Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Engaging Students: Presentations and Tools

We've all been students at one time or another. For educators, it means that we have spent many hours as students ourselves. Remember how boring some of your instructors/profs were and how much you dreaded going to some classes? How about the teachers who made the subject matter so interesting that you didn't want to miss a single class?

Now fast forward to the present. You are now a subject matter expert and charged with teaching your students what you know. So, what are your lectures like? Are they boring monologues and information dumps like the classes you disliked or are you using techniques to increase interest and engagement in and out of your classes?

In today's do more with less atmosphere in academia changing or enhancing your instructional techniques can seem challenging. Here are some simple tips and tools to use to increase student engagement.

Good: Show & tell. You can add interest and explanation by adding images/video to your presentations. Research shows that paring verbal with visual enhances the assimilation and retention of content.

Better: Show & Tell + Discuss. One method that might work well for you is to assign a reading or multimedia viewing (it could be your lecture) before class, then spend the class discussing and answering questions. You become the facilitator and must be comfortable with talking less and listening more.

Best: Show & Tell + Discuss + Social Media. If you lecture in class and there is not enough time for discussion a phenomena called backnoise occurs. That's when students begin whispering/passing notes or texting one another with questions and comments like: "I don't understand...", "What did she say?", "This makes no sense!", "Is the test this week"....etc. You can leverage and channel this backnoise to your advantage by using a number of tools and techniques presented next.

1. Make the important concepts Tweetable. Keep these Tweetbites simple and clear so they can be Re-Tweeted. If you are using presentation software like Microsoft PowerPoint or Keynote add these bites to your slides. You can also get plug-ins like Slide Tweet for PowerPoint and Keynote Tweet for of course Keynote. Using these tools you can see and react to your students tweets in real time, either as a refreshable comment page, embedded in your presentation or as a ticker. You can choose to display the backnoise when you think it is important, like answering questions, or hide it so it won't be a distracting.

2. Capitalize on audience feedback and take advantage of the backnoise by embracing the use of social media. This can increase student engagement by allowing them to participate virtually during and after class. Students do not have to use Twitter, as TodaysMeet allows them to engage in realtime interaction. PollEverywhere can provide more student feedback too. Encouraging your students to use the real-time features of these applications can encourage comments, questions and important feedback to help you further enhance how you teach. In sum these tools can help you hone your presentations and meet student learning needs. You can add more explanations where there was confusion and remove what didn't work.

Universities like Purdue have created a custom social media add-in called Hotseat that instructors are using to increase engagement in and out of the classroom. Check out the video on YouTube.

Most students are familiar with and use social media everyday. Try leveraging these tools to take your students from anonomyous and passive to engaged and interactive.