Igniting Student Engagement through Peer Collaboration

Contributed By

Matt Essert

Contributing Writer

Igniting Student Engagement through Peer Collaboration

Posted in Community | July 21, 2016

Engage students in as many ways as possible—this is the philosophy of Steven Hopkins, Graduate Teaching Associate at Arizona State University. The more students can interact in real time during his writing courses, the more they’ll be engaged and the more they’ll learn, Steven believes.

Luckily for Steven, a swell of new technology has made high level, real-time engagement all the more possible, but that doesn’t mean it happened overnight. Unfortunately, though Steven tried to utilize various learning management systems (LMSs) earlier in his career, it took him some time to find something that really worked.

“They seem to be really clunky, and they look old,” Steven says. “I think students have a hard time navigating them; I definitely have a hard time getting done the things I need to do on them.”

But about five years ago, while working on his Master’s degree at Oklahoma State University and teaching writing courses, Steven found Schoology and quickly made it an integral part of his teaching strategy. One of the central parts of his philosophy is that students need to be able to read and review the writing of other students to learn and improve.

In his experience, Schoology has been the only platform that has allowed him to practice this idea.

Steven uses Schoology for everything from keeping track of and grading assignments, to providing helpful, personalized feedback to his students. “It’s pretty integral actually,” Steven says. “If I didn’t have Schoology, I’d have to rethink a lot of the things that I do.”

One of the most crucial features that Steven regularly utilizes is the open discussion forums in class. For example, he can give out a homework assignment and have everyone turn their work in as a discussion board post. Then, because of the open nature of the discussion forums, Steven can easily review students’ writing directly with them, and students can learn from each others’ work in the process.

Rather than just giving a single student one-on-one feedback, Steven has developed a unique system that creates endless opportunities for valuable learning experiences.

Similarly, Steven facilitates real-time collaboration between his students. He’ll have them write and share their work with their classmates through Schoology, and he’ll provide immediate feedback.

Since it is a writing class, Steven tries to have his students write as much as possible, including frequently having students write whatever is on their minds, just to get something down on the page and out in public. Over the course of the semester, Steven noted that by having students complete these kinds of exercises, he could see genuine development.

“It’s facilitated a lot of really good discussion,” Steven says. “Those kinds of discussions are exactly what I’m shooting for in a writing class.”

Additionally, by digitizing all of his work, Steven has been able to create a simple, yet effective grading system that he can use to easily track his students’ progress. And by linking it to the rest of their work in one centralized place via Schoology, Steven is able to easily form a holistic view of his class’ progress over time.

This particular mix of collaboration, open feedback loops, and careful monitoring of progress has afforded Steven the unique ability to make his teaching philosophy come to life. With a structure that supports his goals but allows him to be creative with designing his course, Steven has committed his classrooms to Schoology and has encouraged others to do the same.

Though he notes other faculty members can be hesitant to try new systems and abandon what they’re used to (no matter how dissatisfied they may be with it), Steven has seen how well his students have responded to his use of Schoology. He believes the learning curve for both teachers and students is ultimately beneficial to their career aspirations.

He admits that he initially felt bad for having students learn how to use the Schoology platform when they start his class. But Steven believes that learning and understanding new systems is simply a fact of life in the modern technology-powered world and is something that will ultimately help students for years to come.

This integration of technology, self-empowerment, and collaboration that Steven discovered via Schoology has allowed him to develop a unique teaching style that he won’t be giving up any time soon.

“I was drawn to it, and I thought my students would feel comfortable interacting with it too—and that’s definitely been the case.”


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