Engagement Triggers and Tasks for Interactive Segments

Initial Publication Date: September 22, 2011

After pre-instructional planning is considered, a second step in providing an interactive lecture is to determine a learning task and while not required, it is certainly helpful to select a potential engagement trigger to create an interactive lecture segment. Students will complete the task in the context of an interactive learning technique such as a think-pair-share, question of the day, one-minute write or some activity formed by combining techniques.

Tasks for Interactive Lecture Segments

The actual interactive segment and activity must be centered around the completion of some learning-oriented task. Tasks are the actual activity the instructor has students do such as interpret a graph, while interactive lecture techniques. are the processes by which students complete the activity, such as using a think-pair-share to interpret a graph.

Options might include:

  • Interpreting graphs: Give students real data, as a graph for a short question or to plot themselves as part of a longer exercise. Have them summarize and interpret any patterns they can find. For instance, in a labor economics course, the instructor might show an age earnings profile for women who leave the workforce to have children and then return. Students can explain what the shape of the profile implies and what factors contribute to the shape they observe.
  • Making calculations and estimations: Allowing students to work with real data, have them summarize the data mathematically before moving on to interpretation. After polling individuals in the class about how much different people are willing and able to pay for a product, students can use the date to derive a demand curve.
  • Making predictions from demonstrations: Demonstrate a theory or principle using all students or a subset of students. A popular concept for demonstration in economics classes is the occurrence of diminishing marginal product as students produce a product in consecutive rounds with increasing levels of a variable input.
  • Brainstorming: Elicit responses from students that assess prior knowledge of a topic. For instance, in economics instructors often discuss the idea of price discrimination. As a lead in to this topic, if the instructor asks students to share instances where people pay different prices for the same item, students usually produce a substantial list including things like cars, drinks at bars, movie tickets, etc.
  • Tying ideas together: Let the students synthesize big ideas before the instructor starts to do so through lecture. As an example, when economists discuss the notion of minimum wage and show the side effects graphically, students can begin to derive the implications of changes to minimum wage such as unemployment, higher product prices, and perhaps even increased high school drop out rates.
  • Applying what has just been learned in class: It's very important to make sure that students can connect abstract ideas with specific real examples, especially slightly complicated ones. In economics, the concept of elasticity is often difficult for student. It is good practice to immediately have students calculate and interpret values for elasticity after the topic has been introduced.
  • Reading to solve a problem or apply a concept: Reading is a good task for students to have a chance to see a real world example of something that has just been discussed in theory in class. For instance, if health care reform lowers salaries to doctors, reading an article about a shortage of doctors provides an immediate application.
  • Coming up with a policy recommendation: Often, economic models and theories are used to come up with policy recommendations for a particular situation. Students might consider various economic policies that have been or could be tried to reduce cigarette smoking. They can consider how each policy ties back to economic theory in how it affects smoker behavior.

Engagement Triggers for Interactive Lecture Segments

The instructor might want to begin an interactive lecture segment by using some sort of engagement trigger to capture student attention. This can be as simple as asking a thought-provoking question. Other good options are things that have visual appeal or are of common interest to students. Instructors might try:

  • Evocative visuals, physical props
  • Cartoons
  • Photographs
  • Evocative textual passages
  • News clips
  • Clips from movies or television shows

paris market
For instance, consider the photo to the left as an example of an evocative visual used as an engagement trigger. An economics professor might display this photograph (taken while on vacation) to the class as an engagement trigger. The instructor plans for students to engage in a think-pair-share activity in which they answer an open-ended question about why economists study markets and what value there is in understanding the interaction of supply and demand. The visual representation of a physical market captures student attention and imagination as they begin this exercise which ultimately serves as an introduction to the segment of a course in which the instructor will teach the concept of a market.