By Dr. David Paradis
A common challenge associated with the retention of students at the university is “How do we increase student attendance and engagement in an introductory core requirements course?” These courses attract a diverse population of students, and when these students perform poorly in introductory courses, they can lose motivation or the determination to succeed in college. Yet, we must teach them necessary skills if we are to prepare them for upper division courses.
After at least a dozen years in the K-12 educational system, many students who are enrolled in HIST 1011 view this core requirements course as just another hoop to jump through on the way to a degree. Consequently, apathy runs high and engagement low. This project focuses on ways to increase the appeal of the course to a broad array of student interests by developing widely applicable skills of evidence interpretation and well-organized writing. Instead of concentrating on the recall of material from textbooks, the course asks student to reconstruct the assumptions and logic of authors who lived hundreds or even thousands of years ago.
HIST 1011 (Greeks Romans, Kings, and Crusaders) used to be called “Western Civilization.” It is primarily an introduction to the ancient and medieval roots of European society and culture. It attracts approximately 250 students per semester in various sections. It has a follow-up course, HIST 1012, which covers modern Europe. Both courses count toward the General Education requirements for the College of Arts and Sciences; they also fulfill the requirement for one European course for History Department majors.
Based on clicker data, approximately 30% of students do not attend the course on a given day. While some of the students who miss class have other obligations, other students habitually miss class or come to class and tune out. Clicker data collected over the past seven years indicates that this statistic holds true whether I deliver the class in the traditional lecture format or a more discussion-heavy, flipped classroom.
Consequently, a fairly significant percentage of students (10%-20%) drop late, withdraw, or fail the course. My research currently focuses on the examination of statistics gleaned from past semesters related to these indicators of apathy. The next step will be to examine the effectiveness of several strategies that I am currently implementing to increase student attendance, engagement, and success.
My initial assumption when I began flipping my classes in 2015 was that it would lead to increased student attendance and success. So far, that assumption has proven false. However, many ways to flip the classroom exist, and I am evaluating new elements of the flipped classroom, such as requiring students to comment on assigned readings before discussing the readings in class. In the coming semesters I will be introducing new elements of the flipped classroom while continuing to measure student attendance, engagement, and overall success in the course in order to develop a clearer sense of how a flipped classroom can increase student learning.
Faculty have two ways to increase student attendance and engagement: carrot and stick. I have found that the stick method, focused mostly on grades, is fairly ineffective for some students. In other words, I employ clickers to track student attendance and comprehension of concepts covered in readings, discussions, and lectures. Their clicker scores constitute 13.33% of the overall course grade, and it is relatively easy for students to earn “extra credit” with the clickers because I give students an opportunity to earn more than 100% on their clicker questions by answering questions correctly and by showing up on Fridays (I always teach on Monday, Wednesday and Friday). Even though clickers contribute significantly to the course grade and students have the ability to earn extra credit using their clickers, between 25% and 30% of students miss class on any given day.
I will be exploring other incentives in the coming semesters. For example, I have moved away from a textbook, despite warnings from Sandra McGuire’s Teach Students How to Learn. I am exploring cheaper alternative such as Open Educational Resources. Additionally, I have introduced more primary sources (in History this typically means readings from the past) into the assignments and have motivated students to engage those readings by highlighting some of the more interesting assumptions and thoughts of ancient and medieval authors. I have purposefully chosen primary sources that are provocative and present issues related to gender relations, sexuality, collective identity, war, peace, politics, and religion, to name a few. I suspect a more enticing incentives are still necessary. Therefore, I am considering ways to include predictions, gaming, and gamification into their work with these sources.
My primary objective at this point is to increase student attendance rates. Clicker data indicates that students who score poorly on clicker data in the first few weeks of the course have a much higher probability of doing poorly in the course. Their lower clicker scores can be due to missed classes, poor grasp of concepts covered in class, or a combination of the two. In the coming semesters I will begin to inform students of their statistical likelihood of doing poorly from the beginning of the semester and follow up with a gentle nudge to students who are dropping below average in the first few weeks. The hope is to increase attendance rates and attention spans in the classroom.
Once the students are in the classroom, the next step is to measure which activities increase their engagement. Using data collected by trained observers who measure student activity in the classroom (COPUS), I will introduce new activities in the classroom to measure their impact on student engagement.
Flipping the classroom has been enjoyable for me and likely for many students interested in the material. In my History classes, it offers an opportunity for the class to explore evidence collectively and collaboratively in more detail. So far, it has not done much to make the class accessible to a larger number of students who are taking the course to complete general education requirements. I hope to broaden the course’s appeal in the coming semesters.