Working Harder to Create Student Engagement
Qatar University has a very rigorous faculty evaluation program. Once a year, we must upload a boat load of class-related data to a platform called Digital Measures. The grousing among faculty members during this "upload" week is extensive, me included.
As part of the process, we must submit a reflection on the past year -- something I enjoy. We also must submit a plan for professional development in the coming year. This year I promised to use the peer-evaluation process offered by OFID (Office of Faculty and Instructional Development).
Dr. Chris Stryker typically makes these class room visits and evaluations. Chris, an American with a long history at QU, was great in providing feedback, both in writing and in our conversation after class. I am thankful that most of the feedback was very positive. But he dinged me on creating student engagement. "Ask more, tell less!," as his evaluation notes say.
In the US, teaching Alternative Dispute Resolution with a curriculum I designed, I was able to create more active learning and student engagement in each class. Short lecture followed by an activity and then a de-briefing.
Here, I inherited a curriculum design, which I greatly appreciated. But, I have struggled with the first five weeks of the course in which we do a lot of what I call "content dump," mostly through long lectures.
I knew Chris was coming last week, so I suggested he attend the regular class or two different labs. I had two terrific active learning exercises planned for the labs -- the meeting with the partner and the client interview. But, the regular class was designed as another long lecture. I had my fingers crossed that he would choose one of the labs. Instead, he said he would attend the regular class because the labs met so late in the day.
I gave that long lecture on Sunday to my female class. I had low energy (the class meets from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.) and the room was hot. At the end of it, I told the students that it was the "most boring lecture I had ever given," and I would never give it again.
True to my promise, that evening I redesigned the class in anticipation of Chris' visit. Even so, he dinged me on student engagement. During our de-briefing he suggested several ways to change my techniques. Basically, he wanted me to provide less answers to questions. Instead, I needed to make the students work harder to answer the questions themselves.
He also suggested that I:
- Avoid one-on-one interactions.
- Activate student memory to increase engagement.
- Respond better to changes in student attentiveness. Consider using more breaks to "reset" attention.
- Avoid giving extensions of time on assignments.
- Let the male students debate and voice opinions. They love that.
- Rebroadcast answers by saying: "Salah, what do you think Hassan meant when he said . . . .?"
- Consider sitting down with students to create a circle of conversation.
- Create a phone use policy (and enforce it).
- Have students read and parse the slides.
- Specifically cue information students should include in their notes.
- Add drama and overplay my behavior.
- Make first hour of class more fast paced and energized.
- Use a more authoritarian approach with the male students who will take a mile, if given an inch.
- Use group work.
- End with a bang, not a whimper.
I am putting these suggestions here so I can refer to them easily in the future.
To implement a number of his suggestions, I need to be more selective about the topics we cover in class and the depth of coverage of each topic. I need to create more time for pure exploration on the part of students.
I find comfort in knowing that the coming weeks will be a lot more interesting for me and the students. The curriculum finally allows for that.
But, I am thankful Chris attended one of the classes I find most challenging. And, I have asked if I can see him teach. That may give me some more concrete examples of ways to foster more student engagement.