March 26

If you don’t want to bore your students … don’t be boring! : )

A very wise old online professor (Bill Pelz @wmpelz)  once told me that the lecture was the most efficient way to pass important concepts and theories from the professor’s notepad to the students ipad without going through either brain.

So, I am very curious… why do you think that your students fail to engage in your online discussions/interactions? Can you analyze what went wrong in the discussion activity for your students? Think about this from your students’ perspective.

What makes something boring? what makes something engaging? Can you cause someone to learn?

How might you apply the principles of andragogy to inform solutions for this situation?

I hear lots of faculty complain and tell horror stories about how impolite and distracted their students are with their devices in the classroom. You know what? i don’t buy it… I am completely against removing the internet or cell phones and other devises from any classroom. ridiculous. closed minded. reactionary. I don’t buy that the internet is worse than daydreaming, or doodling, or that it is a distraction. The internet simply IS. If you are distracted by it, then that is on you.

In the classroom or online you can’t MAKE people be polite any more than you can MAKE them learn, or make them want to learn for that matter. That you learn…what you learn …is entirely up to you – it is your responsibility.

Of course “netiquette” needs to be addressed and managed by the online instructor – its part of the role. But assuming everyone agrees on acceptable “behaviour” in the learning environment, and everyone is there -interested/willing/able/ to learn, if I am not able to engage you, then i consider it my failure, not yours. It is my job to design a learning experience in which you can engage.

The reality is that there are a lot of impolite people (students) out there and a lot of people (students) not seriously interested in doing much learning. There are also a lot of people (students) out there that are just not receptive to the possibility that they don’t already know it all – and use every opportunity to demonstrate how much they know, rather than acknowledging that one ANYONE always has something more that they can learn…there are dysfunctional people, people with political agendas, people with real life problems/tragedies and issues. (If you can’t allow for the possibility that there is something more you can learn, please drop my course.)

However, I think there are also a lot of boring professors out there who would much rather blame the internet for the lack of attention of their students, than turn a critical eye on themselves to ask “how  relevant am I to my students.?” How do I engage my students? How is what I   “teach”   relevant to the real life of my students? How relevant is a liberal arts education today to most youth? Will it get them a job? How much debt will this education incur? Are students well informed and advised well about their chosen degree programs, and the demand for jobs, or expected career paths and salaries? Will they learn things they can ever actually use in the “real world”? If I were a college student today, i would be pissed off.

If you are putting them to sleep in the classroom, how do you think that will play online? Do you want to sit there and watch talking head on video for 3 hours!?  Some faculty like to lecture. You may even be good at it.  REALLY good at it. You may exude passion, drama, enthusiasm and feel like you have captivated your audience. BUT – newsflash. it is NOT about your passion. It is about catalyzing that passion and learning in your students. So, here is a truth. If you are boring in the classroom, you will be boring online. Here is another truth. You CAN’T duplicate what you do in the classroom in an online environment (well you can try – but, it will not go well).  I get it. You are used to doing things the way they always have done…perhaps you use the same textbook, same lecture notes, same MC tests, same jokes, …etc. It is too much work to rethink how to present content, how to facilitate interaction and collaboration between your students, with you and with the content, and it is WAY too hard to come up with authentic ways of evaluating and assessing student learning. Nevertheless, if you want to be good online, – effective, successful, efficient – you will have to rethink how you achieve your learning objectives given the options and limitations of the online teaching and learning environment.

I think there is a HUGE disconnect with how things in higher education have always been, and how they need to change today to be relevant.

Students don’t want to be entertained, they want to be engaged… They need to experience flow. They need to be perplexed.

Here are 50 ways 2leave ur lecture:

Here is how i engage my online students:

Join the conversation and share what you know, here:

This article was republished here: on March 31, 2013 under a different title – If online students aren’t engaged, blame their teacher.

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Posted March 26, 2013 by alexandrapickett in category Uncategorized

About the Author

Alexandra M. Pickett

12 thoughts on “If you don’t want to bore your students … don’t be boring! : )

  1. Denis Samburskiy

    A very insightful post, Alexandra!

    I am sometimes shocked and genuinely puzzled by how little professors care about motivation of their students to learn the material. I suppose when one reaches a high-ranked professorial status, it starts to interest one increasingly less what their audience thinks. ‘The audience must be thrilled that I’m standing here and sharing my expertise’, probably crosses most professors’ minds. ‘I have no time to spend on creativity and engagement. It’s my audience’s job to REMAIN engaged’.

    Such thinking is disastrous!

    Internet is not at fault. Students are not at fault (with rare exceptions, of course). Professors who thwart motivation are at fault. My students are allowed (and encouraged) to bring devices to the class. If the class is structured accordingly, laptops/tablets could facilitate learning and engagement on many levels.

  2. Theresa

    You make many great points, Alex! Reading what you offered make me think about the simple things we can do to perhaps help in engaging students. I’m thinking specifically of aspects of Gagne’s 9 Events of Instruction or better yet, Keller’s ARCS. Sometimes I think we forget to go back to basics to begin the building process. Both models point out how important it is to gain attention to start the engagement process. The second aspect of Keller’s model is relevance and to me is the most important.. In my opinion, you totally hit it right there. If we don’t make ourselves relevant, how can the students see what we have to offer as relevant to them as a person? In their life? If we can’t do that then gaining their attention means nothing. We lose them and we lose the opportunity to work with them. Without relevance, we cannot help students build confidence(the C in ARCS) in the content we have to offer nor how it has a place in their education, field of choice or life.. Lastly how then can students be satisfied (the S in ARCS) with a course, instructor, their education but more importantly in building their future? Of course their are more pieces…but this is just what came to me when I initially read your post and is just my two cents. Thanks Alex!

  3. alexandrapickett (Post author)

    Thanks for you comment, Theresa! Nice to see you bring in some Gagne and Keller. I think we also need to think about the role of feedback and authentic online assessment as well. I added some links to the post fyi – And my blog is full of examples of how i provide feedback to my students. Phil Ice (APUS) turned me on to the power of audio and video feedback a few years ago, and i have been doing screencasts and podcasted feedback for some time now. That and rubrics. : )

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  6. alexandrapickett (Post author)

    having a great conversation in FB on this post with @rayschroeder, Lanny Arvan, and @larryDugan

    Here is my edited response to the comment that it is not as simple as putting all the burden on the instructor:

    Of course it is not that simple. Faculty need support and training to teach well online. The theoretical framework we use incorporated and adapted Chickering and Gamson’s principles for online teaching and learning. See slide 19 Understanding how to be effective and efficient in an online teaching and learning environment and what the effective practices are – is not necessarily intuitive. Our faculty development process (see slide 21) supports and scaffolds faculty transformation toward more learner/learning centered approaches.

    The thought of having to individualize instruction for every student IS overwhelming. But that is not exactly what i mean by “learner-centered”. Being engaging does not mean that YOU have to be everything to everybody. That YOU have to entertain, dance, engage them.. It is more about letting go. Giving students options/choices/freedom to make their learning visible to you in ways that are relevant and engaging to THEM. Having high expectations – as you mentioned. And allowing students to take responsibility for their own learning.

    Here is another one of my blog posts : )

    Thanks for the conversation!

  7. John

    Yes, some teachers are boring. But it is also true that some students are simply not interested in learning. They’re there to get some sort of qualification that they think will get them a job, or they’re there to please their family, or they have some reason other than the desire for knowledge to put their bums in the seat. I think the real questions is: when a student really wants to be engaged, and a teacher really wants to be engaging, is it working? If not, that’s where more attention is needed.

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