One of the most common complaints we hear from lecturers and tutors is that many students don’t prepare for classes.

They just won’t do the reading!

But is it always their fault? And is it purely due to a lack of interest or motivation? Well, for Joseph Yeo, from the Academic Language and Learning Group of the Institute for Interactive Media and Learning, the answer to those two questions is a definitive “No”. And Joseph has been putting together advice for course teams going through the LX Transformation to help them deal with the problem of pre-class activities. We think his advice is too good to be kept to a select few, so we’ve collated his ideas to share with you here on Futures.

Establish a purpose

One of the easiest ways to motivate students to complete pre-class activities is to tell them explicitly why these activities are important. Establishing a purpose and showing students the relevance of preparatory work helps them to understand the reason they are being asked to read or watch something, or to participate in a discussion. With reading, for example, it’s a good idea to explicitly tell your students how the text is related to the weekly topic, how it’s going to help them in their assessments and, more importantly, what key information and ideas they need to extract from it.

Set expectations

When presented with a long list of pre-class activities, some students may choose not to do anything (if they could). There are various reasons for this: they can’t see the relevance (addressed above, hopefully), they are time-poor, or they are simply overwhelmed. A good way to encourage students to do at least some preparation is to tell them, for example: “If you can’t complete A, B, C and D before next week, at the very least, do A and B because without these you won’t be able to participate in the class or pass the next assessment.”

Make it interactive

A great way to encourage students to complete your pre-class content is to build in some interactivity. This has the added benefit of engaging students more meaningfully with a video or reading while scaffolding the learning process. Canvas has some tools that lend themselves perfectly to these kinds of learning activities. You could use a comments box to encourage students to discuss questions directly related to your week’s content, to reflect on its possible implications, or to note any questions they have.

A screenshot of a comments from the Canvas LMS, containing the question 'Given Duncan et al's (2019) vision of the Australian economy, which sectors do you think will be best placed to take advantage of future opportunities for growth?'
A comments box from the Canvas LMS.

You could also use the social poll tool to ask students to give an opinion about your week’s topic before they engage with it. You could then use one again to examine whether they have changed their opinion after finding out more.

A screenshot of a social poll from the Canvas LMS.
A social poll from the Canvas LMS.

It’s also possible, using the Kaltura video platform (available in both UTSOnline and Canvas), to create videos with questions embedded into them. As students progress through a video, it pauses and a reflection or content question pops up which they must answer before they can continue watching.

A screenshot of a question for viewers to answer, appearing during a an online video using Kaltura.
A question embedded into a Kaltura video.

Cut it up

As a pre-class reading activity, divide a piece of text into, for example, four parts and assign each part to a group of four students. In class, new groups are formed. Students then have to summarise and explain their assigned part of the reading to the members of their new group in order to reconstruct the whole text. They often feel more compelled to do a task like this as they know that they’ll let their fellow students down if they don’t complete the reading.

Go step by step

If you have a cohort of students with different levels of English language proficiency, it’s probably not realistic to expect them all to be reading and fully comprehending the same dense piece of text. Some texts might be too challenging for many, especially at the start of the teaching session. It’s a good idea, therefore, to include a range of readings each week, from relatively simple ones that explain basic concepts, to more demanding ones, such as journal articles. Those with a lower level of English language proficiency, as well as those who lack an understanding of the basic concepts (and this can include domestic students with English as their first language), can be encouraged to start by reading the easier texts. This will give them the foundational knowledge they need to tackle the denser texts, which often build on basic concepts in their analyses and arguments.

Get back to us

Not sure if these ideas will work with your students? There’s only way you’ll find out. So try them out and let us know how you get on. We’d also love to hear about your ideas for helping students engage with pre-class activities. You can use the comments box below to share them with us all.

And keep an eye on Futures for more advice from Joseph. There’ll be more posts coming soon.

Photo by Fernando Hernandez on Unsplash

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