A quest for enhanced student engagement: Are you ready for war?

Paper presented at the 2015 CLEA Conference in Glasgow

Hermanus Moolman and Lézelle Jacobs
University of the Free State
South Africa

The idea of actively engaging students in the learning process in order for it to be effective is not new. Educational research has shown that academic success is positively influenced by the amount of active participation in the learning process. Despite the considerable attention dedicated to student engagement, students in the Faculty of Law at the University of the Free State (UFS), South Africa, reported very low mean scores for active and collaborative learning. This can be ascribed to the traditional lecture format that is employed in the faculty. Low student participation was experienced, which spurred interest into the exploration of enhanced student engagement. However, for some lecturers and students, engagement embodies a conflict, a battle and even a war. In an attempt to defuse this tension, academe of the faculty established a community of learning in law.

During meetings and workshops these members act as collaborators in the construction of new knowledge on the theory and practice of good teaching and learning; they reflect critically on obstacles in their own courses and actively take part in conversations on the application of innovative strategies in law teaching.

The community focused on the enhancement of student engagement. Members of the community shared examples from literature on student engagement techniques (SETs) with the community, followed by discussions on possible adaptation to law. The Preparation and individual presentations of members were greeted with great enthusiasm.

This paper reports on some of the SETs the community members implemented and adapted in their classrooms. The second researcher, for example, adapted the SET known as Team Jeopardy to a format resembling the television show Who Wants to be a Millionaire. She used the technique for revising and establishing important facts in her mercantile law module. The implementation and feedback on other SETs, such as the split-room-debate, role playing, think again and dyadic interviews are also reported on.

Community members have developed some understanding of the importance of student engagement in their specific higher-education context. They have become better equipped in identifying possible solutions to the various problems, and have started implementing student engagement solutions. The participating lecturers have taken the first small step towards a peaceful resolution of the raging war often associated with student engagement.

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