Strategies to Engage Students In the Classroom

Students are adopting generative AI like ChatGPT at a meteoric rate, and that adoption can be seen as somewhat of a double-edged sword.

On one hand, ChatGPT provides learning opportunities, increases efficiency, and can help prepare students for the future. On the other hand, many instructors worry that with increased reliance on technology, students risk losing their unique voices. Maybe even their critical thinking skills. Each student has the potential of bringing a creative perspective to the table, and that perspective is nurtured through reflection, writing, and critical thinking. If misused, generative AI could wipe away those practices along with students’ sense of individuality.

So as educators, we need to ask ourselves, what are some strategies to engage students in the classroom — perhaps even with the help of AI?

Transforming our Teaching Structure

The first step in empowering and engaging students in the classroom is looking at the foundation: our teaching structures. To cultivate unique perspectives and understandings, we must pivot from requiring rote memorization of concepts and facts that may not capture our students. Instead, we should foster and encourage the intrinsic motivation in students to explore the applied areas they find most interesting. For example, let’s look at self-determination theory

Self-determination theory states that in order for people – including students – to feel intrinsically motivated, these three conditions must be met:

  • Autonomy: The need for agency, independence, and choice when learning
  • Competence: The need to feel achievement and confidence in one’s efforts
  • Purpose: The need to understand “the why”, and feel connection 

The result of satisfying all three needs? Students want to learn. Students want to write. They won’t want a machine to do all of their thinking & creating.  

So, how do we start implementing self-determination theory into our teaching structures and empower students to find and grow their intrinsic motivation? 

Let’s begin with two areas: Assignments and Encouragement.

 Cultivating Perspectives Through Engaging Assignments

Now you may be thinking, “what in the world is instructional AI?”. Well don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! According to the Department of Education, AI in education, or  instructional AI, can be defined

One step instructors can take to cultivate more meaningful and engaging assignments is to give students the autonomy to create something from their viewpoint. This exercise provides students the freedom to choose how they want to tackle a topic and often results in a better learning experience for the student. For instance, assign a paper where the student can choose from a list of topics related to your course material and encourage them to not only synthesize what they have learned but also draw their own conclusions and real-life applications of the subject. 

Let’s look at a French course for example. Say the assignment is based on socio-economic conditions impacting the French population and students are given a list of acceptable topics to work from. One student may be interested in writing about how ‘l’art de vivre’ has impacted France’s wariness to globalize, while another student may be interested in writing about the negative effect of an aging population on France’s economy. Empowering students to talk about what they are interested in often results in higher levels of engagement and writing quality, and a better grading experience for the instructor.

Another way to empower and engage with students is to create more checkpoints throughout the assignment. For example, request that students submit multiple drafts before the final paper, making sure they explain their thought process throughout the assignment. This will not only allow students to reflect on their work so far but also prevent the misuse of generative AI. Tools like Packback’s Deep Dives platform can help students with this and even give them real-time feedback on their work.

However, as with any assignment, be sure to provide students with clear and comprehensive instructions (including your AI policy!) and the roadmap on how to properly apply the course material.

 Leveraging Encouragement to Empower Student Voices

While everything we mentioned above is important, in order to truly empower student voices, it is crucial for teachers to also leverage positive reinforcement. By embracing a supportive and personalized approach, educators can inspire students to express themselves confidently and authentically. So let’s explore three approaches to providing encouragement.

Providing Feedback and Praise

When providing feedback, it is essential to focus not only on areas of improvement but also on recognizing and praising students’ strengths. By highlighting their unique abilities and accomplishments, teachers can instill confidence and motivation in students. This positive reinforcement helps students recognize their potential and encourages them to further develop their voices. And don’t underestimate the power of giving praise to students when they execute a simple behavior, like finishing an assignment early or improving week over week on an assignment.

Furthermore, reframe the way you give “coaching”. Giving constructive feedback doesn’t need to only name an undesired behavior, it can also course-correct with feedback, provide encouragement and provide additional support and resources. What could be just a  “criticism” has so much more potential – the potential to be an action of support and caring from the educator to the student. 

With Packback Questions, instructors can publicly praise a student’s response so that everyone can see and learn from it, increasing the impact of your feedback. Additionally, as students write their posts, they receive dynamic, real-time AI-based feedback on four criteria – Curiosity, Communication, Credibility, and Convention. This improves the student’s writing, mastery, and fosters better, more engaging conversations. And by acknowledging their ability to express themselves, students will feel affirmed and inspired to continue exploring the subject on their own.

Encouraging Students to Share Their Perspectives

Another way to empower student voices is by encouraging them to discuss the assigned topics through their own experiences and perspectives. By providing a platform for students to express their unique viewpoints, teachers can create an inclusive classroom environment that values diversity of thought.

When introducing a new topic or concept, teachers can prompt students to reflect on how it relates to their personal lives or share personal anecdotes related to the subject matter. This approach not only promotes self-expression but also fosters deeper engagement and understanding. By connecting the material to their own experiences, students develop a stronger sense of ownership over their learning and are more likely to express their voices confidently. 

Inspiring and encouraging students are two of the hallmarks that Packback is built upon. But don’t just take our word for it, hear what one of our Packback students had to say about the impact of being encouraged to share their own perspective.

“Packback empowers students to think about the material in their own way rather than how the professor wants you to view it, which motivates students to take charge of their learning path and allows us to internalize the material rather than regurgitate it.”

 Fostering Motivation by Emphasizing the “Why” Behind Writing

One way to foster motivation is to explain the “why” behind an assignment. This allows the student to visualize the assignment from their viewpoint and frame it in a way that makes sense to them. While this may seem tedious, we can help with our free tool – Course-to-Career Connector. Using the Course-to-Career Connecter, students can input their career goals and the name of your course or lesson to help find the connection between what you’re teaching and the student’s long term goals.

By providing context and a clear understanding of the significance behind the task, students are more likely to approach the task with a sense of purpose and increased confidence in their ability to complete a high quality submission. More confident, informed students will dive deeper, think critically, and express their thoughts and opinions more vividly.

Moreover, teachers can encourage students to ask questions and pursue their independent inquiries about the topic at hand. By nurturing a classroom culture that values curiosity, students feel empowered to seek knowledge and engage in meaningful discussions that amplify their voices.

Shaping a Brighter Future

Empowering student voices in the age of generative AI is a crucial task that educators must take seriously. In a future where writing can be done by a chatbot, we must reflect and ask ourselves how we encourage students to want to write, want to express their voices, and want to ask the big questions that lead to transformative learning. 

Creating an environment that leads to motivated, curious, and creative students isn’t always easy, but hopefully the recommendations above provide a sound starting point, and empower loud, unique, and abundant student voices.

To learn more about how Packback is using AI to develop strategies to engage students in the classroom and help instructors empower student voices, we encourage you to watch our recent webinar.

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Curious to learn more? One of our friendly strategy consultants will be excited to meet you and discuss your course learning objectives. We will provide a free consultation to see if Packback would be a good fit for your class!

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