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Sep-12th-2019

Six Essential Strategies to Keep Students Engaged in Class

2018-03-14-Class-with-raised-hands-1Are your students highly engaged in class, motivated, and performing to the best of their abilities? In a perfect classroom environment, every student would be engaged in the course, interested in the subjects, and performing to the very best of their capabilities. That’s what every educator hopes for when they start teaching a class.

The reality for most classes is that while some students may be highly engaged and self-motivated, other students will base their involvement upon what is experienced in the classroom and whether or not their expectations are being met. While addressing student engagement can be challenging for traditional classroom educators, it can be even more difficult for online educators who cannot see their students or meet with them for a scheduled class time.

At the start of a new online class educators typically find that students are involved in the class with mixed feelings of excitement, apprehension, and uncertainty. From the perspective of a student, remaining motivated and engaged in the class requires substantial effort. While many students are self-directed in nature, and have an ability to sustain their involvement, there are often others who lack self-motivation and begin to disengage over time. As many educators realize, by the time a student disengages from class it is often too late to get them back on track.

A challenge for instructors is that online class facilitation can take a significant amount of time. With a busy schedule it is natural to focus on contractual obligations and classroom management, and not notice a student who is slowly disengaging from the class until they are completely absent or have withdrawn. It becomes important then to take a proactive approach with online students and establish an instructional approach for helping them to stay focused and engaged in the class.

Defining the Concept of Student Engagement

When educators define the nature of student engagement it is usually done from a tangible (what is seen) perspective and this can be a subjective assessment. For example, if a student is posting participation online messages most every day of the week you might say they are highly engaged. The question is how active does a student have to be to meet these criteria? If they are posting messages on five days is that the same level of engagement as a student who is posting on six days? As a general guideline it can be assessed by how invested students appear to be in their class. This includes their involvement in discussions, asking questions, submitting assignments on time, and how responsive they are to other students and their instructor. If a student is going to be considered highly engaged in class, an instructor needs to observe several visual cues.

Why Does Student Engagement Matter?

Engagement matters because it indicates that students are involved in the class. When students are fully engaged, a distance education class begins to feel like a community. If students are not actively involved in their class, especially an online class, they can easily disengage, lose interest, and eventually withdraw. If the instructor doesn’t intervene, these students may drop the course and a continual pattern like this may also lead to disengagement from their degree program. Visual cues are important then because they are indicators of how involved students are in the process of learning. These cues include qualities such as their level of effort, along with their responsiveness to feedback, communication, and coaching.

Discover How to Measure Student Engagement

When visual cues are interpreted it is often done in a subjective manner, looking at more than a student’s tangible work product or written papers. The purpose of measuring engagement in the class is to raise an educator’s conscious awareness of students and keep track of their involvement. It is easy to become so busy managing class operations and discussions that students who are not present end up being overlooked when they are not actively present. For those instructors who are detail minded they can create a spreadsheet and track the progress of their students. Some learning management systems provide analytics that allow an instructor to check on the progress of students in the course. The purpose of doing this is to pay attention to your students and how they are progressing.

To assist educators with the process of prompting students’ engagement in class I have developed a model called ENGAGE.

Examine class conditions as it can be conducive to or discourage active involvement. For example, do you post announcements that include a preview or wrap-up of the subjects or concepts for the week? Do you provide additional resources? Do you provide several methods of contact so that students can easily reach you? All of these strategies can help to create conditions that are conducive to learning.

Notice students’ involvement and pay attention to their activities. If you wait until you provide feedback to determine who is active and who isn’t, that may be too late to intervene. If there are features built into the learning management system which allow you to track students and their access to the course, this can help you identify students who are disengaging. You can also check who has completed the learning activities by the due date and develop a list of students who are past due.

Gauge the expected level of activity for an average student to establish a standard. As an instructor you develop a feel for the online class over time. You have a general idea of how much activity in the online class is indicative of an actively engaged student. Take that knowledge to help you develop a basic model and checklist that you can use, either mentally or in written form, to help monitor how your students are progressing.

Assess students and look for visual cues as you monitor their progress. As you monitor the progress of your students, and you consider how active they are based upon your expectations of their involvement, also consider how well they are performing. For example, a student can check in with the class on occasion by posting a brief discussion response and still not be substantively involved. A student who seems to be just getting by is someone who requires your time and attention.

Gain students’ attention through some form of communication such as an email or a phone call if it appears they are not present or if they are disengaging from the class. It is important with an online class that you are proactively contacting your students any time you notice that they are struggling, not performing well, or they are not posting substantive contributions to the class discussions.

If you have developed a positive working relationship with your students, they may likely respond when you contact them by email. If you haven’t been able to establish that connection, a phone call could be a helpful approach to reach out and establish your willingness to assist them. One of the primary challenges for making phone calls is finding a time that both the instructor and their students are available, especially if they are in different time zones.

Engage in the class as students will follow your lead. As a faculty director, I have observed many online classes with students who were not actively engaged and it was a reflection of the level of engagement of their instructors. Students often develop a perception that their instructor doesn’t seem to care about the class if they do not appear to be actively present. However, even if an instructor is highly visible and engaged it doesn’t guarantee that students will also respond with that same level of involvement. What an active presence does is to encourage them to be engaged and involved.

Always Be Engaged in Your Class

For instructors, being highly engaged in an online class requires proactive effort and involvement. It is possible to catch struggling students before they are disengaged; however, it can be challenging because keeping track of students does take time. If you are allocating only enough time to complete the required facilitation tasks, you may find that isn’t adequate for taking time to contact students and conduct outreach.

One of the first steps you can take is to develop a standard of acceptable engagement for an average student. By developing this standard, you can observe patterns and reach out to your students as needed. Overall, it is necessary to establish a plan for conscious awareness of your students if you want to keep them involved. Student engagement in an online class is related to their involvement in the learning process, their retention in a degree program, and it is a contributing factor to their overall success.

As an instructor, you have a direct impact on how your students perform. Take the lead, show them how to be highly engaged, and demonstrate that you care when they are starting to disengage. It may take more of your time, but teaching and nurturing the development of your students will require time and effort on your part. While you may not see the immediate outcome of your efforts, if a student remains engaged in the course, you will have had a direct impact on their lifelong learning experience and this is likely why you became an educator to begin with – to make a positive contribution towards the academic growth and development of your students.

Jul-10th-2019

5 Methods of Energizing and Motivating Your Students

qq6gG7OAre your students performing their very best in your class and completing all learning activities on time? Do they always want to be involved in class discussions, eager to be part of the conversations, while demonstrating what they have learned from the assigned reading? Or do you have a typical mix of students, with some who excel, and other who struggle to stay motivated and involved in the class?

For a traditional class, student motivation can be observed. In contrast, online instructors must watch for a different set of cues and develop conditions within a learning management system which are conducive to learning. There is a belief among some educators it is not possible to help students that you cannot see, especially with a quality such as motivation which cannot be visually assessed in a virtual environment. But a student’s level of motivation will influence all aspects of their involvement, from their engagement in the class to their participation in discussions and completion of learning activities such as written assignments.

With the many demands made of an online instructor it is possible classroom management can become the primary focus and it consists of tasks such as participation, feedback, acquiring class materials, and developing class lectures or posts. It can then become fairly easy to miss a student who is gradually disengaging from class until it is too late. This includes spotting a student who is lacking a sense of self-motivation or does not know how to sustain it when they are feeling discouraged, frustrated, or challenged.

While students are expected to be self-directed by nature as adults, it doesn’t mean they are equipped to meet the many demands expected of them as a student. This is the reason why an instructor must be prepared to identify their needs and have motivational strategies ready to assist them.

Motivational Indicators

It is possible for an instructor to gauge the level of involvement of their students in a class by the number of times they have posted responses in the discussion threads and the perceived amount of effort that is put into their written assignments. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it is possible to accurately gauge how motivated the students are when an attempt of some kind is being made to complete their work.

The reason why is that motivation is an internalized state and challenges are acknowledged through statements such as “I’m not certain I can do this” or “this is too hard” or “this isn’t what I expected I would have to do” – anything that will result in a student deciding to give up, quit, or eventually withdraw from the class or their degree program. An instructor will know that this is happening if they have developed open communication with their students and as a result they are willing to share their frustrations and concerns.

Students Who Are Struggling

When students are struggling in their class it can be easy to first assume that they are not trying hard enough, they aren’t utilizing the feedback provided, they haven’t read the assigned materials, or any other number of possible reasons – without being able to pinpoint exactly what they are experiencing. At the beginning of class most students have the highest level of enthusiasm and a sense of hope about a new start, even if there is some anxiety or apprehension mixed in.

It is when a student attempts to participate in class that determines how long their excitement is sustained and there are many factors that can have a negative impact, including a lack of academic skills, feedback they do not accept or understand, a subject that is too difficult to comprehend or does not seem relevant to their lives, or receiving a grade they do not believe they should have earned. This causes an eventual decline in performance and one that may not be intentional or even consciously recognized until an instructor addresses it.

5 Methods of Energizing and Motivating Your Students

Instructors may not always know with certainty why students are struggling but at the heart of most issues is a willingness to keep trying and work on continued self-development, even when it requires them to acquire new knowledge or skills. What instructors can do is to develop a set of proactive instructional strategies that are encouraging in nature and supportive of students’ attempts and progress.

The following five methods have been implemented in my own teaching practice and what I have helped to coach online faculty with through my work with faculty development.

#1. Build Productive Relationships. While this should go without saying for any class, whether it is a traditional or online class, relationships with students always matters. It can have a direct impact on their ability to feel comfortable asking for assistance when needed and that can alert the instructor to potential problems. But developing this type of relationship in a virtual environment isn’t easy and a class that lasts only a few weeks can make it even more difficult.

How a relationship begins is with the attitude an instructor holds and it continues with an ongoing intent to be helpful and approachable. Students must know that their instructors care about them.

#2. Carefully Manage Your Communication. All forms of communication that instructors have with their students matter and must be cultivated with care that the intent of message is clearly made and the tone is not likely to be perceived in a negative manner.

When responding to a student, whether by email or a post in the classroom, it should not be done hastily or when an emotional reaction is felt. The reason why this is so important is that a negative interaction can be de-motivating to a student and a series of these types of interactions can cause a student to disengage from the class.

#3. Be Present, Available, and Accessible. If students are to stay engaged in the class and perform to the very best of their abilities they need to know that their instructor is readily available to assist them whenever they need help. This doesn’t mean an instructor has to be on call at all times or answer questions as soon as they are posted; however, there needs to be an established pattern that students can rely upon.

I’ve found it helpful to have multiple methods of contact that includes email, instant messaging, weekly office hours, sharing my phone number for times when students need immediate assistance, and posting a questions thread in the classroom. This allows me to develop connections with students and it can be very motivating for them to know I am accessible.

#4. Help Make Certain that Students are Adequately Prepared. I’ve found that academic under-preparedness can be extremely detrimental to the mindset that new students hold as they attempt to navigate the course and the requirements they are expected to complete. Even as established students make progress through their degree program they may still struggle with areas of development that can create a mental barrier and ultimately lead to a sense of defeat if they do not receive assistance.

What I’ve done is to share resources that address students’ specific developmental needs in the feedback provided and if I find sources that may benefit the entire class, I’ll share it in a separate classroom post. I’ve found that the more students feel equipped to complete their tasks, the more confident they will be as they make an attempt to do so.

#5. Develop and Use Proactive Outreach Strategies. It is imperative that an instructor always be aware of the classroom conditions and more importantly that they are aware of students who are not actively involved and present in class. It may be helpful to establish a mental baseline for expected performance and over time an experienced instructor develops an instinct for student engagement.

A discussion thread is one way to gauge if students are disengaging from the class. When I discover a student who isn’t posting messages or they are continuing to struggle with their written assignments, I’ll make outreach attempts. First I’ll send an email and try to engage them and if that isn’t successful I’ll make a phone call so that the student doesn’t completely disengage from class. I’ve learned that a personalized approach will go a long ways towards helping students sustain their self-motivation.

Sources of Motivation

Most research about motivation points to the sources of motivation, both internal and external. This means that students may be motivated by a sense of accomplishment (internalized) or a grade (externalized). With a limited amount of time available to get to know students for a typical online class, instructors may never know exactly what the source of motivation is for every student or be able to develop techniques to meet their individual needs, especially when classroom management and instructional duties require a significant investment of time.

What instructors can do is to address self-motivation as a driving factor for student success and use the methods provided above to help students feel self-confident, rather than become easily discouraged and willing to give up. When instructors bridge the distance gap and connect with their students, they will notice the results in the effort they make and the performance level they maintain throughout the class. When students believe someone cares about their progress, and is willing to support them as they make an attempt to complete the class requirements, an increase in self-motivation is likely to likely to occur. You have an opportunity to be that someone for your students and what it takes is showing an interest in your students and being aware of their involvement in class. Your interest in students not only can energize their involvement in class, it can transform and energize your involvement as well.

Dr. Johnson specializes in distance learning, adult education, faculty development, online teaching, career management, and career development. Dr. J has a Ph.D. in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement, and a Master of Business Administration, MBA.

Feb-9th-2019

Investing in Your Child’s Education – It’s Cheaper Than You Think

lead_720_405Investing in your child’s education doesn’t always mean starting a college tuition fund or opening a CD in the name of your 10- year-old in hopes it will multiply before they get their college acceptance letter. There are ways other than financial help that may be more beneficial for your child’s education and they will not break your bank account. The following five suggestions may very well give a higher return on your child’s educational investment, especially if they are established early in his education career:

First: Homework. There are varying opinions among teachers regarding how much and what type of homework to provide. However, most teachers do agree that when a parent is involved in some way in the completion of a student’s homework, that student has a greater chance of success. Whether or not a child has someone help with their homework each night is a huge indication of whether they will understand the material. The fact is simple: even the best teachers must teach an entire group of students at a time while a parent can work one-on-one with the child. This is a very important factor. Teachers will jump through hoops just to arrange a few minutes a day to teach a smaller group of students. Student learning increases dramatically when teachers have a smaller number of students, therefore, the more one on one time that you have with your child at home, the more your child will learn. Every minute you can take to read or practice or review with them one-on-one will do wonders for their education.

Second: Respecting and Supporting your child’s teacher.. When I was growing up parents and teachers were on the same page. Somehow this has changed where the student and the parents are often opposing the teacher. This has horrible repercussions for the child’s ability to learn. Working together always works better than working individually. If a parent slips a word of disrespect or disapproval at the dinner table the night before, a student is far more likely to discredit much of what the teacher says the following day. By openly showing that you don’t support the teacher’s decisions you are teaching your child that it is fine for them to do the same thing in the classroom. If a student does not respect his or her teacher learning becomes far more difficult.

Third: Use technology wisely. Technology plays an increasingly important role in education today. However, it can also be a huge distraction. Set priorities and rules for technology in your home. This may seem like common sense but common sense is not always so commonly realized, and technology is having a negative effect on the education of many students. For example, spending hours and hours on a gaming system before starting homework late at night makes homework much less effective. Children are less engaged in homework and the completion of it becomes a battle with parents as opposed to a learning routine that is established early in the evening. On the positive side, teach your child how to use technology to enrich and improve their learning by using online resources and materials.

Fourth: Get involved in the classroom. This tip is mostly directed towards parents of elementary-aged children. Many teachers appreciate parent volunteers. Time spent in your child’s classroom is invaluable! It will help you better understand events and situations that occur in your child’s classroom and life. It will help you understand different procedures and systems in the environment where they spend most of their day so that you can better help them with any problems that arise socially or academically. It also helps show your child that you value their learning and take time when you can to support them and their teacher.

Fifth: Communicate with the teacher. This is an under-utilized tool in education. Parents and teachers are both working for the same goal to help the same child learn. Communication is essential! Teachers could use your advice about how to help your child when they are struggling with something going on at home. Similarly, parents could use a teachers help when students are struggling academically. When parents and teachers work as a team the child can feel the network of support around him or her and both adults’ workloads are lightened. When you communicate a teacher knows you are involved and appreciate and respect the work they do for your child. They will include you on more information when they know you are interested. Communication is essential for parents and teachers to work as a team to help the child succeed.

If you can establish these five basic principles in your child’s experience early, then their chances of a higher education will increase significantly before they even start thinking of college. No matter how large a child’s college fund may be, if they do not have a foundation of respect and value for education, it will be much harder for them to succeed.

Emily Perkes is a Mother to three young children, First Grade Teacher, and enjoys helping her husband run their outdoor store from their home.

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