Connecting Student Engagement and Neuroscience

Connecting Student Engagement and Neuroscience

A common issue observed in classrooms nowadays is the absence of engagement between teachers and students.

This problem shouldn’t be placed on students being disengaged during a monotone one-sided lecture. Instead, teachers need to adapt their teaching methods and find something that will act as a catalyst in the classroom. Engagement in lectures has been linked with neuroscience when discussing how the brain reacts differently in an interactive environment.

Humans are categorized as social creatures, we live in communities, interact with each other on a daily basis, to the extent that success is achieved when working with others. Why should the education scene be any different? As a student too often a teacher reads off prepared PowerPoint slides for an hour, while students frantically try to fit all the information in their notebooks. This teaching method causes students to lose focus on the lecture and not understand the material.

The main difference between a bored student and an engaged one is positive emotions. When actively participating in a lecture, students feel in control of their learning and can retain more information than copying words from a projector to their notebooks. From a neuroscience perspective, “emotions are handled in the brain’s prefrontal cortex” (Edutopia). The same cortex handles our memories, therefore creating a relationship between engaging students and their emotions, ultimately improving student’s retention.

For information to get stored as a long-term memory it must get through the reticular activating system(RAS). The RAS is “the brains first filter for incoming sensory information”(Edutopia), this filter prioritizes potential threats, things that are new or can bring pleasure. Hence, teachers need to find new ways to present and go away from a dull and impersonal presentation which would likely not get through the RAS filter.

The ability to remember new information declines rapidly over time. There are two ways to improve the memorization of a topic: creating a connection with a topic and reactivating the information by repeating it and using it in different ways.

A tool that I have personally had positive and unique lecture experiences is Wooclap. A student response system (SRS) that integrates questions within a presentation. With the whole class engaged in the lecture with their smartphones, tablets or laptops, teachers can convey the same information as before while being more effective in their attempts to have students retain the information.

For instance, many instructors will have a couple slides of information followed by a question on the same topic. This gets the students engaged since they feel a part of the discussion with their responses on subjects that are still fresh in their minds. In addition, it enhances the memorization of the information since they see the same information presented in two different manners. Furthermore, varying the questions with SRS can create unique experiences that stand out from typical slides of information. A student is more likely to remember getting a question right or wrong and create a link that will help them recall the information better.

Another facet of SRS that is a big focus on Wooclap’s platform is the feedback portion of the platform. The feedback allows for even greater interaction between the professor and his students. Students can ask a question on a message board for clarification from the professor. Additionally, the professor receives direct feedback from the student’s responses and can immediately identify what material is understood or not.

These functions of SRS create an interactive and memorable presentation. This allows information to get through the RAS and be stored in long-term memory. Additionally, it gives students the opportunity to visit the information multiple times through different avenues and create connections. All of this allows the brain to retain more information, which consequently is a significant goal for students at a university level.

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About the Author
Author: Augustin de Walque
Augustin de Walque is a student entering his third year at Virginia polytechnic institute and state university studying Business Information Technology. Who is passionate about educational technology and how it can advance education

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