Monday, April 11, 2016

Staying Relevant

“Why do I need to know this?  Why are we doing this?  Why are we spending so much time on this?”

Students sometimes struggle to see the connection between class content and activities of a course and the ways in which it can remain relevant in their future lives.  This leads to them wonder about, or sometimes even question aloud, what the purpose of an activity serves.  Research also confirms that perceived relevance is a critical factor in maintaining student interest and motivation and contributes to higher student ratings on course evaluations.

In order to keep relevance strong in your course, consider implementing the following three practices.
  1. Regularly share and discuss the learning outcomes of the course.
    Often times, course learning outcomes appear once on syllabi, and then are never referenced or heard from again.  Reiterating outcomes help clarify what students will know and do when they complete the course, keeping them on track from completing assignments and participating in class.  However, don’t stop at just listing the outcomes, discuss the relevance of these outcomes with your students.  This discussion stresses the need to know why the knowledge and skills listed as learning objectives will come into play in students’ future lives, helping to keep them motivated.

  2. Clearly tie learning outcomes to the required activities and assignments.
    Once you’ve had the discussion about the importance of the learning objectives you’ve set for the course, it’s important for you to make direct ties to them when assigning new work.  Often times, faculty may think that the links between learning outcomes and activities are obvious to students, but that’s not always a valid assumption.  Each assignment should be justified by answering questions like, “How does this assignment relate to the course outcomes? How will this assignment help fulfill them? What should the student know and be able to do after completing the assignment? Why was this particular assignment chosen to achieve the learning outcomes?”  When students understand what the assignments are helping them accomplish, they see the assignments’ utility and find the work more meaningful.

  3. Orient students at the beginning of each class period by discussing the “What, Why, and How” of that day.
    Some instructors already help establish each class by providing an outline of the day’s material for students to follow along with.  This is a great way for students to stay on track, but is even more effective if students are able to place the items on the agenda into the context of their lives.  Try adding a brief explanation of the what, why, and how of each course to get students on track, motivate them, and help keep each day’s content specifically relevant.
What?: What are we doing in class today?  What questions will we try to answer?  What concepts will we address?  What activities will we do?
Why?: Why are we studying this?  How are today’s content and activities tied to the       course learning outcomes?  What should I know or be able to do after today’s class?      How can the information and skills be used in everyday life?
How?: How are we going to address the content?  Will we use lectures?  Activities? Discussions? How will different learning styles be accommodated?

Keeping students in the loop as to the value, purpose, and procedures for course activities helps maintain a healthy level of relevance within your courses.

Adapted From: Jeff Fox for Magna Publications
By: Jessica Moser 

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