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Teaching Tip: Your Students Are Not Paying Attention in Class? Shocking!

May 13, 2015

studentsWe have all had the experience of having students sitting in our OM classes and knowing that they are not paying the least bit of attention. Attention, as defined in the literature, refers to the idea that students have a finite amount of cognitive resources available at any given moment to devote to a particular stimuli from their sensory environment. To that end, students’ attention is constantly shuttling between what they are experiencing externally and internally.  If class is interesting and there is activity, students can focus on those activities and work to remember that information for later use. However, when class isn’t engaging, students will find other things to occupy their attention.

Sometimes, students work to multi-task while in class. In this case, students try to engage in activities on their laptop, iPad, or phone while also believing they are “paying attention” in class.  But by doing so, students draw necessary resources away from immersing themselves in the content, resulting in poorer performance.

Although some of us believe that the burden of attention rests solely on the student, there are things we can do to help to keep them actively involved in their learning. For students to pay attention, there has to be sufficient need for that attention to be devoted to the material at hand. That is, we need to engage the students in ways that make it difficult for them to pay attention to anything else. There are two key benefits to this: (1) students report that the class goes by more quickly and they remember more, and (2) faculty report fewer problems in the classroom and that students seem more prepared for class.

Here are 5 strategies, writes Faculty Focus (May 4, 2015), for engaging students in the classroom that require that their attention is devoted to the class :

  1. Ask questions and require students to write responses.
  2. Have students respond to questions about a previous class activity.
  3. Create mini-lectures to include time for student comment, feedback, and response.
  4. Focus learning on student perspectives.
  5. Create rapport with students and build a comfortable classroom climate.
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