The education system has been disrupted in many occasions but many would agree that the latest pandemic has no precedent in terms of uncertainty and distress it is causing our students.
Now is the right time for us to pause and think about the future of education. This is our opportunity to remodel our systems and processes. I think that the future of education requires institutions to shift toward lifelong learning, to prioritize the learner’s well-being, and to understand the impact of the learning environment on the quality of the learning experience. Excessive information and easy access to the internet are contributing to the reduction of our attention span. Younger generations are less likely to enjoy a 90-minute lecture that does not take into account their needs and learning pace.
If we really want our students to learn, we need to avoid situations where we have to rush through the slides to cover the session’s material. We need to worry more about the blank faces we get in our classrooms. We need to become better observers and listeners. We need to pause and think about what could be done to keep students engaged. A question that I regularly ask myself is: How can I make today’s session a memorable one?
Below are some tactics I employ when planning a session:
Pace properly. When preparing the session, plan for a 10-20% margin to accommodate the students’ pace and open the floor to questions and discussions. When we're running out of time and concerned about covering the session’s material, going fast rarely helps and it usually leads to loss of interest and attention. If you see blank faces, slow down, pause, give examples, ask questions, and think about ways to engage the students.
Prepare concise slides. These are not supposed to summarize the textbook but to help provide a structure to the session. Use neat slides and include open-ended questions. I find these to be extremely useful as they challenge the students to think, reflect, and talk about their perspectives and experiences. For instance, instead of explaining a concept to the students, one might first ask them how they would define that concept.
Contemplate the narrative. Start the session with a reminder of last session’s takeaways. This helps you create a storyline and smoothly link one session to the other. This is when opening the floor to questions could be helpful and using some tools such as Kahoot and Mentimeter could serve as a checkpoint, a gauge of student learning.
Zoom in. For every learning outcome that you are covering during a session, prepare exercises and examples to illustrate the ideas and help students look at them from different perspectives. Find the right mix of abstract ideas and concrete experiences.
Listen to the students. When students engage and ask questions about a specific topic this could be an indicator that they require additional support or that they are interested in the topic. No questions or comments rarely indicates that everything was clear.
Connect with the world. Use projects and real-life exercises in the classroom. These should be relevant and the students should be able to connect with them. Case studies could be useful but they should not be outdated (unless pioneering hitherto and their use is necessary).
Zoom out. Conclude the session with some takeaways and ask students to express how the session impacted their learning journey. This reflection and expression exercise could help engrain these experiences: What will you take away from today’s session?
Student attendance rates are usually acceptable--mainly due to strict attendance policies--but the big question here is: Are we doing our best to engage students and spark the memorable learning experience they deserve?