Take a minute and think of a story that inspired you. Maybe it changed your mind about something, spurred you to action, or just made you think. Don’t you hope your classes do the same for students?
We often hear about the importance of using stories to in classes to engage students and improve understanding, but let’s take a look at a few reasons why stories work.
Stories help us connect emotionally with our students, and when we do that, our students are primed to believe us.
Stories sharpen our curiosity. If you’re reading a good story, you want to continue reading and find out what happens next. The same is true for learners. A student trying to predict the next event is more engaged in learning.
Stories give relevance and context to the lessons, which helps students identify what’s in it for them.
Stories make complex concepts easier to understand by demonstrating what learners should do.
Stories are easier to process. Since you learned to read you’ve been making sense of stories, but you’ve had to learn to process graphs and charts.
Housekeeping details at the beginning of a class can seem a bit boring, but covering them is an important step in making your audience comfortable, especially if the training is more than an hour. So what should you include to make sure the basics are covered?
1. The Schedule: When does the training begin and end? When are the breaks? Is there a lunch break? How long is it? Knowing the schedule allows students to concentrate on the class. They’ll know when is the best time to get coffee, make a call, or attend to personal needs and may be less likely to step out of the classroom and miss an important concept.
2. Restrooms: Always include the location of the nearest restrooms, especially if participants are not familiar with the location.
3. Questions: Encourage your students to ask questions along the way. This gives you the opportunity to clear up misconceptions or fill in gaps right away, and allows the learner to move forward in the class.
I recently picked up a free e-book from Shift eLearning, called Engage the Unengaged: How to Create More Engaging eLearning Courses. You can download your own copy, too, if you’d like. I’ll share a few of their ideas in blog posts this week and next week. The focus of the e-book is on eLearning, but there are lessons here for the face-to-face classroom as well.
What is engagement? Shift eLearning uses “the level of participation and intrinsic motivation student displays in a learning environment” as their definition. It includes both behaviors (such as attention or effort) and attitudes (motivation or interest). An engaged learner is active and collaborative, seeks out help, and exerts his or her best effort in response to a challenge. Disengaged learners may do only the minimum work, delay completion of tasks, avoid challenges and may not participate. I’m sure you’ve met both in your classes.
There are a few things you can do to increase engagement, and even convert the disengaged to engaged. Here are a few strategies to try:
1. Acknowledge the prior knowledge of your students, and show them how the class will build on it.
2. Tell them what’s in it for them right away – don’t assume that they’ll know why the class is important. Why does this information matter and how is it relevant to their work or life?
3. Build in some immediate rewards. I don’t mean candy (though that works for some audiences). Can you reward them with affirmation or encouragement? Can you demonstrate to them how they are already doing something better or faster or more easily as a result of the class? Again, don’t just assume they’ll notice – point it out.
4. Take time for reflection. We’re often tempted to use every possible minute for dispensing information, but allowing time for reflective processing can help students to better retain the content. Ask students to stop, think, and apply what they have just learned or take a minute to consider how what they heard relates to their work.
5. Use good design and quality images. While this probably can’t sustain engagement, it may help to initiate it. In next week’s post, we’ll look at a few principles of attractive design.
Thinking of incorporating discussion into your next class? Here are a few tips to consider as you develop your lesson plan.
Target the discussion. You should have a well-defined topic or outcome for the discussion. Do you want them to come to a consensus about something? Produce a list of advantages and disadvantages? Whatever the purpose, having a clear focus will help keep the learners on track during the conversation.
Put a time limit on the discussion. A timeframe communicates to learners how long they have to discuss their ideas and may help avoid having one or two folks monopolize the discourse. Be sure to set the time expectation at the beginning, and if warranted, you can post a timer or have someone in the group be the timekeeper.
Consider the environment. What is the seating arrangement? Does it allow for easy exchange of ideas in small or large groups? Will everyone be able to hear? Do groups need space to discuss privately?
Consider the group size. Are you having a whole class discussion? Or will the learners be broken into smaller groups? Sharing ideas in a small group first can be less intimidating and help the salient points to be shared in a larger discussion. Groups of 3 or 4 tend to allow for all voices to be heard.
Develop learning materials. Depending on the discussion, your groups may or may not need any supporting materials. You might use a picture or slide to generate discussion, have a recording sheet, or supply data for the group to discuss. Make sure the materials are easily accessible for all in the group.
Do you teach others about PubMed? Did you know that the National Library of Medicine has a resource page of PubMed instructional materials? The next time you’re building a class or helping a user, instead of reinventing the wheel (or the tutorial), check to see if one already exists. The resources on this page include pamphlets, handouts, slides, and videos and can be reused and adapted for your own training.
Have an idea for a different topic or format? You can contact NLM (see the link on the above website) or the NTC.
With just an hour of classroom time (or less!) how can you fit in assessment? How can you tell if your students have gained the skill you’ve taught or understand a critical concept?
TeachThought had a recent blog post detailing several assessment strategies, and I thought I’d share a few here.
1. Ticket out the door: Have students write the answer to a question, an a-ha moment or lingering question on a scrap of paper or sticky note and collect them on the way out the door to a break or to leave. This is a quick way to see what stood out to the class and one we’ve used here at the NTC.
2. Ask students to reflect: Before class ends, have students jot down what they learned or how they will apply it in the future.
3. Misconception check: Describe a common misconception about the concept you’re teaching, or show an example of something done incorrectly. Ask students to identify and correct the problem.
4. Peer instruction: Ask a question and have students pair-up and explain the correct answer and why to their partner. Walk around and listen to their responses to assess whether the concept needs to be revisited.