As time went on, I subtly tried to encourage Michael to continue his drawings and to share them with me. We had several conversations after class about what he found interesting – always with a focus on connecting what we were learning inclass to issues and events that were important to him. By the end of the year, he would regularly share some of his drawings with the rest of the class. He once even gave a mini lecture on a topic he was particularly interested in. What was the difference? He became engaged in the learning process. I was able to tap into his interests and encourage him to make the learning relevant.
As discussed in the initial post in the series, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) provides a framework to help educators consider ways to engage diverse learners with course content and experiences. The UDL Center offers three principles to accomplish this challenging approach: provide multiple means of representation, multiple means of action and expression, and multiple means of engagement. In the last two posts in the series, I explored principle 1 and principle 2. In this post, we tackle the final principle – multiple means of engagement.
Increasing student engagement
The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) outlines three strategies for educators to use to provide multiple means of engagement:
- provide options for recruiting interest, including optimizing individual choice and autonomy, optimizing relevance, value and authenticity, and minimizing threats and distractions
- provide options for sustaining effort and persistence, including varying the demands and resources to optimize challenge while fostering collaboration and communication
- provide options for self-regulation, including helping students to self-assess, reflect on their work, and develop personal coping skills and strategies
5 strategies to provide multiple means of action and expression
- Connect course topics with bigger ideas
At times, we don’t explicate how specific course topics connect with bigger ideas. This prevents students from seeing the forest for the trees – and may present a barrier to the students engaging in the topic. If we can tie topics to the big ideas, controversies, challenges, and impact areas of our discipline, students will be more likely to buy in.
- Create ties between the course and the real world
Similar to the first point, students aren’t always able to see how course topics connect to the real world. Through explicit connections to real world issues and concerns, and more importantly, when we ask students to make these connections in their assignments and projects, they are drawn in to the experience. Problem-based learning, case studies, and service learning experiences are all powerful pedagogical strategies to bring this to life in and outside the classroom.
- Increase course relevance through student choice
It is easier to invest in and expend more effort in learning when the learning is personally relevant. The more that we can provide students with choice in their learning, the more engaged they will become. Through choices related to research topics, tools to organize and share their understanding, and the process in which they complete their work, students will find the course more relevant.
- Leverage self- and peer-assessment
Not only is self-regulation a key 21st century skill, it can help students to engage with and improve their learning. When students are prompted in structured ways (e.g., using a rubric) to assess their own work, they can begin to identify and work on their weaknesses and capitalize on their strengths. When you add in peer-assessment to the mix, students can be motivated to an even greater extent.
- Consider badges in your courses to increase active participation
The gamification of higher education is a controversial idea, but one worth exploring in my opinion. The idea of creating and recognizing achievements in a course or program through digital badges or some other form of recognition can be highly motivating for students. This approach draws on our students’ interests and motivation outside of school to increase engagement and motivation in learning. While challenging to implement, this approach can help students sustain effort and persistence over time.
While engagement is clearly important, the specific strategies can be harder to put your arms around. These guidelines from the UDL framework can help to provide some concrete directions to draw more of the “Michael’s” of the world into the learning experience.
How do you try to draw students into the learning experience in your courses?
Please post your comments below.