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By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Public University
How can we get students addicted to learning? It can be a struggle to find that magic bullet that engages students in our virtual classrooms. Sometimes, that engagement starts by finding a common thread that connects the teacher and each student.
We also keep the flow of conversation going, using as many directions as students will allow. We may even share personal gossip to increase student engagement.
Technology Now Requiring Less Effort to Use
The “Your brain on tech” segment on the Today Show noted that kids today have decreasing attention spans due to the use of technology. Are we experiencing the same decrease in attention spans during our online classes?
Not quite. It’s less of an attention span decrease and more of a word amount decrease. The weekly lessons that we provide used to be many pages long. Lessons were five to 10 pages long, which was normal 10 to 20 years ago. Now, it’s been reduced to one page.
Today, people use a “like” emoji to indicate that they have seen a story or video and like it. Should we do the same in the online classroom?
How Can We Make Learning More Addictive?
One example of an engaged student comes from a first-year college student, Emma Moore. The editors of the Richmond Times-Dispatch selected Moore as their Correspondent of the Year.
Her letter to the editor about teen suicide was published back when she was a high school student in 2017.
Her engagement to learning and teaching others led her to do something worthwhile for her community, her teen peers and her teachers. From Emma Moore, we can learn something about engaging our students in their online courses, even though the classes only last eight to 16 weeks.
If one teenager can disrupt conventional attitudes and engage others, we can all engage our students.
Using ‘Disruption Thinking’ in the Online Classroom
It’s time to use that disruption thinking mindset for projects such as short research papers and short discussion forum on textbook topics.
College professors commonly grade on multiple rubrics, such as:
- Subject knowledge
- Critical thinking skills
- Organization of ideas
- Grammar and mechanics
- Use of computer technology and applications
- Research skills
Perhaps we need to break away from the standard format of weekly forum discussions and weekly essays. Let’s rethink how to bring the passion of a teenager into college classrooms.
We could start by changing one item in one week that covers the course’ subject and topic. It could have a more creative element that is different from the standard expectations of the academic rubric.
For example, we could have college students write a personal opinion essay or a letter to the editor. We could discuss a current events topic in classroom forum discussions.
If the course is about supply chain management, we could ask for students’ opinions about the supply chain issues of the problem of natural vanilla. We could also talk about the plan by Coca-Cola to clean up plastic bottles that litter beaches and parks or ask students their opinion on the current White House view on tariffs or NAFTA.
What would the grading rubric be for assignments like these? The new rubric should be similar to the same Correspondent of the Day standards used by the Richmond Times-Dispatch: “clarity, cleverness, accuracy, eloquence, grammar and imagination.”
About the Author
Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Public University (APU). He is the former program director of three academic programs: Reverse Logistics Management, Transportation and Logistics Management and Government Contracting. Dr. Hedgepeth was a tenured associate professor of Logistics and chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He has published two books, RFID Metrics and How Grandma Braided the Rain. Dr. Hedgepeth has also received a Correspondent of the Day Award from the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
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