How Professors Engage With Students

In college, the professors are facing long class times with students as well as more intense information. My favorite professors were always the ones who found a way to present information in new and exciting ways. I did better in classes where my professors made me a part of the learning process. What can you do as a teacher to keep your students engaged in your lectures? Here are some things that my favorite history professors did in college that always kept us engaged.

Tell a Story

By the time they get to college, students know about the landing of pilgrims on Plymouth Rock. How does a professor keep students engaged in a lesson that they know the ending to? My professor would find a way to tell a story about events that we might know now about. When I was hearing the story of colonization again, I learned that the pilgrims didn’t bring enough women along in the beginning and that for a long time; the colonies were under the threat of simply vanishing because their population was not growing. This story made a subject that I knew a lot about seem fresh and new.

Don’t Rush to the End

Encourage your students to participate and engage in the conversation. If you are rushing through the slides to get a good handle on the information, you miss a huge chance to pull your students in through participation. Dr. Carter of European History always encouraged us to ask questions, present discussion topics, and weigh in on controversial statements. As we made notes, we could ask him at any time why a certain decision was made versus another.

Wait to Give Out Handouts

Instead of handing out a copy of notes or the slides at the beginning of class, hand them out as students are filing out of the room at the end of the day. It will keep students from feeling like they can “check out” of the conversation at the beginning of the lecture because they already know what you’re going to cover. The professors I had never did this. They didn’t want us to check out as soon as we walked into class.

If you want students to stay present in lectures you have to give them lots of chances to get involved. These are some of my favorite professor’s tactics that even eight years later, I remember so well, and they are still some of my most enjoyable classes.

The 10 Minute Presentation Rule for Brains

We say a lot of things to ourselves to pump ourselves up for giving a presentation.

Don't trip. Don't stutter. Don't fall. Your slides look amazing. This is a great looking suit. Don't be boring.

Huh? What does don't be boring even mean? To many of us, it means that we are going to speak in a friendly tone - keeping our voices from getting monotone. It means that we have lively slides and we don't plan to read off them. Don't be boring means that we are going to make an excellent presentation and we are going to make sure that we provide information to our audience that they want and need. It should be as simple as that.

John Medina, the author of the book Brain Rules took a moment to remind us that simply reminding ourselves to not be boring isn't all it takes to be a great presenter. In his eBook, he discusses some rules to the brain and Rule #4 stood out to me. Rule #4 (paraphrasing here) states that our brains respond to emotion and in order to keep an audience engaged, we must provide them with something that will reinvest them emotionally into the presentation every ten minutes.

Not only is the 10 minute rule important psychologically, it's also important when you're dealing with an audience surrounded by smartphones, iPads, Facebook, Angry Birds, and the wonders of the Internet. You have to be prepared to make sure that you can draw them back when their distractions become too much. When your audience is in front of you it is a little easier to keep these kinds of distractions in check. Most members of an audience will do what they can to give a speaker the respect and attention they deserve - since the person is practically staring them in the face. When you're dealing with a conference call or web conference, it becomes even more difficult. Now you can't see what your audience is doing - and they can be easily distracted while "listening".

Here are some of the things that I think work well to reconnect with your audience through emotion in that 10 minute span.

  1. Tell a Story This is a best practice used by so many speakers. If you pay attention the next time you're listening to a presentation, you'll find that this is a common occurrence. A lot of speakers tell the story at the beginning and then launch into their information. I suggest you use a story every time you are shifting the focus from one idea to the next. This makes them invest emotionally into your presentation again. This gives them yet another reason why they can relate to the information presented.
  2. Raise Your Voice No, I am not advocating that you scream at your participants. What I'm suggesting is that you use emphasis to your advantage and put special notice on the words that might make a difference in the presentation. Instead of saying "I just really don't like..." put the emphasis on the "really" and wake your participants up. A change in pitch can make a world of difference to your participants. It's kind of like clapping your hands in a room full of children.
  3. Ask Questions. If you're running short on stories you can draw your audience back in by asking them questions every ten minutes. When you're running on a specific time limit, it's not always feasible to let everyone participate in an open Q&A session. What a question can do for participants is poke their brain with a stick and remind them that oh, hey, I need to be paying attention .

Reminding yourself to be entertaining and not boring is a great idea when you set out to make your presentation, but if you fail to operate within the psychology of our attention spans, you might lose your audience after the first ten minutes. How do you pull your audience back into the conversation and get their brains to engage with the subject being discussed?

How Not to Be a Jerk on Collaborative Projects

I want to introduce you to someone, but I suspect you know this person already. I’ve deemed this person to be Idea McStealerson, and he or she likes getting all the credit for ideas that were a team effort. You know this person– when it comes time to present group ideas, they walk away looking like the hero while the rest of you end up looking like you didn’t contribute at all. Idea McStealerson is a jerk.

Sure, it may seem like a great idea to commit collaboration crimes – why wouldn’t you take credit for a great idea in front of the boss and look like the smartest person in the room? Well, there’s one very simple answer for that – your boss knows it was a collaborative effort. While you might feel like you look like the smartest person in the room, you just look like a jerk.

The temptation to further your own career is great – I get it. Everyone wants to look like the superstar. It’s important to remember that when you’re working in a group everyone knows that you didn’t come up with all the ideas. Even if it’s not you’re intention to take credit for the group project, you can still end up looking like that’s what you’re trying to do, unless you’re using the right words. Here are some tips to keep from looking like a jerk in the eyes of your boss, and in the eyes of your co-collaborators.

Words like me, my, and I are possessive and indicate sole ownership. Instead, you should try using phrases like our team and other words to establish shared ownership for an idea. If everyone came up with it, it’s not your idea and you shouldn’t use the possessive.

When it comes time to present all of your awesome ideas, don’t give the responsibility for presentation over to one person in the group. There will probably be a couple of different categories or sections that you will need to cover. Let everyone have something to present so that you are letting everyone on the team take a turn in the spotlight.

Use names! If you’ve been charged with presenting one of the categories, but it wasn’t your supreme brain power that spawned where these fantastic ideas came from, don’t be afraid to tell the story of how you got to this point. Say something about how Stephanie made a joke that we should do XYZ and it spawned the entire idea. How a simple joke lead the group to these ideas.

Collaboration works best when everyone feels like they get credit for the ideas that they helped to create. Plus, your boss knows when something was a group effort and they have been in the game long enough to have expectations when it comes to group collaboration, and they expect everyone to share in the development of a great idea. You might think you’re being sly, but your boss knows better.