How can you keep your students engaged for the duration of your lecture? How do you avoid distractions? Many students will be adapting to life in university and may struggle to stay engaged and focused when they sit in lectures for the first time. What can be done to help new students and older students whose interest may wane from time to time?
As an educator, there’s nothing worse than realizing that your students are distracted and not actively engaged during a lecture. Lack of engagement can cause a lot of different issues for educators and students alike, including failed exams, missed deadlines, and an overall feeling of defeat.
Therefore, it is important to take steps that make sure your students engage with you. This is easier said than done however as it oftentimes seems as if there are so many distractions in the classroom, but there are some tried and tested methods to eliminate these.
As a teacher, it is your responsibility to present engaging content to your students. If your lecture isn’t engaging from the word go, there is no way that you can expect your students to stay engaged. Instead, create exciting content and presentations for your class, and even ask for anonymous feedback to rate your lectures to make sure that you’re making a positive impact.
A one-way conversation-style lecture is great for covering a vast amount of topics and a wide variety of important information but it is not necessarily the most engaging experience. Try changing up the format and adding more interactive or participatory elements to every other lecture so students don’t just spend their whole time sitting, listening, and taking notes. This can become repetitive and boring for many.
One of the biggest distractions that educators face today is technology, usually in the form of a smartphone. Instead of letting smartphones become a distraction in your lecture hall, how about making them a central part of the learning process? One example of doing this is by using tools such as Mentimeter to engage your students with interactive presentations, where they can use their smartphones to answer questions during the lecture. This will stop students from getting distracted by their smartphones, and instead, use technology to engage them in a new and refreshing way.
At the start of each lecture, explain to your students why they are there. Perhaps the topic you are going to cover will feature in their end-of-year exam, or it is an area that future employers consider important. By adding a “why” to your lecture you can give students some perspective and remind them how important it is to stay alert and engaged throughout the session.
This will also help you as an educator to create structured, straight-to-the-point lectures that will help students to reach their educational goals. Engaging lectures will be poignant and students will be able to see the benefit of paying attention and trying to retain as much information as they can. Students often ask themselves “What is the point of this?” and that is an immediate way to kill any kind of engagement in a lecture. Preventing that thought from entering their minds can greatly improve their attentiveness.
No one likes listening to someone drone on for an hour, so don't be that boring lecturer. Add some humor to your lecture to break up the content, particularly if you are dealing with complicated topics. This will help your students to feel more relaxed in the classroom; this will encourage engagement. Your students have probably gone through the majority of their time in school listening to boring and uninspiring teachers, they usually remember those that stood out from the crowd! Using humor, making topics relatable, and showing a genuine enthusiasm for what you are teaching are three of the main ways you can be unique and memorable.
We have already discussed that interesting content is essential for keeping students engaged. One great way to improve your content is to understand what interests your students. For example, they might love Game of Thrones or have a particular interest in sports. You can use this information to create relevant lectures whilst establishing a positive student-teacher relationship.
Adding something familiar to them can be particularly useful when tackling hard-to-understand topics that students may have trouble engaging with. Likewise, making a topic relatable or linking it back to something they like and understand can be a great way to break down tricky subjects and help them retain important information.
Great leaders and inspirational figures are excellent public speakers. The way they talk, and their presence when they are in the room are enough to make people want to listen to them. Luckily, public speaking is something you can learn. Consider joining a Toastmasters group or learning more about how to improve your public speaking.
Being a great public speaker isn't always about having a flourishing and vast vocabulary, nor is it about being a master orator. Being a good public speaker can mean you have a variety of different skills to the table and one important one is enthusiasm and passion. Students respond more positively to educators whose passion and interest in a subject are evident. If you want your students to find your subject fascinating then you have to make it seem so by the way you teach it.
At the beginning, middle, or end of your lecture, you can measure the levels of engagement by asking your students for some reflections or input. This will not only help you understand how and if your students are engaging (after all, you can’t improve what you don’t measure), but your students will be able to test their own knowledge.
Asking a thought-provoking question can be a good way to stimulate some creative thinking and keep students on their toes. Likewise, simply asking their opinion on a matter, whether it is how well they understand something or what they would do given a certain situation, will reinforce the idea that this lecture promotes idea sharing and collaboration and is not just a presentation.
Asking for some feedback can also help students voice their opinions and help you to better understand what you are doing well and what you need to improve upon as an educator.
Try to understand what they already know so that you can create lectures that fit their needs. At the start of the school year, consider asking your students about their expectations. This will also give you the chance to voice what your expectations of them are. Establishing clear communication between you and your students will help you to understand their needs and expectations which will help you to understand how you can keep them engaged.
If you want students to be engaged then you need to interact with them early and often. Too many students go through their college life simply listening to professors impart knowledge without any back and forth. Discussions and debates can help generate ideas, clarify misunderstandings, challenge prior beliefs, and promote learning.
Engagement isn’t anything you can demand from your students, but something you need to work with them together to achieve with them. Great content, communication, and interactivity are the core parts of getting your students to engage not only during a lecture but for the whole semester!