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Solving Student Engagement in Under 60 Seconds

Student engagement is one of the most important topics today for educators. Generally speaking, students seem disengaged. Engagement is a critical aspect of the learning process. It has a significant impact on a student's academic success and personal growth, and when students are engaged in their learning, they are more likely to retain information, develop critical thinking skills, and apply what they have learned to real-world situations. Moreover, student engagement also fosters a positive learning environment and encourages students to be active participants in their education. 

The problem today is that the increasing prevalence of technology has seemed to diminish student attention. A lack of engagement can lead to disinterest in learning and poor academic performance. Student engagement enhances the learning experience. When students are actively involved in the learning process, they are more likely to understand the material and retain it over time. This is partially because engagement fosters a sense of curiosity and motivation. Engagement bolsters activity, which leads to activity and repetition, which aid us in learning. Applying what they have learned to real-world situations causes learning to “stick” in the brain. 

Student engagement fosters critical thinking skills because students are analyzing and evaluating information critically. This aids in the development of critical thinking skills, which are essential for success in today's rapidly changing world. Engaged students are more likely to question assumptions, analyze information, and come up with creative solutions to problems. 

When students are engaged in their learning, they are more likely to develop a sense of self-awareness and self-confidence. This can lead to personal growth and the development of essential life skills, such as communication, problem-solving, and critical thinking. Engaged students are more likely to be self-directed learners, which can help them succeed in their personal and professional lives because engagement leads to academic success, personal growth, and the development of critical thinking skills. Engaged students are more likely to retain information, apply what they have learned, and develop positive relationships with their teachers and peers.  

With all of this in mind, educators must be faster and more resilient at testing new ways to engage students. Often, the tools we are already using in the classroom enable us to do this without much time or effort. When the overhead of effort is minimal, we should double down on our efforts to test things. The following is an example of how I tested two things this semester which have had positive outcomes using McGraw Hill’s SIMnet platform for developing students’ skills in Microsoft Word, Excel, Access, and PowerPoint. 

I have always been hesitant to require unnecessary assignments. I want to engage students, not waste their time. However, even though I would assign reading the book before class, students would not. And it was evident that they would not do so in the questions that they would ask. They would ask for help on exceptionally simple tasks in Excel. In frustration, I decided to turn on SIMnet’s Let Me Try feature as a graded assignment. I turned this on to happen prior to the class where we covered the material. I was amazed because the questions disappeared. I rarely get questions and the workflow of students is smoother.  

In looking at the statistics for two chapters chosen randomly, students spent 52 minutes on average in Chapter 2 of the book and 2 minutes in Chapter 5 of the book. Overall, for the semester, students spent 30 minutes doing the Let Me Try exercises, which is an excellent substitute for reading the book because it shows proficiency. Additionally, an unanticipated benefit arose. I award extra credit for the attainment of SIMnet’s white and purple belt credentials. If a student completes the Let Me Try for the whole book, they get awarded both. I only cover four chapters of Access, but I have students working ahead to attain the purple belt credential in Access. Getting students to work ahead is an excellent outcome that I did not expect. That was one small alteration that took one minute to change. It is improving engagement significantly.  

Another small alteration was a grading methodology change. I allow students to attempt projects in SIMnet three times. I found that students were generally making a lackadaisical attempt on the first try. So I decided to change the scoring on projects from the highest score setting to an average score setting. Now, every submission counts in the overall score. Students suddenly seem to care a bit more about that first attempt. This change took less than twenty seconds to execute in SIMnet.  

We have all sorts of tools at our disposal. With a mindset of experimentation and a good tool like SIMnet, you can begin to solve student engagement with a fast and iterative approach.  

About the Author

Frank M. Sorokach is a leadership and management expert with both practical and academic experience. His general focus is on organizational improvement through the development of systems and personnel. He has almost thirty years of applied management experience in varied disciplines and has been a faculty member at Penn State University since 2012, where he is an Assistant Teaching Professor of Economics and Business. He has taught in resident instruction at the Scranton Campus, asynchronously at the World Campus, and delivers training to corporate clients. He has held leadership roles at the Penn State Scranton Campus and the Penn State World Campus. Frank’s primary expertise includes economics, technology, project management, business strategy, risk management, marketing, future trends, and personal efficiency topics. His research is specifically focused on the application of new concepts and systems to improve efficiency. This includes the integration of not only technology, but also new management theory. Additionally, he has been a leading digital faculty consultant for McGraw-Hill Education since 2017.

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