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Oklahoma State University Graduate Teaching Assistant Conference on Teaching, 2013. Effective Teaching Techniques: Keeping Students Engaged. Donald P. French, Ph.D. Professor of Zoology Coordinator, University Faculty Preparation Program. dfrench@okstate.edu. http://grad.okstate.edu/ufp.

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effective teaching techniques keeping students engaged

Oklahoma State UniversityGraduate Teaching AssistantConference on Teaching, 2013

Effective Teaching Techniques: Keeping Students Engaged

Donald P. French, Ph.D.

Professor of Zoology

Coordinator, University Faculty Preparation Program



why am i here
Why am I here?
  • I started like you!!
  • Scientist whose research now focuses on Science Education
  • Coordinate Introductory Biology
    • 40 TA positions
  • Coordinate UFP program
    • Succeeding in the Professoriate
    • Teaching Zoology
why are you here
Why are you here?
  • Why should you engage students?
    • In a recent survey, TAs rated “motivating students” as one of their least important responsibilities (Sohum, Cho, French 2012)
where shall we start
Where shall we start?

Why do you want to engage students?

What do we mean by engagement?

How would you recognize engagement?

why do we think our methods work
Why do we think our methods work?

If we throw “bricks” of knowledge at the heads of students, why are we surprised when the students duck?

--Jeff Weld,

University of Northern Iowa

how people learn
How People Learn

People are not blank slates or empty vessels to be filled

they don t retain isolated information
They don’t retain isolated information

They must organized it

But how does this organization arise?

memory take home messages
Memory take home messages

Information should be well structured, personally relevant, and rich in emotional and sensory qualities

There are limitations on how much we can pay attention to at one time

No attention - no memory; varying the type and sensory modality of learning activities may be helpful

Students should engage with material frequently in ways that require retrieval - frequent testing.

(Miller 2011)

misconception vs misunderstanding
Misconception vs. Misunderstanding

“Mutations cause cancer, therefore all mutations are bad. “

“Evolution occurs only by natural selection.”

Misconception: Incorrect association in cognitive schema

Misunderstanding: Gaps in cognitive schema

how do we rewire schema
How do we ‘rewire’ schema?

“Mutations cause cancer and they are also a source of genetic variation. “

“Evolution can occur by natural selection and other processes like genetic drift.”

Misconceptions: Confront misconceptions

Misunderstandings: Provide connections from previous information to new information

which questions for engagement
Which questions for engagement?

Closed-ended questions such as those requiring a Yes/No response or selection from multiple choice

Open-ended questions probe and elicit expanded thinking and processing of information

Convergent questions have one right answer

Divergent questions have multiple possible answers and encourage students to be creative or express insight. If working in groups, students have the opportunity to learn from a variety of perspectives.

active learning classroom
Active Learning Classroom
  • Involves students in physical and mental activities that engage students with the subject
    • “hands-on” experiences
    • Social interaction
    • Problem solving
characteristics of scenarios
Characteristics of Scenarios
  • Provide Stories or Situations
  • About topics to which students can relate
  • Present Question(s)
  • Connect variety of topics
conditions to motivate
Conditions to Motivate
  • Relevance
    • Students see value in what they can relate to
    • Learning outcomes should align with students' interests and goals (academic, career, and social).
    • Learning activities provide opportunities to attain learning outcomes.
  • Possibility of Achievement
    • Assessments are fair and appropriate.
    • Students perceive learning environment as supportive.
    • Students experience success in activities and assignments.
  • Control
    • Give students choices.
    • Students know what to expect and what is expected of them.


provide opportunities to apply concepts in different contexts
Provide opportunities to apply concepts in different contexts
  • Evolution – pervasive throughout semester
  • Others applied repeatedly, e.g.
    • Gradients
    • Surface-to-volume ratio
    • Structure/Function
    • Laws of Thermodynamics
integrate connect information
Integrate-Connect Information

Tundra (Biome)



Cellular Respiration

from different levels

types of exercises
Types of exercises
  • Solve problem
  • Offer Opinions
  • Observe - Generalize
  • Observe and Propose Hypotheses
  • Design Experiment
style of exercises
Style of exercises
  • Turn to your neighbor
  • Minute Papers
  • Extended Papers
  • Clickers

If the vacationing slug family's internal fluid salt concentration was 0.9% and that of the great salt lake was 5%, what affect would swimming have on their cells?

  • They would shrink
  • They would expand
  • There would be no change
  • It is not about what you do, it is about what you get your students to do…
  • …and think about,...
  • … and talk about.
worth reading
Worth Reading

and numerous journals

university faculty preparation
University Faculty Preparation
  • Earn certificate to accompany doctorate
  • 8 hours of coursework
    • Success in the Professoriate
    • Two courses in Teaching and Learning
  • 4 hours Apprenticeship and Practicum
  • Expert Mentorship
  • Guidance in professional development and documentation