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8 Essential Tips for Engaged and Happy Students
Are you looking for a short list of ideas that can improve how your students feel and work in your classes? Below are eight essential tips that you can use to foster a productive and happy classroom environment, one that promotes wellbeing, retention, and positive communication. These tips were originally presented by Dr. Ayodeji Arogundande in his talk on "Keeping first year students engaged and happy in the face of COVID-19: Lessons from my BUS 101 Class" at the CTL during Spring 2021.
The 8 Essential Tips
Because of Canvas, your students will usually access the syllabus before they even come to class. Don't give them reason to drop the class before they even meet you!
The syllabus is the student's first introduction to you. Make sure that it is:
- well-organized and easy-to-read.
- beautiful, free of errors, well-spaced, with easily readable flow, font and font-size.
Also, you may wish to reconsider your course calendar from the student perspective. Make sure that the course calendar:
- is not overwhelming.
- gives students something to look forward to.
- is understandable and informative.
- effectively tells students what to expect.
Long gone are the days when the first day of class is a dull lecture on the syllabus. Instead, it is your first chance to set the tone by:
- making sure that your students know they are the reason for the class, they are the most valuable people in the room.
- connecting with students by greeting each one individually, acknowledging emotions, answering their questions about you.
- selling students on you, your background, your expertise, that you value them.
- selling your students on what they will get out of your class.
- identifying ways that students will be able to have fun, like how they will be creative or play games.
You know how frustrating it is when a student drops your class before you get to the really interesting stuff? Well, put the interesting stuff first, at least one thing, even if you have to modify it a lot. Students sometimes drop a class within the first few classes because its not interesting to them or it doesn't help them, so bring something that they can really use to the first lecture.
Also, make sure the students get to connect with each other and you during the first class.
You probably know this one. Keep students moving and thinking actively in ways that promote critical thinking skills and connection with each other. A short selection of many ways to do it:
- debate or dialogue
- class and group projects
- website design
- zoom presentations
- poll everywhere, kahoots, and similar
- video projects and reports
- role play
Be intentional about helping students form connections between each other.
- Have students do well-organized group projects even if you are meeting by zoom.
- Try brief daily team activities where you rotate partners so students all get to know each other.
- Build to larger projects, debates/dialogues.
The bonds between you and your students are essential for encouraging them and retaining them in your class, even when the class is hard. Here are some suggestions:
- Plan how you will form your bonds.
- Know your students' preferred names and call them by those names.
- Try to understand and read students by:
- how they respond on tests, quizzes, assignments
- how they interact with others
- how they typically behave in class, and how that changes over time
- their body language
- If students are going through a hard time, encourage them with kind and supportive words.
- Validate your students! Try seeing their inner strengths and and telling them what you see. Do you have a strong leader? Someone you see a glimmer of their future successful self? Do you see a student that doesn't get much positive feedback and is discouraged? Imagine the impact you could have by privately saying "I see you and I see that you can succeed in this!"
Midterm is a great time for reflection with your students for the purpose of improving the classroom environment and explaining parts of the class that students might have questions about during the current semester. Unlike SCEs, midterm feedback is not shared with administration, so you can gather it in whatever creative way works for you. For example, maybe ask students to design a t-shirt with a class logo, or reflect on a favorite (or muddiest) part of the semester. Much of the time, the information you receive will help you better talk about why the class works the way it does. Other midterm feedback ideas, and ways to interpret the results, are here.
Many of our students have grown up in the age of cell phones and are used to working on them. Build opportunities into the class where students can access their cell phone, like using Poll Everywhere or a Kahoot. Utilize the tools on zoom, teach them how to submit video reports, find opportunities for them to use their laptops in class. For those new to college, these little moments of familiarity can help increase comfort in an often uncomfortable space.
For other innovative ideas for using technology in class, see Teaching Remotely and by Mixed Modality.
As you consider Dr. Arogundade's tips, it may be helpful to reflect on one or more of these questions:
- How can I continue to keep my students engaged and happy?
- How can I always be my students’ best professor?
- What did I do differently last semester? what will I do differently next semester?
- How can my activities in the classroom lead to increased student retention?
About Dr. Arogundade
Dr. Ayodeji Arogundade is a Professor with the Business Division. He joined LC State in January 2015. Before joining LC State, Ayo worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Idaho. He has a doctoral degree in Biological and Agricultural Engineering from the University of Idaho and a postdoctoral degree in Marketing and Management from the University of Florida. Ayo is passionate about teaching and helping students to succeed. Ayo, the author of a book titled “Practical Approach to Academic Excellence – For Undergraduate Students,” has delivered over fifty academic success seminars in high schools and universities both in Nigeria and the United States. Here at LC State, Ayo is one of the facilitators of LC Presents. program that connects college faculty to high school classrooms in Idaho Regions 1 and 2, Eastern Washington, and other nearby locales. He won the Annice Edmundson Faculty Excellence Award in 2021.