Academic Tools to Enhance Student Engagement

StudentLaptopEvery instructor wants to see their students engaged and passionate during class. This is not always easy to do, and there are so many educational tools and websites one could use that it can be difficult to know where to start.

Summer is a great time to explore teaching methods and tools that can enhance your students’ learning experience. The Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning, the Office of Digital Learning, the Hesburgh Library, and the OIT’s Learning Platforms group are available throughout the summer to consult with faculty who may want to redesign certain aspects of their courses.

We would like to introduce you to four tools that are used here at Notre Dame, but which may only be known by a subset of faculty:

Interactive Texts & Essays

Some faculty express frustration that students do not read in ways that engage the text deeply.  Many online tools present information in ways that foster casual, hasty momentary interactions. 

By applying principles of learning design, the Office of Digital Learning has created online reading material that engages, rather than distracts.

Guided readings helped our students navigate through some very complicated texts on the relationship between theology, history, and epistemology. The best texts are those that have been read actively: they contain highlights, underlines, and notes in the margins. An online platform can have many distractions with popups from other applications and casual web searches just a click away. By requiring students to advance through our readings by actively engaging them rather than passively scrolling down, ODL has made a breakthrough in digital learning.

Mahan Mirza, professor of Contending Modernities, Keough School of Global Affairs
Cloud-hosted Programming Environments

How do you manage distributing, collecting, and grading coding assignments?  How much time do you spend helping students install, update, and maintain their programming software on their personally owned computers?

Vocareum offers programming environments for a large number of programming languages, such as C++, Java, Python, and R, just to name a few.  Faculty create their course assignments and manage due dates, etc.  Students access the assignments through a web browser, without the need to install and maintain programming environments on their personal computers.  

It reduces the amount of time that faculty spend dealing with programming environment issues, and allows them to put the emphasis on teaching and providing valuable feedback to students.

For the last two years, I’ve been using Vocareum (integrated with Sakai) as means of providing Python and Jupyter notebook services to students taking my courses in Chemical Engineering. This cloud-based service largely eliminates the need for students to download and maintain a complex programming environment on their own laptop. For large classes, this significantly reduces a large source of frustration for some students. Another important benefit, which I didn’t appreciate until gaining experience with the tool, is a much more rapid turnaround to students. The ability to review, comment, run, and grade student homework assignments all within an integrated cloud-based service is an enormous savings of instructor resources. I urge any faculty colleague using programming in large courses to take a look at Vocareum.

Jeff Kantor, professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
Live interactive audience participation with Poll Everywhere

What are students thinking about a concept, opinion or lesson? How well did students grasp the essential concepts that you just spent 15 or 20 minutes explaining?  How many students can correctly identify a key region of a complex graphic that you have on display? 

Some faculty rely on tools that allow you to “ask the audience” for immediate feedback.   We recommend Poll Everywhere, a web-based interactive response system that students can use from their phone, their tablet, or their laptop.  Polling results are available in real-time.

We’ve been using Poll Everywhere in God and the Good Life since we started teaching it. Our course has about 150 students per section and each class meeting features an extensive debate. Poll Everywhere enables us to score the debate, gauging crowd views both before and after the students offer argument and giving live feedback on how arguments persuade those in the audience to change their minds.  It’s been easy to setup, flexible across the semesters, and most importantly — it gives our student audience members a voice in our class debates.

Megan Sullivan, professor of Philosophy and the Rev. John A. O’Brien Collegiate Chair


Students illustrate their journey with electronic portfolios

The learning process doesn’t often produce dynamic artifacts. But when students use ePortfolio to tell their learning story, they are able to incorporate multi-media elements to demonstrate all aspects of their growth, in their own words. The very personal result illustrates – quite literally – how far they’ve come in a way that traditional summative assessments often cannot.

I love using ePortfolio because it allows students to gather their work and see evidence of their growth, plus it gives me, as an instructor, invaluable feedback about what students find to be most important and most effective in my course. Because we use various types of media in my Intermediate Spanish class, it’s an excellent tool for capturing videos, images, voice recordings and print media, and presenting it in a user-friendly way.

Elena Mangione-Lora, professor of Romance Languages and Literature