Day 18: Keeping Students Engaged

2 10 2009

Today, a Friday, is a project day, the last one before the students do their ‘loan review’ and request $500 actual cash from the college for their project. Some are excited, a few are terrified. We spend attendance time trying to revert to an old-school method: a seating chart. I am reminded that students are often not intuitive enough to look at the chart and know where they sit. Of the 6 pages I pass out, 5 come back. I remember why I don’t take roll in my senior class (but I’m still convinced I need to track it in this one). One of my budding inventors has a proposal for me: bar codes, which can be read very quickly and easily. I’ll look into it.

Next Monday will be a big connected learning day. I’ve submitted a proposal to a conference in March to present my preliminary findings. One major question: do students really prefer the electronic format for quizzes, or do they just prefer the instant feedback?

This is one of those cases where a quick read of the survey data supports my guess, but it is critical to explore whether their reason is really what it seems to be. I’ll have to explore that one soon. When data shows just what you hope it will show, it’s very easy to just assume the reason is what you expected. We’ll see.

An observation. I do not know of any practical barometer which lets a teacher, on a real-time basis, gauge the engagement of his students. Sure, we all know the warning signs: heavy eyelids, long pained sighs, the sound of a head gently smacking against the desk. But with responseware I have learned that I can actually measure, somewhat objectively, whether the students are still engaged or not. How? I just watch the number of responses to each question and assess the trend.

For example, in my class of 69 I expect to have 65 or more respond to the first question I offer. But 30 minutes in, what do I see? If I see 40 responding, I know that a third of them have reached the point where they don’t even care enough to vote; in contrast if I see 60 or more still hanging in, I know that they are at least, on some minimal level, still with me.

If I were really sharp, I could achieve additional things with these tools. For example, if I noticed participation drop sharply on one item, then return to its previous level later, I might conclude that this particular item was not particularly interesting to my class, and replace or revise it.

Alternatively, if I am an agile teacher and actively shaping my class delivery to fit my audience, an abysmal response on one item may tell me it’s time for a wake-up exercise, or perhaps something more outlandish. In some cases, it may be time to simply call it a day. Bottom line:  I can now gauge with unprecedented accuracy just how involved my students are. A personal response system gives the teacher an unprecedented level of feedback on how well his class is hanging with him. Once he has that info…it’s up to him to do something about it!

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