your lecture, write questions (not really hard ones, but good ones) on paper and fold them into paper airplanes. Randomly fling them to unsuspecting students while you're talking. Have that student read the question and answer it or have the student pick someone to answer the question. If they can't answer it, they need to look up the answer, or have the class help them answer it.
  • Have a "stump the Prof" game. See if they can ask you something you can't answer.
  • When students walk in have them fill out slips of paper with questions they want to see answered, or things they want you to talk about. Pick slips of paper and that’s what you do.
  • Move the classroom around; sit on the floor, go outside, dress funny sometimes, wear crazy hats, randomly start talking in an accent
I know some of those are silly, but sometimes being silly will engage attention in a very positive way that leads to deeper learning.

  • Scrap those Power Points! Ok, I've claimed in the past to not be a PPT hater, but my behavior and language suggests otherwise. So, do something different. Consider using these instead: PowToon Slides (for face to face presenting), Animoto (not for presenting), PowToon (for online watching), SlideDog, Prezi (it's not difficult and doesn't have to make you motion sick) or Haiku Deck. If learning something new is intimidating, ask your Center for Teaching & Learning or Tech Center to offer a workshop on these.
  • Create Facebook groups for your classes. Get them interacting where they are EVERY DAY! Encourage them to post there and share.
Try a virtual field trip using Google Earth!
Try games, like Kahoot, which uses student mobile devices
 to check 
student understanding
  • Create a Twitter hashtag for your class. Have the students live tweet during class and have TweetDeck running on part of the screen so it’s a live feed of Twitter. Ask students to follow the hashtag and share resources. They can also ask questions that way.
  • Use Twitter and connect with industry professionals; invite them to live tweet during class time.
  • Use Skype or Google Hangouts and invite guest lecturers and have live Q&A with important people. I’ve been one of those "industry professionals" for a professor at Michigan State and it's very effective for students.
  • Play games during class. Try Kahoot, or Jeopardy! This is ideally for face to face classes because you can create a Jeopardy game or use one of theirs and display it to your class.
  • Use AnswerGarden to ask a question or brainstorm a topic and student answers show up in a word cloud format
Use AnswerGarden to brainstorm with students
  • Create polls during class. Use cell phones to have students reply using PollEverywhere
  • Create polls, quizzes, games, or questions to get real time feedback from students during class with Socrative
  • Have a backchannel open during class. Students can post comments, questions, ‘ah ha’ moments, etc., all easily moderated and archived by you through TodaysMeet

So those are some quick ideas I had - do you have your own suggestions for engaging students in the classroom, with or without technology? Share them in the comments!

Dr. Angela Velez-Solic is the Associate Director of the Center for Innovation & Scholarship in Teaching & Learning at Indiana University Northwest. She's been a college educator for 17 years, and has been teaching online since 2006. Training faculty members and K12 teachers to teach online and infuse technology in their teaching are her areas of expertise. Check out her recent book called Teaching Online Without Losing Your Mind on Amazon! Find her on LinkedIn, Twitter @JustCallMeAngVS, or check out her website:

Thank you to Angela for sharing her perspective!

Are you interested in or have experience with one of the upcoming topics for the monthly SLATE meetings? Want to write a guest post on our blog to share what you have learned about it? Email Stephanie Richter with your proposal to be considered for a guest post!