Struggling to capture students’ attention? We live in a world where most, if not all of us, use technology all day every day. No matter what subject you are teaching, it’s probable that written or verbal information alone won’t get your message across. So how can we create a more engaging and effective learning experience for students? Studies conducted by Petty and Cacioppo (1981) demonstrated that the likelihood of effectively processing information is strictly related to how motivated individuals are to logically elaborate information.
But what is the best way to motivate students while interacting with them? Below are three easy ways to make lectures more engaging and avoid seeing students falling asleep.
1. Get students to actively engage: Traditional Lectures and Vevox
Getting students to actively engage during lectures helps them better understand and store information in their long-term memory. But, what is the best way to effectively interact with students?
Some of you may think that calling on students when they haven’t volunteered can be an effective way of keeping higher levels of attention amongst students. Similarly, sometimes it can be taken for granted that whenever a topic is not clear to students, they will just interrupt and politely ask questions.
However, it is important to consider that not everyone has the confidence to stand up in huge lecture theatres to present their points of view in front of hundreds of peers. Also, there are several factors that may stop students from asking questions.
Firstly, it goes without saying, students may think that the question they would like to ask may not be appropriate or “smart enough” to interrupt an ongoing lecture. Alternatively, students might just simply be too shy or afraid of public speaking.
So, the question is: how can we encourage interaction while not pressuring students into public speaking?
We can all agree that public speaking and developing communication skills are part of those learning outcomes that belong to the large majority of higher education courses. However, as shown by a recent research study conducted by Raja (2017), these traditional teaching practices might have a negative impact on students’ learning experience. What is worst, it has been found that students tend to avoid modules that require them to speak in public.
In order to address this issue, the University of Southampton has invested in a site license for Vevox. This tool enables students to post and view live questions and comments without having to deal with the anxiety of standing up and talk in front of huge audiences.
Further to this, students can vote on live polls, ask questions and even ‘like’ other comments to show their approval or agreement. Having tested the app here at the University of Southampton, lecturers and students have provided us with very positive feedback. Some of them even told us that their classes and meetings have been transformed by Vevox, as it made them more involving, more democratic and also more fun!
2. Focus on What is Relevant
Attention is at the core of any learning experience. In today’s digital world, people are constantly bombarded by a wide variety of information through the internet and social media. Against this background, it is becoming increasingly challenging to capture students’ attention. Within Higher Education, lectures tend to last around one hour and often include a variety of content spread over a number of slides, depending on the subject.
So, even if you do manage to successfully capture students’ attention, how do you maintain it throughout the whole lecture?
Indeed, talking for an hour straight can be exhausting for any speaker and listener regardless of how enjoyable the topic is. Thus, a solution to the problem could be the use of regular breaks to allow students to stretch, change positions and talk to others. Similarly, as suggested in the previous section, another solution is to keep students engaged by using interactive tools such as Vevox.
However, academic literature and research studies on attention span conducted by Davis and Wankat seem to agree that while student attention is high at a start of a lecture, it has reached a low point only after 10 to 15 minutes. Similarly, Hartley and Davies found that notetaking also tends to decline consistently with “attention” decline while having an impact on student fatigue.
Following from this, it may be helpful to upload lectures slides in advance in order to allow students some time to familiarise themselves with the content. Research conducted by Babb and Ross (2009) found that attendance and student engagement increased when slides were available before the lecture. Nonetheless, this study also showed that exam performance was determined by more than just whether or not students had lecture slides available for their notetaking. Other factors involving attention and how effectively they can store what they learn during their lectures.
What tools can be used to enhance student engagement?
At the University of Southampton, we’ve been promoting the use of Panopto, a tool that allows lecturers to record their lectures or even make extra recordings, which can be made available to students at any time before or after the lecture. This way, students will no longer worry about taking note of everything they hear, but they can focus more on what is actually relevant. Similarly, lecturers are also able to spend more time on the most relevant topics and face to face interactions while adding extra video content that students can watch in their own time (Babb and Ross, 2009). This introduces the concept of “flipped” classroom, which can be simply described as teachers delivering lectures at home and students doing their homework in class.
What are the benefits of using Panopto?
If you are not familiar with Panopto, below are some reasons why we think you should give it a go:
- Value added to Courses: Panopto has been proved to enhance flexibility as students have been increasingly demanding control over their learning
- Simplicity: It is simple to set up and requires no technical knowledge.
- Integration with VLE: It is easily accessible and manageable via Blackboard
- Review Analytics: it enables lecturers to find out what students watch the most, which could ultimately allow them to optimise the lectures’ content and delivery.
- Transparency of Teaching: It allows lecturers to openly share best teaching practices with colleagues and also gives them the opportunity to review their own teaching.
- Streaming Server: Panopto includes a media pipeline that uses modern HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) for video capture, live webcasting, and on-demand distribution.
- Student Use: Panopto can be also used as a video recording software for student assignments. By recording themselves, students can get more practice and ultimately enhance their confidence and presentation skills.
Interesting in learning more about Panopto? Have a read through our blog post!
3. Use Videos and Infographics
Our last tip can sound like an obvious one but you don’t want to underestimate how important this is.
Delivering the content via face-to-face lectures is the most commonly used teaching method employed at many universities worldwide. However, a recent study conducted by Victoria University (2018), suggested that due to modern lifestyle pressures, students now need greater flexibility that allows them to learn at their own pace, place and mode.
In order to accomplish this, the use of interactive videos and infographics have been proved to have great potential for enhancing ‘deeper learning’. Interactive video and infographics involve lecturers adding questions and tasks at strategic moments. This can help information to be cognitively processed and retained. In support of this argument, a study conducted by Matthew Jorgensen, the Director of eLearning at Saint Stephen’s College, Gold Coast, found that 65 per cent of the students ‘strongly agreed’ that the interactive video had fostered their learning experience.
- Positive student feedback regarding engaging online interactive content (activities to support their learning)
- Increase in student pass rates with students achieving higher grades.
- Increase in student interaction with the online learning environment (number of students using the online space, as well as the duration of time engaging with content on the space).
- “Thanks for the maths support videos, they were immensely helpful.”
- “They are great – I like the interactive nature”
- “Great flexibility”
- “It consolidates what I have heard in lectures, read in lecture notes/textbook”
So, what tools can be effectively used to produce effective presentations?
Nearpod is an online tool that can be used by lecturers to upload existing Powerpoint slides and augment these with content in various formats such as video, audio or even a Sway presentation. This is interspersed with assorted activities to check and develop learning, with polls and quizzes accompanied by the option for users to draw something on the screen that can then be shared for discussion. Want to find out more about Nearpod? Read our blog post here.
If you are not familiar with Nearpod, an alternative tool can be H5P. It is a great resource that allows lecturers to design html5 content that can be linked or embedded anywhere. Some of the customisable content provided by H5P includes memory cards match games, word sorts, find the hotspot, timelines. Further to this, H5P allows lecturers to share the created interactive content with students in multiple ways. For example, H5P links can be copied and shared with students. Similarly, the embed code can be pasted into Blackboard.
Do you have any questions? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or come and have a chat with us in building 35/2025 on the Highfield Campus.
by Simone Andorlini, Digital Learning Team Intern
- Babb, K. and Ross, C. (2009). The timing of online lecture slide availability and its effect on attendance, participation, and exam performance. Computers & Education, [online] 52(4), pp.868-881. Available at: https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1508664 [Accessed 1 Jun. 2019].
- Davis, B. (2009). Tools for teaching. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass.
- Hartley, J. and Davies, I. (1978). Note‐taking: A critical review. Programmed Learning and Educational Technology, 15(3), pp.207-224.
- McDonald, T., Wilkie, Dr. S. and Zakaria, G. H5P Online Interactive Activities Provide an Alternative to Lectures, Victoria University, HERDSA Conference 2018
- Jorgensen, M. (2019). Evidence of Improving Knowledge Retention with Interactive Video. [online] H5p.org. Available at: https://h5p.org/blog/evidence-of-improving-knowledge-retention-with-interactive-video [Accessed 1 Jun. 2019].
- Petty, R. and Cacioppo, J. (1986). The Elaboration Likelihood Model of Persuasion. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, [online] 19, pp.123-205. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/270271600_The_Elaboration_Likelihood_Model_of_Persuasion [Accessed 28 Apr. 2019].
- Raja, F. (2017). Anxiety Level in Students of Public Speaking: Causes and Remedies. Journal of Education and Educational Development, [online] 4(1), p.94. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/317357079_Anxiety_Level_in_Students_of_Public_Speaking_Causes_and_Remedies_Journal_of_Education_and_Educational_Development [Accessed 3 Jun. 2018].
- Wankat, P. (2002). The effective, efficient professor. 2nd ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.