Learning Principles

Active Engagement

Because student engagement with coursework translates into learning that lasts, taking stock of the principles and practices that lead to student investment in course material can make a dramatic difference in what students take away from a course.

Students learn best when they actively engage the course material. Such engagement requires going beyond the memorization of content to working with the content in ways appropriate for the disciplinary context and the student level of development. Making explicit connections between course material and students' lives outside the classroom enables them to engage more deeply with the disciplinary content and become invested in it. Student investment is a committed type of engagement. It is something that often grows when a student has become convinced of the ongoing value of a course of action. Instructors can help students invest in their learning by contextualizing the assignment or topic within the meaningful "big picture." When students recognize the value of a course and can see concrete examples of how it connects to their lives, they are better equipped to appreciate the abstract concepts and invest in learning the material.

Acting upon those connections can also enhance student engagement with learning. One possibility for actively engaging learning is assigning students projects that engage them in the local community, experiencing local resources and conversations. Participating in a local community service project is one possible assignment that engages students with the community. Drawing links between academic material and their local milieu can make the classroom and the community more meaningful to students, and incorporating relevant volunteer projects can enrich class discussions and student projects in a range of ways. Community-based learning is a key part of the Georgetown experience as part of the university's mission to educate "men and women for others." Another way to increase student engagement is to scaffold experiences for students to reflect on their learning and make integrative connections across courses and disciplines. Building an ePortfolio or keeping an online journal, especially one of which the students feel they have visual ownership, can help inspire students to invest time and pride into their work.

Many of these strategies for improving student engagement can be viewed as social pedagogies. Social pedagogies refer to, as articulated by Randy Bass, those "design approaches for teaching and learning that engage students with what we might call an 'authentic audience' (other than the teacher), where the representation of knowledge for an audience is absolutely central to the construction of knowledge in a course." In the enaction of a social pedagogy, the audience for which a student writes is no longer just the instructor or an imagined audience; instead, what students do is create work that is visible and meaningful to others, often their classmates but sometimes the world. Students often feel more energized to do good work when they are held accountable for their work (receiving praise as well as constructive criticism) by others, not just their professor.


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