Active engagement in class can encourage active engagement before class

In her chapter, Natália Gachallová considers a familiar challenge: how to encourage students’ engagement with pre-class preparation. This is one of the more common issues I hear from academics, and one perhaps more acute for PhD students like Natália. They may feel they have limited power over the rest of the course and what happens outside their class, yet are frequently teaching the small classes where such preparation is expected so often.

Her intervention is in the form of online formative quizzes in class. Natália does this in a way that clearly takes on board a good selection of the advice for using these quizzes effectively, whilst also carefully considering the evidence and evaluation of the impact at the end. She presents good evidence of a positive effect, utilising both qualitative and quantitative data, and notes something I found particularly interesting: that whilst a bonus for the final exam was included as an extrinsic motivator, it appears to have little impact. Instead, intrinsic factors from feedback in class appear to have been much more relevant.

As summative rewards for ongoing engagement are often debated, it was useful both to find this variable was considered, and that her conclusion was that this made very little difference. Immediate rewards (feedback) seemed to have more effect that long term rewards (additional points).

If we can address the engagement challenge by raising intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic, this would be preferable, potentially helping beyond just the immediate content and developing meta-learning. Indeed Natália notes that her challenge was not just about students engaging with preparation, but students taking responsibility for their progress.

The approach in the chapter is both systematic and rigorous, something often lacking with such interventions. I often discuss the difference between a good idea and a good implementation. All too often common ideas such as quizzes in class, which I think are well worth considering, are implemented without looking at the lessons from others and considering how they will be used well in practice. Natália succinctly notes clear lessons and the consequent approach taken overall is a good one based on this foundation.

These were regular quizzes, such that the format would soon be familiar with the students. Despite taking a fair amount of time, this was in part because the quizzes were used as starting points for discussion. Making students consider and justify answers, and giving time for this, appears to have worked particularly well. In my experience these aspects are vital. If you don’t consider how to use quizzes to target higher level thinking skills and/or misconceptions (my favourite use), then they can become pointless and a gimmick. High levels of challenge and discussion are important.

A range of data and evidence is considered in evaluating this intervention. This short chapter provides a good case study for other PhD students and teachers to see how easy it can be to take a research approach to gain data and solid evaluation evidence on your teaching innovations and developments. This chapter presents a good evidence based approach and is all the more convincing for it. Many of us will have thought long and hard about this particular type of engagement challenge and similarly be familiar with the idea or usage or quizzes as options. None of us have or will find a ‘perfect’ solution and will benefit from reading good evaluated examples from others. This chapter provides a clear case study to learn from and consider.

Dr Giles Martin, Institute for Education, Bath Spa University


Early Career Academics’ Reflection on Learning to Teach in Central Europe

SEDA is publishing an open access book online, with a chapter released on its website every fortnight.  Each time a chapter is released it will be accompanied by a blog post published on SEDA WordPress. The book is called Early Career Academics’ Reflections on Learning to Teach in Central Europe, edited by Gabriela Pleschová and Agnes Simon. This book contains case studies by participants of a new educational development programme who redesigned their course sessions to apply student-centred approaches, using innovative teaching methods and stimulate good learning.

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