How Students Learn

Students learn in a multitude of ways and sometimes the best methods for teaching one student are completely different from those needed to teach another. As instructors, it can be a challenge to offer a variety of learning styles so that all students gain the most value from their education. In addition to variation in learning styles, perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to educating students is motivation. Showing the value of good work to students, as well as showing students how to achieve that quality of work are critical components of motivating students.

An Alternative to Office Hours

Posted on February 24, 2015 by Sarah Bleakney

Office hours can be a great way for students to seek class-related feedback, guidance, and support. However, some students can find the one-on-one focus afforded by office hours to be intimidating, particularly if they are struggling with course content. A recent article, Office Hours Alternative Resonates with Students, suggests offering “course centers” as a supplemental alternative to office hours.

Instructors scheduled one- to two-hour blocks in empty classrooms, allowing students to drop-in both individually and in groups to work on whatever they wished. During the course centers, instructors and TAs made themselves available to answer questions and provide consultation as needed. As affirmed by surveys, this approach was preferred to office hours, with 79% of students agreeing with the statement, “Did having a course center in the class make you more likely to get help?” The author suggests that part of the appeal of course centers is that they allow students to work in groups and that they offer a more “laid-back” and low-pressure environment than class and office hours.

Learning On-the-Go

Posted on October 7, 2014 by Sarah Bleakney

Whether a course is fully online or hybrid, learning increasingly happens on mobile devices that allow students to learn while on-the-go. Students on the Go: What’s an Instructor to Do? argues that instructors should remember that students “are not stationary beings.” Instead, enabled by smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices, they complete many of their course-related activities away from their desks. To reach increasingly on-the-go students where they are, instructors should “be open to new ideas and new technologies” that can more fully support mobile learning.

As Mobile or not? How students watch Video Lectures details, one way to ensure your course is mobile-friendly is to consider its video content. The author analyzed student evaluation results, which revealed that 62.5% of students streamed the course video content (rather than downloading it) and 27% of students watched video lecture content on smartphones and the like. To enable quick download or buffering times, instructors can try to ensure that video content is as brief as is possible (up to 15-20 minutes at most).

Interested but not sure where to start? Intrigued and want to learn more? EDUCAUSE and UNESCO provide a variety of articles, reports, podcasts, and presentations on how you can make your courses more mobile-friendly.

Record It and They Will Watch? Student Preferences for Video Content

Posted on April 9, 2014 by Sarah Bleakney

A recent article, How Video Production Affects Student Engagement: An Empirical Study of MOOC Videos, examines how student engagement is influenced by the length and style of course videos. While Guo, Kim, and Rubin focus on MOOC-based instructional content, their findings and recommendations have wider relevance for video-based instructional content for other types of classes, whether online or onground.

The authors’ key recommendation is to keep videos used to support instruction short: under six minutes. This suggestion to chunk instructional content into shorter segments is also affirmed by research cited in Why Long Lectures are Ineffective and Does Length Matter? It Does For Video. As these two articles detail, students’ attention spans last for 10-15 minutes at most, with their memory of and engagement in the first five minutes the strongest. When possible, instructors should limit the length of course videos to 15 minutes – and even shorter is even better.

Guo, Kim, and Rubin also provide a number of recommendations regarding the style of videos. For example, instructors might want to consider including not only professionally-recorded studio- and classroom-based videos, but also more informal content that replicates students’ experience of visiting with an instructor during office hours. These might include handwritten or sketched and extemporaneously-spoken tutorials to illustrate a concept. Videos are also more engaging if they include not only the instructor’s voice but their “talking head,” and if instructors strive to share their enthusiasm for the topic they are teaching by speaking with enthusiasm and energy.