Active learning is out: engagement is in

Instructors can activate student learning through tapping into emotions. Four principles for engaging students utilize active learning techniques in new and exciting ways. This week’s teaching tip explores two of those.

Principle 1: Because of limited cognitive resources (working memory, attention, etc.), tap into emotions.
Use emotions as a way to grab your students' attention and help them remember course content. This can be achieved through connecting course content to students’ emotions. Techniques for doing this include:

  • Breaking up class time into smaller chunks of time: each time period can start with an “emotional hook” – a story, song, video, leading questions, etc. related to the course material – that will attract attention and, ideally, get students emotionally involved in class content.
  • Assign activities relevant to students’ lives. If you are in a lab working with drinking water, have students bring samples from home to test.
  • Shake up routines.  If you notice that you are doing the same sequence every lesson, try out something new otherwise the “emotional hooks” will soon catch nothing.

Principle 2: Whether you like it or not, your class puts you front and center.
To your students, you are your subject matter. It is the role of the instructor to get students emotionally invested in the material through their performance in the classroom. This is not to say that instruction should be a performance act, rather the way material is presented can greatly affect whether students get engaged with that material. Simply by using “immediacy cues” such as “eye contact, gestures, varied vocal tone, and movement” show that you are enthusiastic about the material and will help students become so, too. A simple, albeit cringe-worthy, way to see if you are using immediacy cues are to video yourself teaching or lecturing and watch the vdeo with the sound off to view what your nonverbal communication looks like. 

Tune in to the next teaching tip for Principles #3 and #4!


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