Trying to get college freshman engaged


Currently, I'm teaching two sections of Oral Communication course. It's a required course, and many of the students are not involved mentally. Most of the students here are athletes. However, many others are involved in the arts. So, I'm trying to find a way to use those innate tendencies to my advantage rather than force them to sit in a standard lecture setting which frankly all of us are getting bored with.

I would appreciate any suggestions, any ideas. Has anyone had success with classroom models that could work with a course like this? Thank you.

Don Bowen, M.A., Midland University, Communication Studies

Posted on November 20, 2023 in response to DonB

Hello Don -

Is your institution a 1:1 iPad or Mac institution? Do you have those devices available for the class to use?

I remember being that music student in the back of the room in my speech course that always dreaded those speeches. It was something I had to get over to become an effective teacher, but it wasn't easy at that period in my life.

I now teach a music class, mostly consisting of non-music majors and including many athletes, called Everyone Can Create Music With iPad. One of the projects in this course is creating a podcast. I ask students to do a bit of brainstorming on what stories do they have to share with the world, what do they enjoy talking about with friends, or what research are they doing in other classes. They propose a topic along with an outline for my approval and then they get to work.

I've had a WIDE variety of podcasts from students over the past three years and the vast majority of them have been FANTASTIC. These are some of the topics from this semester's course.

  1. Effects of Music on Spiritual Life
  2. Politics with Sarah: Interview with the Mayor
  3. Paranormal Experiences
  4. My Path to UVA Wise
  5. The Wife of Bath from Canterbury Tales
  6. From Germany to Wise: A Tennis Story
  7. Growing Up As a Sick Child
  8. Top Three Restaurants in Wise
  9. Midnight Sports Talk
  10. How to Survive a Zombie Attack at UVA Wise
  11. Fundamentals of Duck Hunting
  12. The Human Brain’s Reactions to Outside Stimuli
  13. What’s Your Theory? A Curse on UVA Wise
  14. College Football Realignment
  15. A Year As a College Basketball Player
  16. The Importance of Agriculture
  17. NFL Super Bowl Predictions

I find that:

  • Having students talk about something about which they are passionate,
  • Allowing students to record and present a project live rather than deliver it live,
  • Incorporating technology like GarageBand and iPad,

all make a big difference in the quality of the work they produce. I'm not sure if this is what you are looking for, but I've really enjoyed listening to and grading those projects. Even if students eventually need to speak live in front of the class, this could be a transitional activity that allows them to incorporate some of your objectives without the pressure of live public speaking right away.

I hope I'm on the right track and that you might be able to use or adapt this idea. Feel free to reach out if you would like to continue the conversation. I would love to know what you come up with to reach those hesitant students.

[Possibly even creating a podcast to teach the materials could be an idea?]

Best wishes as we wrap up the semester!

Donnie Sorah, Associate Professor of Music, The University of Virginia's College at Wise

Posted on November 24, 2023 in response to DonB

Hi, Don! It is always a challenge when you have such a mixed cohort of students.

Maybe one way to get them more engaged is to give them choice over the types of project they create. Get them to choose a topic they are passionate about — for some, it sounds like it will be sport, and others will prefer the Arts — and then give them choice around the type of media they produce. A well-designed rubric and some modelled examples should go along way to giving them clear expectations around their final submissions.

This approach in itself may stimulate more engagement amongst students.

I hope it goes well!

Posted on November 28, 2023 in response to DonB

Hello Don,

I teach an elective high school First Aid course which is a mixed group. I tend to assign projects that give students choice. I assign students to complete a "digital project" on the topic on hand. I don't give student parameters and allow them to be creative. I have had students create iMovies that they have filmed using their Macs (we are 1:1 MacBook), iMovies filmed on their phone, TikTok videos, Keynote presentations, PowerPoint Slides, and Google Slide presentations. Some work together in groups, while others work by themselves. I have the students present their projects to the class. I give students 1.5 times what I think they should need to get the project done due to the lack of motivation factor for some students. This creates more student centered learning and at times is a good review for student before an assessment.

Since it is an Oral Communications class, having students present slide presentations would fit the purpose of the class. If students do a video, they do not need to present since they are already performing in the digital media of choice.

If students are shy, perhaps they can use Clips and use their Memoji to hide their face by using the AI filters. They can still practice the oral presentation use clips without the stress of talking in front of the class.

Posted on November 28, 2023 in response to DonB

Hey there, Don! I agree with all the comments on this post - providing opportunities to learn through choice and creation are usually engaging for different types of learners. To plus that, the website/app Flip (formerly Flipgrid) is an awesome platform where students can post video creations, view their peers' posts at their own pace, and then leave comments for feedback. If you've never used it, it acts as a sort of "social media" that is JUST accessed by those in your classroom. Flip is great because students get to share what they've learned and learn from each other, too!

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