Student Engagement and Instructor Presence
by Mark F. Jewell, ND, PhD
I have been asked to describe some of the best practices and tools that I use in the classroom and for online instruction that help facilitate a positive learning experience for students; in addition to my personal style of instruction. I believe that teaching is essentially about creating an atmosphere that encourages dialogue between the students as well as with the instructor. I remind students that one primary role, as an instructor, is to facilitate the conversation in a manner that helps the student gain greater understanding of the materials presented which ultimately leads to the desired learning outcomes.
Collaboration and The Learning Process
Improving the student’s ability to utilize critical thinking is also an important component of the learning process and essential to a positive classroom encounter, virtual or otherwise. Ultimately, it provides for a deeper appreciation of the core concepts in play. Style of instruction is inherent to developing a collaborative practice with our students. Rather than relying on lecture and static lesson plans, I utilize a combination of reflective teaching and learning. This gives the student permission to draw conclusions through the analysis of the material, as it relates to them, gaining insight on a personal and more profound level.
Whereas each person presents with a different set of life experiences, in essence a unique history, which helps to define the lens they view the world through, so too should the manner in which they “learn” capitalize on these experiences in order to better connect them to the desired learning outcomes. Although various forms of “online learning” have been utilized, starting with the correspondence course, and eventually morphing into a true immersive virtual experience, there has always existed the need for adaptive tools and learning platforms be made available to the student in order to maximize their learning. Turnitin, Moodle, Blackboard Collaborate, Skype, Chalk & Wire, Grammarly, are just to name a few.
Different Learning Styles
Being cognitive to avoid the trap of stereotyping or ageism, I have noted that in many instances the younger student, to a degree, prefers the online environment, whereas the older student generally appears to enjoy a more traditional face-to-face classroom environment. This is certainly not a fast and tried rule though, as many factors play into a student’s preference, such as time, distance, personality, etc. Academia is at an interesting stage of development, given the wide range of age groups that participate in our educational programs. Effectively addressing the learning styles of Generations X, Y, and Z can be a challenging and daunting task for any instructor, especially when a measure of each is present in the classroom. It is then imperative that relevant communication occurs across all spectrums of learners, regardless of a person’s age or their life experiences. They all have in common the desire to learn.
Providing individual instruction, during group discussions is one best practice that I strive to master. This technique supports students to better connect with their academic goals, while directly intersecting with those of their fellow classmates. The wider the lens to view your world through, the greater understanding and perspective you have to draw on.
Other best practices I utilize include setting clear expectations right at the beginning of the semester, defining what constitutes timeliness, quality of work, use of appropriate research methodologies, organization and structure of completed assignments, academic honesty, etc. These are essential components in providing a positive and fruitful experience for student and instructor alike. Supporting the student by way of honest, clear and direct feedback establishes a solid medium for communication, and allows for both the instructor and the student to partner in the pursuit of academic excellence.
In summary, establishing clear expectations, reasonable accountabilities, and an understanding of resources as a continuum of time, effort, money, desire, purpose, etc. provides support to the student in the pursuit of higher education and excellence of character in all fields of practice, be they taught through a virtual or in-class environment. Learning is a partnership between student and instructor, requiring a willingness to adapt to the constant changes that occur over time, e.g., life’s unexpected opportunities. We must always strive to evolve in concert with our students, all the while remaining flexible, relevant and most importantly engaged and present.