It's probably no surprise to you that one big headache for lecturers is how to engage students, particularly with increasing class sizes. That's what we heard from academics at Pearson's Conference this year.
Engagement is about motivation. John Keller's ARCS model defines motivation as Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction.
Does the learning grab attention? Does it stimulate curiosity or pose a problem?
Is it relevant to students? Does it build on what they know or can they see how it may apply to their world?
Does it build confidence? Are challenges at the right level, with feedback?
Does the learning satisfy students so they gain a sense of achievement or mastery?
Part of making content relevant is to make sure students learn what they need and that it's at the right level. Personalising learning to a student's individual needs is especially hard to do with huge class sizes, but adaptive technologies can make it possible. By capturing data, products are able to tailor subsequent content to learners' level as they progress. Students also grow in confidence as they see their own progress.
It was wonderful to hear from lecturers, like Dr. Catherine A Dobson (School of Engineering, University of Hull), about how technology helped her teaching. Growing numbers of students meant more demands on her time. She wanted her classes to be interactive, practical and relevant to her learners, but it become more difficult to find that time to prepare, or to be sure all the students were at the same level. What solved the problem was a homework and assessment tool, Pearson's MyLab. This gave students the practice they needed, and she could also check their progress. As she put it, this "freed up" time to focus on keeping her classes highly interactive and engaging, and creating the rich learning experience that her students value.
Motivation is at the heart of this:
Assigning tutorial problems weekly is a positive incentive to students, and instant access to students' progress is a good way for me to identify less motivated students.
Catherine Dobson, University of Hull
Social interaction motivates, too - we know students are engaged if they participate. We develop ideas through discussing and collaborating with others, and, as social animals, we enjoy it.
But how can a lecturer interact with students in large lecture groups?
We heard how technology helped teaching here as well, even in the traditional lecture with very large groups. With a tool called Learning Catalytics, students answer questions on their own devices. The lecturer's screen then displays the results, which helps the lecturer gauge students' comprehension, as well as adapt his or her response. Students can also pair up or work in groups to discuss the answers. So, in other words, the social collaboration helped promote more learning.
Thoughtful collaboration of technology and teaching does great things for student motivation. And sometimes it's fun, too.
- Diana Foster
More on Learning Catalytics, from Harvard Professor of Physics, Eric Mazur on YouTube: Catalysing learning using Learning Catalytics