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TEI Launches with Presentation on Engaging Students

Submitted by on January 23, 2012 – 2:15 pmNo Comment

Erik Christensen talks about "50+ Ways of Enhancing Student Engagement in the Classroom and Online," the first program by SFCC's new Teaching Excellence Institute (TEI).

The college’s new Teaching Excellence Institute (TEI) launched Jan. 20 with a presentation by Erik Christensen on “50+ Ways of Enhancing Student Engagement in the Classroom and Online.”

The program lived up to its title, as Christensen threw out technique after technique that he uses to motivate his students and solicit feedback about their understanding of  course materials and the effectiveness of his teaching style. Although some of these techniques were gleaned from professors across the nation, most came from day-to-day trial-and-error or, as Christensen put it, “by throwing things out there and finding out what sticks.”

What doesn’t stick? Windy lectures and wordy PowerPoint presentations that stupefy students into a haze of complacency and disinterest. What does stick? Activities that balance lectures with interactive learning exercises, that clearly relate to the real world, and that foster relationships between students, their peers, and their instructor.

“Lecturing alone reinforces the negative views students have of the classroom,” Christensen emphasized. “Students resort to academic bulimia, and memorization is boring. They don’t want to be told. They want to be engaged.”

Even before the first day of class, instructors have golden opportunities for connecting with students.      Once students register for Christensen’s physics or astronomy classes, he emails them a copy of the syllabus along information about the textbook, how to contact him, and hyperlinks to other relevant material. “They are surprised when they get an email from a professor they haven’t met, telling them about the class,” Christensen said. “This is a personal touch, and it engages them.”
Those few minutes before the start of any class can be prime time for setting the tone and getting students in the mood to pay attention and participate. Simple icebreakers – like playing music students enjoy or showing a short, humorous video – can make students more inclined to participate in the day’s activities. Moving students out of their comfort zones – by rearranging the seating or pairing them with different partners from one class to the next – helps them build relationships with each other and stokes their desire to learn.
Once class begins, instructors can get down to the business of teaching by administering “pre-tests” – or short quizzes about material their students should have studied. This allows instructors to quickly zero in on the concepts students don’t understand instead of tediously rehashing what they have already grasped. Instead of delivering long, grinding lectures, Christensen recommends more give-and-take: like pausing every 10 minutes so that students can reflect on what he said or solve a problem with a peer. He also advocates creating dynamic PowerPoint presentations, which contain video, photos, and graphs, and using technology that students already have, like smartphones, to conduct quizzes and surveys.
When one week’s class is over, Christensen continues connecting with students through Facebook, D2L discussion boards, email, and even video and audio messages. In that way, the cycle of learning – and engaging students – begins anew.

Christensen’s complete PowerPoint presentation and handout materials are available on the R: Drive, in the folders “Teaching Excellence Institute” and “Engaging Students – Christensen.”

SFCC faculty and instructors listen to Erik Christensen's presentation to the Teaching Excellence Institute (TEI).

The TEI offers workshops that are open to all college employees who have instructional responsibilities. As part of SFCC’s Guide to Personal Success (GPS), these workshops ensure that instruction in the First-Year Experience (FYE) Seminar is consistent between instructors and that instructors teaching the course will be well versed in current methods of active student engagement. The workshops provide participants with tools and opportunities to enhance their teaching, learn about the latest pedagogical strategies, apply theory into practice, and share best practices.

TEI continues on Feb. 17 with “Facilitating Effective Classroom Discussion” by Dr. Theresa James and Adam Martin and “Think Critically! Strategies and Resources for Developing Critical Thinking Skills.” Room locations and meeting times will be announced at a later date. To register for workshops, call Joann Kramer at ext. 7104. For more information about teaching the FYE Seminar, contact Dr. Chris van der Kaay at ext. 7413.

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