Higher education lecturers: How much actual contact with students do you have during your “contact hours”?
Further education lecturers: You see your students more often, but how engaged do you think they are with what you teach when you’re not around?
Many of us assume that it’s our efforts in the classroom or in one-to-one interactions that make the difference when it comes to student engagement, but some evidence suggests that student engagement outside the institution matters just as much. Whether it’s to do with keeping up with reading or getting involved with practical activities, that’s where students internalise and process what they’re learning.
What can you do to encourage students to immerse themselves in the topic, not just focus on completing assessments? Here are some ideas from experienced lecturers:
Scaffold independent study.
When faced with a huge reading list, many students don’t know where to start. Create reading guides, question lists, and independent study tasks, and key these to specific texts.
Formalise independent study groups.
Students who study and discuss material together are far more likely to read, and to develop informed opinions about what they read. However, many students don’t have a social network within their course, so they miss this crucial opportunity. You can help by creating formal independent study groups, and asking them to document and discuss their meetings. As with individual study, this may need additional structuring, especially as students may be at different levels academically.
Build in real-world experiences.
Even with no budget for formal field trips, the University campus and surrounding area is sure to have places and processes to observe and people to meet. Think of ways students can collect data or conduct interviews that can then form the basis of classroom work. Observations, checklist-based audits, questionnaires, and photo or video documentation are amongst the easiest methods to require students to use.
Engage with your community.
Beyond short visits is the concept of service-based learning, where students put their skills into action by carrying out a project for a community group. The time scales involved make this a better match for year-long modules, and you’ll need to think through issues like Criminal Records Bureau checks and insurance coverage. You can also bring in local guest speakers to talk about what it’s like to work in the field, or how they deal with crucial issues in practice.
Foster mentor relationships.
Students near the end of their course and those at the beginning can be paired up, which has benefits for both parties. Starters can get the “inside scoop” from someone who has successfully navigated the programme, whilst final-year students gain a sense of accomplishment and mastery. Alternatively, current students can be paired with former students who are now in the world of work. There needs to be a plan and structure for any sort of mentoring, of course, so set expectations for what mentors and students will do, and how this will be documented.