These scenarios might sound familiar: you read an article or attend a lecture on a topic, and the argument and content make sense to you until you start writing about it or draft a presentation and suddenly one aspect sticks out. You notice contradictions that were not so obvious at first. You think of a better example than the ones listed in the literature or you start thinking about a specific application to another topic or another field. You might also simply look up a term and discover an interesting connection.
Engaging students is about fostering such encounters with content and deepening them. That might mean them developing their own questions about the issue, thinking about the applications of theories or models, discussing them, or formulating arguments. Universities are still dominated by methods in which most students only receive information and remain mostly passive listeners and readers. During discussions and when there are opportunities to ask questions, few students speak up, usually the same ones. That is why a diversity of methods often goes hand in hand with engaging students.
- Activate your students’ prior knowledge and awake their curiosity about subsequent topics.
- At the beginning of a course, a class, or a thematic unit, you can give a quiz or have people solve assignments. Be sure to explain that this is notan exam, that you will not be grading the results or comparing students’ performance, or else the method will not fulfill the objective stated here. The questions or tasks can be completed individually or in groups. Plan the quiz so that it gives students an experience of success but also exposes their unresolved questions, different perspectives, and knowledge gaps. After revealing the answers, you can explain when and how the course will resolve those questions, incorrect answers, or contentious solutions. Later in the course, you might want to return to the quiz in order to reveal the students’ learning progress and show which questions still have not been resolved.
- Ask your students to identify their own questions and learning objectives and write them down. Clarifying what precisely they want to learn from a specific class or text creates a tie-in to their own knowledge levels and interests, increases their alertness, and improves learning outcomes. You can also return to this method to cement the results or to reflect on why certain questions were never in fact answered.
- Encourage students to develop their own perspectives on the subject they are learning while referencing and coming to terms with existing theories. As you do so, incorporate questions related to gender and diversity.
- Ask students to brainstorm briefly about one of the following questions: What are your associations with this term or concept? In which fields of action is the topic important? How does the topic relate to your everyday life?
Students can complete this exercise alone or with the people sitting next to them. It is best to do this in writing, whether as a list, a mind map, or on index cards or Metaplan cards. If they will be presenting their results or if you want to collect them, always announce this at the beginning.
- Keeping a learning journal can be an optional or required assignment in which students reflect on both a course’s content and their own learning processes. The use of learning journals requires a thorough introduction for the students as well as feedback from the lecturer. In addition, a process can be set up using digital teaching/learning platforms in which students give each other feedback on their learning journals.
- Take breaks from frontal teaching by adding in periods of group work. The scope of these can range from brief whisper sessions (link, p. 55, in German) that you can also use in large lectures to group projects lasting a semester or longer. A smaller group setting calls on everyone to think for themselves and personally contribute. Gender- and diversity-conscious methods for forming groups are one example that clearly shows how changing the smallest details of teaching methods can produce different effects, making such details significant – for example, when it comes to avoiding or reproducing stereotypes. It is also clear that there is no single correct solution and that you should be familiar with and use different group-forming methods depending on context. (Link)
- Select formats for your course that inherently encourage intense student engagement and participation, such as research-based learning (link) and problem-based learning (PBL). (Link)
- Allow your students to experience knowledge production and knowledge transfer as social processes that actively involve lecturers and students. Take students’ contributions seriously. Pursue exciting questions further and transparently raise other considerations or methodological consequences these might implicate.
- Publication and presentation: Give your students opportunities to present what they have learned or prepared in a forum beyond yourself and their fellow students. Recommend that they write short articles in appropriate publications at your institute or in your subject. Invite students to give poster presentations at conferences. Organize an institute-wide colloquium or put on a science slam. However, make sure not to favor certain students subconsciously. Be aware of gender and diversity as you decide whom to approach.
In the context of the Diversity Management course for General Professional Skills (ABV) in the Winter Semester 2016/17, students filmed videos at Freie Universität Berlin on the theme of Diversity and submitted them to the short film competition “Diversity at Freie Universität”. The short film „Vielfalt und deren Wahrnehmung an der FU“ (Diversity and its perception at Freie Universität) by Philip Maciejewski, Lukas Franz Lönnendonker, Antonia Middeldorf, Suzanne Linehan Winter, Carolina Fernandez Arancibia und Christian Joswig won the audience award. You can find more out about the other videos here.
- Academic work and critical thinking take practice. In many cases, the lecturer can give an introduction, which is then followed up in small portions. You can use these introductions deliberately – to point out gender- and diversity-conscious aspects or questions, for instance.
- When students are engaged and asked to contribute their knowledge, their experience, and their ideas, their motivation and commitment rises.
- Actively tackling learning material facilitates better learning outcomes than purely consuming the lecturer’s statements.
- When students participate more actively, you get better feedback about their knowledge level – concerning gender and diversity as well. What concepts or theories are still unclear? Are there any misunderstandings or prejudices that need to be addressed? What do the students already understand well? In what areas is there criticism or a need for discussion?
- The students also grow more aware of their rising knowledge levels. Progress is made visible, encouraging further progress. Any gaps that appear can be filled through personalized independent study or coursework planning.