On November 7, 2014, I attended the ETOM Conference at St. Clair Community College in Port Huron, MI. One of the underlying themes of this year conference was student engagement in and out of the classroom. As an instructor who hasn’t taken classes in quite some time, sometimes I forget how difficult it is to be a student in the 21st century. Between the rising cost of college, the changing nature of technology, and the demands at home, it is often a struggle to engage students in the classroom. This conference helped give me a different perspective of how I can look at my classes in a new way.
The opening session focused on Open Educational Resources and how the cost of textbooks has an impact on which classes students take and how engaged the students are with the college. The statistics are clear that higher textbook costs lead students to take fewer classes and sometimes not to take any classes at all. Although I don’t believe that textbook cost should be the only reason to use an Open Educational Resource, I believe it is an important factor to consider. Besides the cost, the idea of being able to customize the material to include videos and interactive materials to increase student engagement is also appealing.
My favorite session of the day, though, was titled, “Engaging Students With and Without Technology.” In this session, the focus was on classroom response systems. Most teachers have heard of clickers. At my college (Macomb Community College), we have Turning Point technology available for use in the classroom. All of these clickers are nice, except for the cost and the inconvenience of setting up the system correctly. At the ETOM Conference, we were introduced to KahootIT and Plickers as two free alternatives to the traditional classroom clickers. I plan to use KahooIT with my calculus class in the upcoming weeks as a way to engage students with a quick in class assessment.
One of my favorite parts of ETOM Conference was that the online students were not forgotten, either. Engaging students in the online classroom can be extremely challenging, especially with asynchronous courses. One of the sessions that I attended focused in on using individualized quizzes and individualized feedback using podcasts in order to engage students in the online environment. The idea was initially developed as a tool for teacher-to-teacher interaction, it was soon discovered that students benefited from this individualized instruction as well. This helped me to realize that how we engage with each other is often very different than how we engage with our students. If something is working for teacher-to-teacher interaction, it is worth a shot for teacher-to-student interaction as well.
Overall, the ETOM Conference was a very enriching experience and I would highly recommend that others attend future conferences. The amount of information was definitely not overwhelming and I walked away from each session that I attended with at least one idea, principle, or best practice that I could immediately apply in my classroom once I left the conference. Student engagement is a very serious matter and it was refreshing to see so many different perspectives on the idea of how to engage students from all directions. Student engagement starts from before the time students even register for a class, but student engagement needs to extend beyond the classroom as well.