Engaging Students

Two interesting posts came across my RSS feed yesterday that provide empirical evidence about two different ways of better engaging students.  And if there is one thing I love, it’s empirical evidence for pedagogical best practices.

Is this view from the back of the room?
Is this view from the back of the room?

First, the Chronicle of Higher Education had this post on the Benefits of No-Tech Note Taking.  Or, as I call it in my classes, the “laptop ban”.  The author shares her experiences and cites two studies. One highlights the empirical evidence on the benefits of long-hand note-taking for conceptual understanding.  The other looks at the drawbacks of the sorts of multitasking that laptops enable.  A few years ago I banned technology in my classes based on my intuition that students were less engaged and not likely to be taking better notes.  The simple act of getting rid of laptops meant the students are more likely to look at me or each other, an important first step in being engaged.  While students can be disengaged without a laptop in front of them, the ban removes one point of distraction.  And the evidence suggests it does so while improving student learning through better note-taking.

Second, over at the Quantitative Peace blog, Michael Touchton discusses his efforts to flip his undergraduate quantitative methods course.   Those of us interested in assessing our active learning efforts often struggle with identifying a control group to compare to our active learning treatment.  He does that here and published this paper with his results. In brief, he finds that the flipped classroom works.  Using face-to-face class time for assignments and to provide mini-lectures to address common problems, enhanced student learning, particularly of higher-order learning objectives, and student motivation.

The common theme is that engaged students learn.  Taking notes longhand encourages students to process information and reframe content in their own words rather than transcribing verbatim.  It also limits distractions.  Flipping classrooms provide greater opportunities to engage students in the classroom.