I fell asleep in class today,
as I was awfully bored.
I laid my head upon my desk
and closed my eyes and snored.
I woke to find a piece of paper
sticking to my face.
I’d slobbered on my textbooks,
and my hair was a disgrace.
My clothes were badly rumpled,
and my eyes were glazed and red.
My binder left a three-ring
indentation in my head.
I slept through class, and probably
I would have slept some more,
except my students woke me
as they headed out the door.
A Poem by Kenn Nesbitt
Now, my circumstance is slightly different considering I am not a teacher but the point still stands. How can learning be made to be more engaging for both parties, the professor and the student?
I can personally attest to the image above. Even if the material is interesting or even if we know we should stay awake because of an upcoming exam, it is easier said than done. However, some of my professors have successfully eliminated this problem? The answer? Poll Everywhere and iClickers. Not both of course, but professors normally take their pick of which resource they like better. Sounds simple, does it not? Well it actually is that simple, and I believe it is this simplicity that keeps students engaged even more.
Whenever my professors use either Poll Everywhere or an iClicker, they normally just put a question on the board and give us a few minutes to discuss with our neighbor what we believe the correct answer is. This provides well timed interruptions into the lecture that prevents students from falling asleep. Not only that, but it also allows students to discuss with their peers. This active learning engages students in the material more and has a higher probability of retention than if the professor is just droning on for the entire 75 minute lecture. Professors at UNC have even conducted their own independent research on this topic and have found many benefits from this active learning style.
The basic premise of both of these resources is so simple that I believe it helps students want to engage in the question and ensuing discussion. It is a quite different experience than if a professor puts a theoretical application on the board and asks students to solve for say parts a, b, c, and d. That makes the lecture feel more like an exam and students are much more likely to get bored.
Most of the time, professors also use these to monitor attendance. They normally do not do it on the basis of accuracy of the answer, but rather participation. This eliminates the worry that the student will be penalized and encourages students to come to class since attendance normally factors into their grade. Not only that, but it is beneficial for the professor to help gauge understanding of material. There have been times in class when a professor put a question and 94% of the class got the question correct. However, there have also been times when it has been an even 25% across the board. It helps manage time that needs to be spent on certain topics, longer for concepts where the answers are spaced across the board, but can also allow professors to skim over topics where the majority of the class is getting the correct answer.
Personally, I have had great experiences with Poll Everywhere and iClicker and wish more professors used them. One of my classes I took last semester was an 8am lecture that had 400 students. I knew the professor would never know if I came or not but I did so for my own benefit, to get the clicker points, and to make sure I understood the material.