Lesson #2 in Student Engagement – How to Create an Interactive Classroom

Many professors tend to blame boring lectures on the uninteresting topics they teach. However, many times what makes your course interesting is how your students are interacting – not what you are teaching. This next lesson will draw upon what you learned in lesson one about getting in tune with your students to help you create an engaging interactive classroom.

3 Benefits of an Interactive Classroom

There are many benefits to an interactive classroom but here are three that will take your class to the next level.

  1. Students are Smart
  2. While you are certainly the expert on your courses’ content, the reality is students often have valuable insight that can enhance the learning environment in your classroom.

    For example, many times professors can present a concept to a class that for one reason or another doesn’t quite get communicated to the students. In an interactive classroom, however, there are usually a few students who are exceptional at translating your jargon into something meaningful that the rest of the class can relate to.

    If you ignore these students’ abilities the entire class is left to wonder what the point of your lecture was.

  3. Energy is Good
  4. Go to a class where the professor lectures period after period using dull PowerPoint slides. I guarantee at least a third of the students are asleep. Now visit a class where students are routinely conversing with the professor and getting hands on learning experiences. These classes have an energy, a buzz about them that make learning fun and exiting. An interactive classroom will engage students.

    photo by Orange42

    photo by Orange42

  5. Student Investment
  6. When classes are interactive students start to make a personal investment. When a student has a good experience in your class they make it a point to show up for class, turn in homework and put in a little extra effort when studying for your tests.

    That’s not to say that interactive classrooms will turn all of your students into A+ students, but an interactive classroom will give your class an added boost.

The Back Row Students

One of the biggest problems professors face is the hoard of students who dwell in the back row texting, surfing the internet, working crosswords and generally ignoring the class.

So how do you build up interaction among this crowd? Here are a few suggestions that might help.

  1. Ask Students to Interact
  2. When you ask students to do something (this is in class mind you) they’re much more likely to do it.

    This sounds simple but I have been in lecture after lecture where professors just simply put up with students playing video games, surfing the web and working crosswords. A simple way to stop this is to have your students do something.

    Some ideas might be:

    • Have short in-class assignments
    • Have in-class team work
    • Use Clickers for credit (this one is tricky because students tend to have their friends click for them when absent)
    • More to the extreme: call out students. I had a professor that did this and everyone hated it, but everyone showed up to class and the professor became widely regarded as on of the best in the department.

  3. Talking in Class isn’t Everything
  4. Some people are just shy and talking in front of a class isn’t going to happen no matter how much you want. Instead try other forms of interaction.

    Other forms of interacting include:

    • Polls
    • Surveys
    • Ongoing email
    • Online discussion forums – some people seem to find this easier to talk online than in class

  5. Show off Your Students
  6. If you have a student that has done something interesting or even out of the ordinary point it out.

    Often students do work that is too good for you to be the only person to see it. Make it a point to show off good work.

    Doing this makes your students feel noticed and valued. It also shows other students that you do value good work.

Homework: Alright – so there’s a lot of good theory in here, but nothing will improve if you don’t put something to action.

Your task is to implement one tactic in your classroom. Maybe it’s as simple as using clickers or maybe you’re more adventuresome and want to add more group projects. Whatever it is, experiment, tweak and test to find what works best for you.

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  • I thought your topic was really interesting. I am a middle years school teacher and the same most definitely applies to elementary and high school classrooms as well. I have one question: what are clickers?

  • Krista,

    Clickers are a popular hand held device used in a lot of large college classrooms. Professors can put multiple choice questions up on a large slide and students can answer them. It’s a good way for professors to gauge 1) what students already know and 2) if what they just taught the students actually sunk in.

    Here is a website that goes a little more in depth into what clickers are: http://www.classroomclickers.com/

    One thing I am curious about is to see if mobile devices replace clickers in the near future. When you think about it most students (at the collegiate level) have a cell phone and if not can get one for quite cheap (less than the cost of a clicker). A good mobile app could easily replace clickers.

    Hope that helps,