Idea Works: Engaging Your Students Outside the Classroom

Colin Monaghan of Idea Works discusses the efficient, affordable ways teachers can better connect with students outside the classroom.

Mention “education technology” and most people will conjure images of a lecture hall filled with laptops, interactive whiteboards, clickers and large-screen projectors. While devices like this can certainly add value to the classroom, education technology tools are often more effectively employed beyond classroom walls. An array of technology tools now make it easy to extend learning beyond class time, helping students engage course content outside the lecture hall.

Often, content delivery is the quickest and easiest thing to move out of the classroom. Teachers have long asked students to read a particular textbook chapter in preparation for class, and this idea can be expanded to include additional reading, PowerPoint slides, multimedia content, or even video lectures. Why ask students to attend class just to watch you talk and click through slides, when this experience can easily be delivered online?

Not only does this free up class time for more engaging activities, but technology-delivered content often results in a more beneficial experience for students. For example, a student watching a video of a lecture can rewind to review a challenging concept, or pause to look up an unknown term.

Giving students their first exposure to content by viewing PowerPoint slides is a good start, but additional tools can ensure that students interact with course material in a meaningful way before class even begins. Short writing assignments, interactive web activities, or group discussions can get students more engaged in the learning process, while also assessing prior knowledge.

For example, Blackboard makes it easy to set up simple, multiple choice online quizzes, and SAGrader gives your students a chance to respond to short answer questions and get feedback automatically. As a result, students come to class prepared for more advanced instruction, while instructors learn their students’ strengths and weaknesses in time to make instructional adjustments.

The key is to make the best use of online and face-to-face time, letting each do what they do best. Content delivery, student generated content assignments, small research projects, or prior knowledge assessments are most effectively assigned outside of class when students have the time and resources to complete them. This frees up face-to-face class time for discussions, small group work, analyses of complex ideas, and engaging demonstrations.

Idea Works is a software development company based in Columbia, MO that specializes in extracting meaning from textual data. Their flagship education product, SAGrader, is designed to enhance student learning by providing real-time feedback on their writing.

Colin Monaghan, a designer based in Seattle, WA, has been helping instructors incorporate more writing and feedback into their classes for the last four years.

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