I have always enjoyed teaching- even while growing up I often volunteered in coaching or tutoring roles- so in ways it is unsurprising that I now have a teacher-prominent role within academia. While I have always enjoyed teaching, since starting my full time position this year I have realised that I am also very passionate about being an effective teacher.
I want to become increasingly effective in educating university students, supervising research students, and researching in the area of higher education.
Therefore, I am often reflecting on what is currently working well for me, and lately I have been particularly focused on student engagement. Here are a few of my tips for increasing engagement in students.
- Make the content relevant- This is easier said than done, particularly in some topics. However, I have found trying to make the content relevant to everyday lives/modern society helps students relate. For example, when I teach introduction to psychology, much of the content is based upon old theories but I do my best to relate it to our current society. E.g. talking about how cognitive psychology researchers now focus heavily on virtual reality, or how early obedience studies could be a lens to use when looking at current political activity.
- Genuinely believe “that there are no stupid questions”- This is a cliche line that many educators use. “There are no stupid questions”, some also follow it up with “only lazy questions”. But not every educator actually believes this and the student’s will see right through you if you are ingenuine. I know it can be difficult, as sometimes answering the 70th question in a day is extremely exhausting, but try to never make the student feel small or silly for the questions they ask. I have had many teacher evaluations saying “Bri always happily answered my questions and never made me feel stupid”. This doesn’t mean you encourage laziness, if the question has been answered somewhere I refer the student there (but I still do this in a kind way).
- Remember that students are human– This may sound obvious, but when you have a large cohort (and in my case teach online), it is easy to think of students as names, or assessments, or emails that you need to answer. I actively remind myself that each name is a human, who has decided to study at university, and who is trusting me to provide them with an education. When I focus on this, I think I provide more genuine assistance and interactions which inturn, increases student engagement.
- Be open to talking about more than just the course content– I am not talking about sharing your deepest secrets or details about your personal life (although I do find that sharing some does make you seem more ‘human’), but in my experience I have found that students enjoy discussing more general topics also. For example, I am always happy to have a discussion with students about psychology more broadly, and about career opportunities. As many students are studying to get a career, these discussions can increase engagement.
- Don’t invent the wheel for the sake of it- Using different mediums (e.g. textbooks, articles, YouTube videos, activities) not only improves student learning, as you are providing different mediums, but it can also increase engagement. If you find a YouTube video that says something better than you can- why try to reinvent it?