One approach to engaging students is to develop and provide course content that is rigorous enough that students feel a sense of accomplishment when completing an assignment, but are not overwhelmed or unable to attain the goals set out for them. Providing challenging content can lead students to invest more time thinking about content, which may lead to deeper learning and better retention.
When designing a course, activities and assessments should focus on a variety of learning levels, promote reflective learning, and most importantly, align with and measure course goals and objectives. Follow these best practices for rigorous course content that will challenge students:
- Vary the challenge of the assessment: Include a variety of questions or tasks at different learning-levels so that students must practice higher-order critical thinking and problem solving strategies in addition to lower-order skills such as recall or classification. This encourages students to apply critical or creative processes to complete more open-ended work. Learn more about learning-levels on the Bloom’s Taxonomy page.
- Set high standards and share clear performance expectations: Provide students with a rubric that includes a detailed explanation of the type of work you expect. This frees students from spending time searching for grading criteria and allows for more time to engage with the content.
- Provide scaffolding for complex assignments: Build intermediate stages into more challenging writing assignments or projects, and provide timely feedback throughout the semester. This process guides students in developing skills throughout the semester, so they are able to learning more and perform well on cumulative assessments.
- Keep appropriate workload in mind: Repetition does not necessarily equate to greater learning. Think about the type and number of activities assigned to students throughout the week, and balance their workload when introducing new items that are more challenging. For example, when requiring students to complete an analysis that requires higher-order thinking, it may be appropriate to reduce the number of repetitive or memorization-based tasks. Learn more on the student workload page.
- Include course elements that are interesting to students: Students report that they perceive a course to be more rigorous when they find elements of the subject matter interesting and of importance to their future careers or lives.
References and Additional Resources
- Bell, J., and Murphy, C. (2017). Academic Rigor in the Online Classroom
- Coates H, Hillman K, Jackson D, Tan L, Daws A, Rainsford D and Murphy M (2008). Attracting, engaging and retaining: New conversations about learning. Australasian Student Engagement Report (AUSSE) Camberwell: ACER
- Reddy, Y. M., & Andrade, H. (2010). A review of rubric use in higher education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35:4
- Zepke, N., & Leach, L. (2010). Improving student engagement: Ten proposals for action. Active learning in higher education. (Proposal 5 in particular)
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