It was so heart-warming to have everyone together in one room for the opening of our spring 2012 semester.  We spent our time exploring who our students are today and how to engage them more deeply in learning.  The standards-based education system out of which they come to us is creating students who seem more concerned about getting the right answer and less patient with the process of problem solving.   During the presentation, I asked you, “Who are our students?”  Here are a few of your responses:  

  • Students are not big risk takers
  • Academically, they study “the other” but not self
  • Uncomfortable with differing or conflicting viewpoints
  • Looking for relationships
  • Looking for connections with people in classes
  • Lack problem solving skills
  • Struggle with conflict resolution
  • Looking for or need “right” answer
  • Fear being judged
  • Negotiation skills are lacking
  • Lack creativity
  • Difficulty with moving from critical thinking to complex contextual/applied thinking

Here is a link to the presentation I gave.   When it opens, you will see an arrow in the lower middle of your screen.  To the right of the arrow is the word “more.”  If you hover your curser over “more,” you will be able to select a full screen view.

At the end of the presentation, we did some group work to answer the following question:

What are five things we can do this semester to motivate and engage our students more deeply in learning?

  1. Cooperative learning – groups of 4
  2. Questioning
  3. Encouraging students to share multiple perspectives.  Maybe even set up debates.
  4. Have student-lead discussions about current articles
  5. Professor explains his/her pedagogy and is explicit about why something it done.


  1. Theme: Give them power; put them in charge.  Community builders as a way for them to know each other enough to make mistakes.
  2. Co-facilitation -> Students take notes on reading.  Facilitator leads small group discussions.   Let the students teach the content (from textbook, from other sources…30 students can bring in multiple sources).
  3. Allow ourselves the flexibility to grab teachable moments when they happen.  Send email before class about a timely event and address this rather than what’s on the syllabus.
  4. Bring media that they consume into the classroom.  Homework centered on their lives (e.g., deconstruct a TV show, print ads, YouTube, video games).
  5. Freshman – walk through the college and share/show the feel of it.  What would that look like through their lens?
  1. Students make decisions in the class (e.g., project, reading assignments, due dates, etc) to promote ownership and responsibility.
  2. Individualize learning plan (i.e., students design a learning plan based on self-assessment and with guidance of instructors).
  3. Build relationships with students, develop trust – create a space for creativity and risk-taking.
  4. Build confidence – it’s ok to make mistakes; it’s ok not to have all the “right” answers immediately.
  5. Allow flexibility in presenting/demonstrating knowledge.
  1. Listen to the students: who they are, what they are interested in
  2. Activities that engage students physically (changing position in the classroom, having interactions among the students).
  3. Students construct assessment tool (e.g., rubric).
  4. Assignments that have a visual component (visual response – art piece, drawing of feelings/fears.
  5. Collaborative research
  6. Motivation – what brought them to the course? How can they become an agent of change?
  1. Ask the students what their hopes and fears are for the course.  Let them discover they are not alone.
  2. Present questions with more than one answer – the answers will show different perspectives.
  3. When a student asks a question that can’t be answered in class, assign the question to the class to be discussed the next time.
  4. Help students to get to know each other – don’t allow them to always sit in the same groups for class activities.  Make sure student sit in the first few rows if the class is large so they have a better sense of being a group.
  5. Use humor, be more open (professors are people too).
  1. More use of the Socratic method: ask questions, follow up with deeper questions, use PowerPoint only as a basis for discussion
  2. Explore who they are as people
  3. Use visualization and concrete analogies
  4. Discovery approach: Give a scenario and ask them to think about what they would do.
  5. Talk to students about how they learn and ask what you (the instructor) can do to help them learn.
  6. Capture students’ attention at an en emotional and personal level.
  7. Use a lot of concrete materials to help students make connections (drawing activities, personal white boards).
  8. Use humor – let students know who you are as a person.  

Thank you everyone for being so engaged during our time together.  Our community continues to strengthen as we increase our connections with each other.  I wish for you an exciting, engaging semester.