Creating Student Engagement Using Activities and Technology

Back view of students in a college classroom listening to a lecture

A major goal of mine for each classroom meeting is to create a learning environment whereby students are engaged. Not only do I want them engaged with the material, but also with each other. This certainly can be challenging, but with the right tools and the right activities, the classroom can come alive with students working toward a common goal. Two tools I use to achieve this goal are Learning Catalytics and activities.

I use Learning Catalytics for a couple of reasons. First, it can be used to promote peer-to-peer instruction, while allowing me to monitor each student’s response to a variety of question types. Once students give their answers, the program will then group students based on their response, and other instructor created criteria. For example, I can redeliver questions to groups of two students each where each student has a different response. I do this so that students may discuss their responses with each other and re-submit an answer based on their dialogue. By having students teach and learn from each other, I notice the class as a whole achieves a higher level of understanding. Second, Learning Catalytics allows me to only focus on concepts where there is less understanding, and accelerate through concepts where there is solid understanding. This frees up class time for discussions and presentations that meet the needs of the students.

A second tool I use for engaging students is small group work. I create groups of four to five students. Each group receives an activity that is detailed and leads students toward understanding of various concepts. The group is then expected to present their findings to the class. The goal with these small group projects is to enhance conceptual understanding of the material through peer-to-peer instruction within the small group and develop oral communication skills of students.

I have found that these engagement tools have increased attendance and retention. Plus, the standard deviation on my test scores has been cut in half (from about 15% to 8%). I attribute these results to engagement of the students and directed instruction based on areas of misunderstanding (as a result of feedback from Learning Catalytic questions).

Recently I presented more about this topic and interactive learning in a recent webinar, which was recorded. If you want to see how I use digital technology to create interactive materials for my students, feel free to watch it here.


About the Author
Mike Sullivan, III

Mike Sullivan, III

Michael Sullivan, III, is currently a full-time professor of mathematics and statistics at Joliet Junior College. Michael has written numerous textbooks in addition to his Introductory Statistics series, including a Developmental Math series with Kathy Struve and Janet Mazzarella, and a Precalculus series in collaboration with his father, Michael Sullivan.