Easy and Inexpensive Ways to Engage Students to Promote Self-Regulated Learning

On Friday, 13 October 2017, I had the privilege of presenting a workshop on “Easy and Inexpensive Ways to Engage Students to Promote Self Regulated Learning” at the Michigan Developmental Education Consortium (MDEC) Conference. Here is a summary of some of the suggestions I made.

Make a Personal Connection

Send a Welcome Note

Before class begins, send your students an email welcoming them to the course. I generally do this the Friday before classes begin because that is the day my college uploads student names into BlackBoard. I used to cut and paste student email addresses from my class list to an email.

Write Syllabus in First Person

Design your syllabus as a conversation. Instead of saying “the student” or “the professor,” use the terms “I” and “you.”

Abandon Rigid Rubrics

Sometimes, rubrics can be so restrictive that they eliminate the possibility of creativity. I prefer to use general checklists or rubrics that are developed to engage students with the material instead of trying to nail down all of the requirements.

Rearrange Classroom

The default arrangement of classrooms is lecture style which does not allow for much student engagement. I train my students to “destroy” the classroom by rearranging the tables to create to what I refer to as “islands” around which four or five students sit. This facilitates conversation and the ability for students to form relationships with their colleagues. During the last few minutes of class, we rearrange the room to the default position. 

Recognize Student Accomplishments and Contributions

When a student is the first to volunteer, shares something special in class, has a significant accomplishment, assists another student, and so forth, I send them a short note thanking them for their contribution to class. I make my own stationary. However, if you don’t do art or photography, you can purchase stationary at the Dollar Store. My notes are rarely more than two sentences. Notes a mailed to students.

When a Grandmother (or Pet) Dies

Send a sympathy card.

Focus on Student

What interests you?

Ask your students what interests them and then–as much as possible–build the class around their interests. I give great flexibility in allowing students to select research topics based on their interests. At the MDEC Conference, I asked “When was the last time you asked your students what interested them?” I did not make my colleagues give answers. I did, however, admit that this is something that I did not use to do.

The Danger of a Single Story

The points for this section are developed in “Sexy Grandpa and The Dangers of a Single Story” which I wrote the week before the MDEC conference.

Student as Professor

I have student presentations built into my class; sometimes with individuals or teams. I begin with low level presentations by having a film festival on the third day of my history classes in which students screen videos concerning the historical period. As the semester progresses, the presentations get more sophisticated.

While I was attending the MDEC Conference, I had classes meeting without me. Students knew what they needed to accomplish and did what was necessary. In one class, the students had to make some choices about what they would do. Someone sent me an email concerning their decisions so that I will know what to prepare for next week.

I ended this section of the MDEC presentation by encouraging colleagues in attendance to think about which portions of their classes they could turn over to students.

Food is Fun (and Sometimes Scarce)

One of the workshop participants volunteered that she often brings donuts on the first day of class. I sometimes bring treats to class. After lecturing on the history of the potato, the class goes to our cafeteria where I pay for products made with potatoes. Having a pot luck as part of class can be a winning strategy.

Although this is not practical for many people, I do have food in my office; something I wrote about in “Faculty Office as Food Pantry.”


My composition students would rightly argue that this is a failed essay because I use too many general statements and do not develop enough concrete examples. Although I might counter that the purpose of this posting was to give a quick overview of my presentation, they are essentially correct.

If you have questions or want me to provide you with more specific examples or handouts I use, please let me know. You can post a question in the comments section or I can be reached at sberg@schoolcraft.edu.

    –Steven L. Berg, PhD


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