A Baker's Dozen Ideas to Foster Engagement
I wanted to present a set of ideas
that support faculty and administrators in fostering student
engagement, and to have participants reflect on these and other ideas
that they may wish to consider in engaging their students in and out of
The ideas I presented are research
findings, course/program interventions, and other resources that I have
found powerful in fostering engagement over the years.
What Matters in College? Four Critical Years Revisited (Astin, 1997)
This classic text in the teaching
and learning field examines over 25,000 students and over 190
environmental variables that affected student cognitive and affective
variables. Curriculum played little role in student success. It was
student involvement, fostered by student/student interaction and
student/faculty interaction that predicted student success. These
findings should guide course and program planning. Alexander Astin's
findings influenced many in higher education, including the National
Study of Student Engagement group. (See also Pascarella and Terenzini,
2005, How College Affects Students: A Third Decade of Research for a
review of thousands of studies published since their 1991 volume of the
National Study of Student Engagement (NSSE)
NSSE (pronounced "Nessie") assessed
variables associated with student engagement. Indiana University's
George Kuh and his colleagues identified five research based principles
(including student-faculty interaction and active/collaborative
learning) that predicted higher levels of student engagement.
NSSE data collection at CSUDH
resulted in a five-year engagement plan focusing on these two
variables. Some elements of the CSUDH Engagement plan are listed below.
* Focusing faculty forum brown-bag sessions on engagement.
* Implementation of first-year-faculty seminars that include interactive teaching strategies.
* Revitalization of freshman success seminar including research based exercises/pedagogy.
* Provost's Speakers Seminars, an
outside speaker series (V. Tinto, T. Angelo, S. Kagan, C. Nelson, B.
Millis) and other faculty development events tied to the theme "On
Becoming an Engaged Community of Learners."
For streaming videos of these
speakers, visit CSUDH's Center for Teaching and Learning website
(http://ctl.csudh.edu/SpeakerSeries/Archive.htm). NSSE findings on the
mismatch between student time spent preparing for class versus faculty
expectations for course success suggest that student time in class must
be spent wisely, since interaction with the content may be minimal
outside of class.
Science, Mathematics, Engineering
and Technology (SMET) Research Work by Eric Mazur (Physics, Harvard),
Richard Hake (Physics, Indiana), Philip Treisman (Mathematics,
Berkeley), Leonard Springer (SMET, Wisconsin-Madison) and others
documented powerful effects of group/interactive instruction on:
* General academic achievement in SMET.
* Higher order thinking in SMET.
* Higher percentage of minority students succeeding in "gatekeeper" math/science classes.
* Retention in math-based majors and in college, and other cognitive and affective measures.
* To have long-term effects on
student success, courses must move away from excessive reliance on
lecture method and move toward more interactive instructional
procedures See Interactive Lecture article by Cooper, Robinson and Ball
(2000a) at Exchanges website
Women's Ways of Knowing
Research/Theory/Constructivist Pedagogies William Perry suggests that
most students entering college are dualistic thinkers who prefer the
lecture method to settle complicated conceptual tasks. The mismatch
between professors and students in levels of cognitive maturity yields
a low level of student success. Women's Ways authors Mary Belenky et
al. suggest that preferred methods of knowing/learning for many
students may be cooperative rather than competitive (e.g., grading on
curve), and group/active learning rather than lecture. Lev Vygotsky
indicates students learn best from other students in more proximal
stages of development.
This work suggests less grading on curve, more criterion referenced grading, less lecture, and more cooperative, group learning.
Plan/Individualized Instruction Personalized Instruction is a
structured approach to teaching in which the instructor analyses the
important skills in a class and creates a learning environment
characterized by mastery learning, where students are required to
demonstrate that they have learned earlier skills before moving on to
more complicated ones. Pascarella and Terenzini (2005) report that this
system of teaching results in a 19-percentile advantage in learning
outcomes when compared to more conventional approaches. Thus, a group
of students taught conventionally who scored in the 50th percentile
might be expected to score in the 69th when taught using a mastery
learning approach. The researchers report an effect size of .41 and .68
(considered moderate effect sizes) in two meta-analyses conducted on
The studies suggest that
instructors focus on a limited number of "big ideas," then ensure that
students have learned the limited number of related skills by frequent
informal Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) and criterion
referenced testing, versus teaching the entire textbook content and
grading on the curve.
This idea frequently includes block
scheduling of classes and registration, such that students take the
same two or three classes, often thematically linked. Vincent Tinto
reports that Learning Communities have a statistically significant
impact on student persistence to graduation. Johnson, Johnson and Smith
(1998) and others report that such learning communities result in a
sense of "educational citizenship" (a sense of responsibility for
others' learning), greater involvement in classroom learning, and
perception of greater academic achievement.
Pascarella and Terenzini (2005)
caution that research on learning communities is "nascent" and "mixed"
when applied to learning outcomes. The power of learning communities,
particularly when combined with cooperative/collaborative learning, is
to foster the kinds of student/student and student/faculty interaction
that Astin finds the surest predictors of college student success. This
idea represents a promising area for additional research.
Careful planning of both curriculum
and pedagogy around a limited number of central thematic constructs,
and pedagogy stressing interactive learning has great potential to
encourage student achievement, persistence to graduation, educational
citizenship, and other cognitive and affective outcomes.
Research on Teacher Variables
There has been some good research
on the characteristics of effective teachers. Pascarella and Terenzini
(2005) report, "The two most salient dimensions of teacher behavior in
predicting student learning were instructor skill (particularly clarity
of presentation) and course structure/organization (such as class time
structured and efficiently organized) both of which are learnable
skills." Cooper and Cuseo (1988) asked CSU students, faculty and
administrators the teaching behaviors that characterized their most
effective teachers. The number one characteristic on all three lists
was "a clear and detailed syllabus," one way in which teachers can
demonstrate clarity and organization. It is worth noting that
expressiveness/enthusiasm is also strongly correlated with student
Deep Learning/Critical Thinking/Significant Learning
Research and theory by such
researchers as Joanne Kurfiss, Richard Paul, Dean Fink, Spencer Kagan,
Alexander Astin, Richard Hake, Eric Mazur and Diane Halpern suggest
that interactive instruction and constructivist/feminist pedagogy are
correlated with increases in critical/higher order thinking. Research
is hampered by the lack of a clear definition of constructs (critical
thinking/higher order thinking, etc.).
Regardless of the
theorist/researcher, recommendations for practice include interactive
teaching intentionally focused on practice regarding higher order
thinking, particularly involving writing. NSSE research suggests that
many students do little writing in their undergraduate classes.
Cognitive scaffolds are forms of
support provided by the teacher (or another student) to help bridge the
gap between students' current abilities and the intended instructional
goal. Examples of scaffolds are such concepts as Anticipate Student
Errors, Partial Solutions and Think Alouds (Cooper, Robinson and Ball,
Scaffolds can be inserted in
lectures and other instructional formats to more actively engage
learners. For example, after lecturing on independent and dependent
variables, an instructor may give the class a word problem containing
one of each, then say, "In educational research, the independent
variable is usually a student characteristic or school-based
experience, so it seems that the type of reading program is the
independent variable in this problem. The dependent variable is often
some student outcome, so in this problem, it seems to be the reading
scores measured at the end of the school year." Think Alouds provide
students with examples of how experts solve problems, thus modeling
higher order thinking skills, before asking students to demonstrate
these skills on tests and papers. Research suggests that students need
many practice opportunities (10-20 or more) to reach automaticity, or
According to Ellis (2001),
"Cooperative learning is one of the most durable, if not the most
durable, educational innovations of our time." Johnson, Johnson and
Stanne (2000) reported a large number of studies had been conducted
comparing cooperative approaches with other procedures. Wilbert
McKeachie, in his landmark text McKeachie's Teaching Tips (2006) notes
that "There is a wealth of evidence that peer learning and teaching is
extremely effective for a wide range of goals, content and students of
different levels and personalities." He adds, "The best answer to the
question: What is the most effective method of teaching? is that it
depends on the goal, the student, the content and the teacher. But the
next best answer may be students teaching other students."
Spencer Kagan (2006) noted that
there were hundreds of specific cooperative strategies, ranging from
informal Think-Pair-Share procedures to more formal techniques such as
Group Investigation (see Cooper, Robinson and Ball, 2003b). Many
practitioners are moving to informal, turn-to-a-neighbor methods to
alleviate problems such as the dominator/freeloader effect (wherein one
or two people do most of the work while others do little or nothing for
the same group grade) associated with more formal procedures.
Classroom Assessments (CATs)/ConcepTests/Quick-Thinks
Brief, active-learning exercises
can be inserted in lectures or other instructional formats to require
students to process information individually and/or collaboratively.
Examples of these procedures include Paraphrase the Idea, Correct the
Error and Reorder the Steps. Perhaps the best-known procedure is the
Minute Paper, popularized by Cross and Angelo, where students are asked
to briefly note the most important thing they learned in the class and
what question(s) remain unanswered, usually completed at the end of a
class meeting. The instructor reads these responses (usually this takes
just a few minutes), then addresses any resulting issues at the start
of the next meeting. My colleague Susan Johnston suggests that faculty
review their lecture and other notes and insert one of these CATs at
appropriate intervals (e.g., every 15-20 minutes).
Cognitive Science/Learning Science Research
This area is perhaps the most
exciting recent development in teaching and learning. Diane Halpern,
formerly at CSU San Bernardino (currently at Claremont McKenna College)
is a leader in this field. Perhaps the most influential recent work in
this area is the 2000 book How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience,
and School by John Bransford and his colleagues.
Most people can only hold about
seven "bits" of memory in short term memory, the kind we use when an
operator tells us a phone number we need immediately in order to make a
call. If we add more information to this memory, as is often the case
in very dense lectures, virtually all information is lost. We also know
that even highly motivated students can pay attention to technical
material only for 10 to 20 minutes. This finding suggests that we break
lectures and other presentations into manageable amounts of
information, frequently inserting scaffolds, CATs and other active and
cooperative strategies into an otherwise passive mode of
of Teaching and Learning Teachers, like students, need peer group
support. Many find teaching a stressful, isolating experience but feel
that seeking help is a sign of weakness and may reflect poorly on them
in the retention, promotion and tenure process. One way teachers can
receive support is to form brown-bag networks of colleagues who might
meet once or twice a month to discuss issues and challenges in teaching.
A more formal procedure is to form
a group focusing on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL).
SoTL is an attempt to bring the rigor that faculty apply to their basic
research to an examination of their teaching. Most of the national
organizations within each disciplinary area have Teaching
ofŠ(Psychology, Physics, etc.) interest groups that may include
a web site. Faculty can network with these groups online or at
meetings. Presentation and publication on the Scholarship of Teaching
and Learning are increasingly being accepted for promotion and tenure
in the CSU. Such groups can develop "scholarly teaching" (teaching
informed by research/theory such as I have described here).
Publication/conference presentation responsibilities, including SoTL
work, can be shared with colleagues to diminish the workload.
For Further Study
Marzano et al. (2001), a
meta-analysis of instructional strategies, offers many ideas worthy of
exploration. There are also numerous websites relating to the topics
identified here. For example, the Carnegie Foundation has one on SoTL.
Good websites on group learning are Rich Felder's at N.C. State and
Spencer Kagan's. Evergreen State's website includes a national resource
center for learning communities. Some of these websites have links to
others addressing issues covered here, and many of the articles and
reviews to be found right here in Exchanges offer valuable information
on these same concepts.
The foregoing list of ideas and
resources is not inclusive. Service learning, technology, general
education issues, student success courses, student diversity, and other
topics aren't treated, although, for example, many studies have shown
that cooperative learning and other interventions described above
foster appreciation of diversity and other student success outcomes. On
the next page, please note your experience with these and other issues
and how successful you have been in engaging students.
Symposium participants at the
"Baker's Dozen" presentation were provided with a reflective exercise
handout to note their experience with these and other issues in
Astin, A. (1997). What matters in college? Four critical years revisited. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Bransford, J. & Brown, A.,
& Cocking, R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind,
experience and school (Expanded ed.). Washington, D.C.: National
Academy Press (National Research Council).
Cooper, J. L., & Cuseo, J.
(1988). Behavioral indicators of effective college teaching: Three
perspectives. Paper presented at the meeting of the Western
Psychological Association, San Francisco.
Cooper, J., Robinson, P. &
Ball, D. (2003a). The interactive lecture: Reconciling group and active
learning strategies with traditional instructional formats. Exchanges,
the Online Journal of Teaching and Learning in the CSU. Retrieved from
http://www.exchangesjournal.org/viewpoints/1161_Cooper.html on December
Cooper, J., Robinson, P. &
Ball, D., (Eds.). (2003b). Small group learning in higher education:
Lessons from the past, visions of the future. Oklahoma City: New Forums
A compilation of thirty articles
first published in the Cooperative Learning and College Teaching
newsletter, plus eight new chapters written for this volume. Authors
include Alexander Astin, David and Roger Johnson, Barbara Millis, Karl
Smith, Vincent Tinto, Spencer Kagan, Susan Prescott Johnston and other
leaders in the higher education community. Contains both applied and
Cross, P. & Angelo, T. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Classic in the field describes a
variety of (largely) informal assessment techniques that make
classrooms more engaging and give teachers timely feedback regarding
their performance. See also 1998 updated volume edited by Angelo:
Classroom assessment and research: An update on uses, approaches, and
research findings: New Directions for Teaching and Learning, No. 75,
also from Jossey-Bass.
Ellis, A. (2005). Research on educational innovations (4th ed.). Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.
Johnson, D.W., Johnson, R.T., &
Smith, K.A. (1998). Active learning: Cooperation in the college
classroom (2nd ed.). Edina, MN: Interaction Book Co.
Johnson, D., Johnson, R. &
Stanne, M. (2000). Cooperative learning methods: A meta-analysis.
Retrieved from http://www.co-operation.org/pages/cl-methods.html
December 5, 2006.
Kagan, S. (1994). Cooperative learning resources for teachers. San Clemente, CA: Resources for Teachers.
Marzano, R., Pickering, D.,
Norford, J., & Paynter, D. (2001). Handbook for classroom
instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and
Book provides a meta-analysis of
many studies of instructional strategies, identifying the most
effective ones, then gives very practical examples of how the
strategies can be used in the classroom. Focus is on K-12 work but
implications for college teaching are obvious.
McKeachie, W.J., & Svinicki, M.
(2006). McKeachie's teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for
college and university teachers (12th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
For decades, this has been the
classic in the field of college teaching. All teachers should have this
blend of research, theory and practice from Bill McKeachie, the
towering figure in the field.
Pascarella, E. & Terenzini, P.
(2005) How college affects students: A third decade of research (Vol.
2). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.