Book Review: Student Engagement Techniques

My dog-eared copy of Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty.
My dog-eared copy of Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty.

This post-it note littered copy of Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty by Elizabeth Barkley can usually be found on my desk. I often recommend this book to instructors new to active learning or those just looking for some new ideas to adopt. The book begins by providing conceptual context for student engagement and learning, including background on active learning. Barkley includes fifty tips and strategies for promoting active learning, getting student “buy in,” and building a classroom community. These tips are useful, particularly if active learning is new to you or to your students.

But what really earns this book a spot on my shelf (or often on the floor next to my messy desk) is the fifty techniques described in detail, with practical tips for using the techniques.   The “student engagement techniques” (SETs) are divided by learning objectives. Each technique includes classroom examples, suggestions for online transferability, step-by-step directions, and advice. When I am looking for ways to get my students engaged with a particular lesson, I frequently turn to this book. And rarely do I walk away without an activity to adopt for that class.

One of my favorite techniques is “Jigsaw”. Briefly, students work first in “expert” groups “to develop knowledge about a given topic and to formulate effective ways of teaching it to others” (289). Then they move to new groups, comprised of a student from each of the “expert” groups and they teach each other. I find this is a useful way to construct group work. Since all students in the “expert” groups will have the responsibility of teaching their peers in the second set of groups, they have an incentive to stay engaged. In the second set of groups, everyone has to contribute since each group is made up of one “expert” from the original groups. This tends to be an effective way to engage quieter students and reduce free-riding.

As with any teaching book, many of the tips and techniques work best as a starting point. I do find myself modifying the techniques to fit my needs. That said, when I am struggling for a way to make material more engaging I always turn to this book first.




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