Evidence-Based Frameworks and Strategies for Keeping Students Engaged

Keeping students engaged in their learning throughout an entire semester is a challenge that exists across all disciplines and modalities. Though the ways in which you implement strategies for increasing student engagement might vary because of these factors, the good news is that the underlying principles remain the same. Below are some of the key methods and strategies that have emerged as common themes across many studies on the relationships between teaching practices and student engagement.

Foster a Culture of Growth, Trust, and Belonging

Part of a student’s engagement in a course is tied to the affective domain of learning, or a student’s thoughts and feelings about their own learning. Does the student feel like they belong in this learning environment? Are they respected by their peers and the instructor? Do they see their instructor as an ally in the learning journey, or as an adversary?

One aspect of the affective domain is whether an individual has a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. The Center for Learning Experimentation, Application and Research at the University of North Texas has a great list of growth mindset interventions instructors can implement. It is worth noting, however, that research seems to indicate the effectiveness of these interventions is contingent on the instructor’s mindset as well. Studies have shown that instructors with a greater growth mindset (as opposed to a fixed mindset) have smaller racial achievement gaps and inspire more student motivation in their courses.

The affective domain also includes students’ feelings of belonging and trust. While the degree to which you can affect these feelings has limitations, evidence-based practices usually boil down to how you interact with students and facilitate interactions between students. A few examples include using a welcoming tone in your syllabus, modelling inclusive language, and taking the time to get to know your students’ names. Even in asynchronous classes it is important to build trust with your students. For example, you might want to consider using a week-one survey to provide your students with an opportunity to tell you about themselves.

Break Up Lectures & Add Opportunities for Active Learning

When there is a lot of content that needs to be disseminated across the duration of the semester, lectures are a common method for communicating that information quickly and efficiently. But the longer and denser the lecture is, the more instructors risk losing their students along the way due to cognitive load.

One solution is to build pause points into your lectures. Students benefit from structured pauses during lectures as it allows them space to question, process, and reflect on the information that they’ve absorbed. For pre-recorded lectures, the same idea can be achieved by breaking up a long lecture video into multiple short, topical videos (research suggests 6-12 minutes is an ideal length for maintaining student engagement). Fortunately, Kaltura (My Media) makes it very easy to trim and save video clips from right within Canvas.

When adding pauses for students to digest information, it is also beneficial to create opportunities for active learning activities. These activities can be very brief, such as using an anonymous polling tool to check for student understanding during a lecture. For more in-depth active learning, consider making time for small group discussions, written reflections, and other exercises that require students to employ higher order thinking skills. For courses with an asynchronous component, PlayPosit allows instructors to add a variety of engagement activities to pre-recorded lecture videos, while Hypothesis may be useful for incorporating annotation and reflection activities into assigned readings.

Provide Transparency and Support

When a student needs to spend a lot of mental energy figuring out the logistics of how to complete an activity, they have less mental energy left to engage with the course materials themselves. Therefore, transparency and scaffolding are both key elements to designing engaging assignments.

The Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TiLT) framework is designed to help instructors write clear and descriptive instructions for learning materials and assignments. For this framework, lay out the task, purpose, and criteria for each learning activity. If a student knows what they are supposed to do, why they are supposed to do it (how it ties to the course learning outcomes), and how they are going to be assessed, they can go into the activity more confident in their ability to engage with it.

It is common for a student to stop engaging with a course if they feel like they don’t have the means or resources to complete the tasks they’ve been assigned. Proper instructional scaffolding can help counter this issue by bridging some of the cognitive gaps and reducing the number of students that fall through the cracks. For example, if the final assignment in your course is an 8-page research paper, consider breaking up the process into several smaller assignments, such as having students submit their topic, bibliography, and outline at various points throughout the semester. Other ways to provide scaffolding this assignment might include modelling (providing examples of papers that meet the outcomes of the assignment), incorporating instructor or peer feedback for the outline or an early draft of the paper, and providing a robust rubric to guide students on how to meet the assignment outcomes.

Additional Resources

Engaging students is a broad topic that we are only just able to scratch the surface of in this post. Below are some resources for further reading if you’d like to dive in deeper.

Questions?

As always, we welcome you to share your ideas for engaging students by dropping a comment below or emailing us at CATL@uwgb.edu. If you’d like to discuss any of these methods or ideas one-on-one, a CATL member would be happy to meet with you for a consultation as well.

Follow-Up: PlayPosit “Replicate and Repeat” Training

On Nov. 15, 2022, PlayPosit held a training that focused on how to replicate and repeat content in PlayPosit. These features can help create a more streamlined workflow for users that would like to reuse bulb content or share bulbs with other instructors. Some of the content covered in this training includes:

  • How to duplicate/copy a bulb
  • How to reuse an interaction (question, discussion, pause point, etc.) from a previous bulb
  • How to use PlayPosit interaction templates
  • How to save an interaction or a group of interactions as a template
  • How to share a bulb with a collaborator
  • How to send a copy of a bulb to another instructor

A recording of this training is embedded below.

Questions?

As you explore PlayPosit, we encourage you to consult PlayPosit’s extensive knowledgebase of instructor guides, including this guide on building graded bulbs in Canvas. You can contact PlayPosit support directly by clicking the “Contact” link on their support site and filling out their web form. Guides on how to build a bulb, share a bulb with your students, use PlayPosit for peer review, and more, can also be found on the UWGB IT knowledgebase. 

As always, we also welcome you to request a CATL consultation if you’d like to see a demo of PlayPosit or talk through how you might use it in your course!

Evidence-Based Approaches to Promoting Academic Honesty

Academic honesty has always been a concern in higher education, but the proliferation of technology has changed the scope and nature of the problem. Students have access to more electronic means to cheat, including AI-generated papers and websites that provide access to test bank questions and answers. Meanwhile, professors can deploy competing technologies designed to search automatically for plagiarized content, lock down browsers during exams, or remotely proctor test-taking.

It should come as no surprise that there are ethical concerns about both academic dishonesty itself and the privacy and intellectual property issues raised by technologies intended to detect or prevent it. In fact, one Canadian professor recently taught an academic course on cheating, and he is a co-investigator on a large-scale study of college student motivations to pay others to do their work.

The SoTL literature on this topic often lags behind the technological advances, but there are some recent studies instructors may find helpful. Duncan and Joyner (2022) surveyed students and TAs about digital proctoring, and although their sample was not representative, their resulting article is definitely worth a read. They provide a nice overview of costs of benefits of the practice, and they also effectively summarize the literature on alternative assessment strategies faculty can employ. Another recent addition to the body of knowledge on academic honesty is a study of six relatively low-tech and brief methods to reduce cheating, such as allowing students to withdraw assignments. Again, there are some methodological issues with the research, but instructors may find the techniques and review of past research on them illuminating.

The issue of academic integrity is complex, multi-faceted, and rapidly evolving given its intersection with emerging technology. Additional examples of relevant SoTL research on the topic are included below. CATL will update this list as we are able. Feel free to contact us with suggested resources as well.

Additional Resources

“Required” Reading: Guiding Students Through Your Course with Canvas Module Requirements

When provided with a task, almost invariably, some students will overlook or ignore provided instructions, skip past foundational lessons, and end up taking their own “creative” approach to completing it. While some students can find success going their own way, when a student misses instructions, they often end up making life harder for themselves and their instructor. When teaching with Canvas, you have access to tools that can help add order to how students progress through your lessons, instructions, and assignments. When you organize and present your content in modules, you gain the ability to add requirements that require each student to view and/or interact with specified course items before they can progress and access items positioned further down in the course module order. You can ensure that your students’ route to an assignment goes through the important scaffolding pages. While they are not a panacea and should be applied with careful thought so that they act as a guide and not an unnecessary obstacle for students, implementing module requirements can help prevent students from starting a task before they have engaged with preparatory lessons and activities.

Forcing top-to-bottom progression within a module

Within a single module you can use requirements to force students to progress through that module in top-to-bottom order. These requirements can help enforce that students, for example, view a page with important instructions before they can access and submit to an assignment. To set up a module with requirements that students must complete in order, click the module header’s Options icon, then click Edit to open the Edit Module Settings menu. In this menu, select + Add Requirement to begin adding your first requirement to the module and reveal additional options. Enabling the Students must move through requirements in sequential order checkbox will lock each module item until all the requirements above that item in that module have been completed. This forces students to work through the module requirements in top-to-bottom order. You then need to add requirements to the module. You will need to add one requirement for each module item students need to complete in order.

You add a requirement by selecting + Add Requirement, and then you configure a requirement by making selections in two drop-down menus. In the left drop-down menu, select the module item to which you want to add the requirement. In the right drop-down menu, select how the students must complete that requirement. Depending on the type of the module item, this second drop-down menu will show several options (click each option below to expand it and reveal suggested uses):

Only requires students to open and view the module item. This is a simple requirement well-suited for course Pages.

Requires students to open the item and then click a Mark as done button at the bottom of the page. If you use this type of requirement, make sure to provide students with instructions for marking items as done. Students can overlook the button and feel stuck if they’ve never encountered this requirement before.

Only used for Discussions and Pages that are set to allow students to make edits. Students will satisfy this requirement once they have posted a reply in the Discussion or saved an edit to the Page. Avoid picking this requirement for pages which can only be edited by Teachers, as students will not be able to complete the requirement.

Requires the student to make an Assignment submission, make a reply in a graded Discussion, or complete a Quiz attempt.

Requires students to earn at least the minimum score on the graded item, which you designate when setting up the requirement. This type of requirement works well with Quizzes that allow multiple or unlimited attempts.

Adding a requirement for each module item that contains important information or a required task will ensure students engage with the content in your intended order.

Locking a module until the previous module has been completed

Requirements can also be leveraged to lock an entire module until the student completes the requirements of one or more modules above it. Controlling module-to-module progression is done with the additional step of adding module prerequisites. You can add one or more prerequisites to a module through the same Edit Module Settings menu where you add requirements. When adding a module prerequisite, you select an entire module that appears above the module you are currently editing. Adding one or more prerequisites to a module will prevent a student from accessing all content in that module until they have completed the requirements of each module that is set as a prerequisite. Any module that is selected as a prerequisite must contain at least one requirement—Canvas needs to know the criteria for completing that module and satisfying the prerequisite. A module that is selected as a prerequisite but has no requirements will have no effect on course progression.

Screenshot of the Edit Module Settings menu: “Module 1” is selected as a prerequisite for “Module 2”
Edit Module Settings menu: “Module 1” is selected as a prerequisite for “Module 2”

Here is an example of how you can set this up in a course. Let’s say that the content in Module 1 is so fundamental to the content in Module 2 that you want to prevent students from viewing anything in Module 2 until they’ve fully engaged with the content in Module 1. Imagine that both Module 1 and Module 2 contain a Page, a Discussion, and an Assignment. Your first step in forcing students to complete Module 1 before accessing Module 2 is to edit Module 1 and add three requirements:

  1. Module 1 Page – view the item
  2. Module 1 Discussion – contribute to the page
  3. Module 1 Assignment – submit the assignment
Screenshot of the the Edit Module Settings menu with the example requirements for Module 1 set up
Edit Module Settings menu with the example requirements for Module 1 set up

Adding these requirements tells Canvas how to determine whether a student has completed Module 1: a student has completed Module 1 once they have viewed the Page, made a reply in the Discussion, and submitted to the Assignment. The next step is to edit Module 2 and add a prerequisite, selecting Module 1 as the prerequisite module. That is all that is needed to force students to complete Module 1 before accessing Module 2; it is not necessary to add any requirements to Module 2 unless you plan to use Module 2 as a prerequisite in a subsequent module. You may still want to add requirements to Module 2 just for the additional visual guidance and feedback they provide to students.

Screenshot of two example modules with requirements and prerequisites set up
Two example modules with requirements and prerequisites set up

Use Cases

There are many creative ways you can leverage module requirements and prerequisites to exercise control over the flow of your course. Here are a few illustrative use cases (click each to expand it):

You can require students to acknowledge the policies and essential information contained in your syllabus before they can access the rest of your course by creating a syllabus quiz and setting up module requirements and prerequisites. First, add a quiz to the “Introduction” module at or near the top of your Canvas course and add any number of objective questions to test your student’s knowledge of important syllabus content. Set up the quiz to allow for unlimited attempts and to keep the highest score. Next, edit your “Introduction” module to add a requirement that students score at least X points on the Syllabus Quiz. “X” can be whichever minimum score you deem good enough to allow progress through the course. Finally, edit each subsequent module of the course to add the “Introduction” module as a prerequisite. This setup requires students to take (and retake) the Syllabus Quiz until they score at least X points before they can access any of the content after the “Introduction” module.

You can set up requirements within a single module to have students complete a pretest quiz before going through the module content and then take a post-test quiz after completing the module content. This process could help you evaluate the effectiveness of your instruction and/or apply a metacognitive approach to help students gain awareness of their learning and gaps in their knowledge. To create this setup, add a pretest quiz at or near the top of a module and a post-test quiz at or near the bottom of the module and put lesson content and additional formative assessment activities in between the two quizzes. Edit the module to add a requirement to each module item (including requirements to “submit” to each of the two quizzes) and enable the Students must move through requirements in sequential order checkbox. Students will need to progress through the module in top-to-bottom order, first taking the pretest at the top of the module, then engaging with the content, and finally taking the post-test at the bottom of the module. You can set your pretest quiz to be a “Practice Quiz” so that scores are not added to the gradebook.

Even if you don’t need to force a linear progression through your course modules, adding requirements to your modules automatically adds visual feedback that helps to communicate expectations to students and helps students track their own progress through the course. Any module item that is used in a module requirement will display its requirement underneath its title within the module. This is a simple automatic piece of visual feedback that can help students keep track of their tasks. Students also see additional indicators of their progress. After a student completes a requirement, the module item is marked with a green checkmark to signal completion. If a student has started a module but has not yet completed all its requirements, that module’s header is marked with a red circle; once the student completes all of a module’s requirements, this indicator changes to a green checkmark. Instructors can monitor student progress through module requirements by clicking the View Progress button located above the first module of the course.

The visual feedback provided by module requirements adds a light element of gamification to your course, turning each module into a list of sub-missions to be completed. Requirements can be further leveraged to add game-based learning elements to your courses. Use requirements to set minimum scores on low-stakes quizzes that allow multiple attempts and unlock harder “levels” of your course once a student achieves the target score. You can further add the Canvas Badges (Badgr) integration to your course to award “achievements” for the completion of modules and (optionally) enable an anonymous leaderboard to foster competitive motivation among students.

Conclusion (Prerequisite: Read All Above Sections)

We hope this blog post has given you a sense of how and when you can use module requirements in your Canvas courses. When used thoughtfully, module requirements are an effective tool for encouraging students to move through your course in the sequence you intended. Recall from your past teaching that assignment or a module in a course where students got off-track because they somehow managed to miss vital information that was right there for them. Next time you teach that course, try employing requirements to funnel students through that important supporting content before they can start work on the assignment. If you have an idea for employing module requirements in your Canvas course and would like to discuss how to best put it together, please reach out to catl@uwgb.edu or request a CATL consultation to meet with a member of the CATL team!

Turnitin: Beyond Plagiarism Review

A feature highlight for Canvas this week is Turnitin. Although most instructors may be familiar with this tool as a plagiarism checker, it has additional impactful uses within the classroom. While checking for plagiarism is important to ensure academic integrity in student work, Turnitin can also function as a powerful feedback tool and as a self-assessment tool.  

According to several studies, feedback helps to further develop a learner’s cognitive abilities. Wisniewski, Zierer, and Hattie (2020) discuss how various forms of feedback have become a focus in teaching and the practice of teaching in recent years. The most impactful forms of feedback are task- and process-oriented feedback or formative feedback. Both provide students with information not only on how well they’ve met specific goals of an assignment or assessment, but also on how to improve their strategies for achieving those goals in the future.  

While feedback may not have a large impact on behavioral outcomes for learners, self-assessment and reflection activities do. Combining both feedback and self-assessment activities within an ongoing assignment opens up communication pathways within the classroom and may also help increase motivation in the learning environment. Feedback and self-assessment can also turn mistakes and errors into teaching moments for synchronous and asynchronous classes. As Terada (2020) points out both within and outside of the classroom, making and learning from errors is an integral part of the learning process. And Turnitin is one tool which can help provide those teaching moments. While we are familiar with the similarity reports produced by Turnitin, and often have used these reports for plagiarism review, studies show that Turnitin similarity reports can also be used for self-assessment. Chew, Ding, and Rowell (2013) in particular focus on how the similarity reports generated by Turnitin can be used by students to review and assess drafts of their own work or their peers’ work. With its integration in Canvas, Turnitin can be used both synchronously and asynchronously for all course modalities.  

Within the UWGB Canvas instance, Turnitin is paired with the Assignment feature and can be used in conjunction with peer review so that students can receive both a similarity report for self-assessment as well as receive formative feedback from both their peers and instructors. The Canvas SpeedGrader works with Turnitin to allow for suggestions, edits, and general comments to be provided in written, audio, or video format. For best results, a Turnitin Assignments can be paired with a Rubric, allowing students to both see the criteria for the assignment and review their drafts and feedback based on how well they met those criteria. Best practice would be to incorporate course outcomes within the rubric. This will provide transparency between instructor and students in setting and achieving overall course goals as well as expectations of the student.

To build out a Turnitin Assignment in Canvas, follow these directions.

  1. First, in your course site, navigate to the Assignments tab in the course navigation menu on the left side of the screen and click on Assignments.
  2. Next, click the + Assignment button in the upper right corner to create a new Assignment and then give the assignment a name.
  3. In the assignment Editing window, scroll down under settings and select the Online submission type, and then check the File Uploads option. This will cause a new setting option to appear called Plagiarism Review.
  4. The Plagiarism Review setting is default set to “None.” Change it to Turnitin. Turnitin is now enabled on the Assignment.
  5. To ensure draft submissions are not stored in a repository, change the setting under "Store submissions in" to Do not store the submitted papers. 
    • This setting is important for assignments that allow for multiple draft submissions. Not storing drafts into a repository means that subsequent drafts of the same assignment will not be flagged in the similarity report.
  6. Next, you can toggle on and off the different content types you want draft submissions to be compared to (student repository, website content, or periodicals, journals, and publications). 
  7. Below that, you can select what to exclude from the similarity reports generated by Turnitin. 
  8. You can also set the number of submissions to be "unlimited.”
    • This setting will allow students to resubmit drafts several times to the same assignment. For self-assessment it may be good to allow students to submit multiple drafts to review their similarity reports. Just remember to select “Do Not store the submitted papers” under the repository settings so students do not get flagged for work done on a previous draft of the same assignment.
  9. Lastly, click the button in the bottom right corner to Save and Publish your Turnitin Assignment.

Here is a general guide from Canvas discussing how to add or edit details in an assignment.