by Ginny Dow, Liberty University English Professor and Cengage Faculty Partner

Students love connecting with friends and family on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. In fact, they are often more engaged on social media than they are in face-to-face encounters. How do we transfer that desire to engage into the classroom? I want my English students to be excited to learn literature. Far-fetched idea? Maybe, but my goal is that they find some literary work that they love, even if that is only one poem, short story or play throughout the whole semester. My #JustOneThing which enhances student engagement is ConnectYard—the social media app in MindTap English.  By posting focused questions in the ConnectYard app, I can nurture curiosity about course content.

ConnectYard provides a safe, online environment in which students can answer questions about literature without feeling foolish or afraid that a peer might laugh at their ideas. Once students sign up for the ConnectYard app, they can choose how to receive the messages posted in the app. Most of my students choose to receive the notifications and messages via text message. They can also choose to get their messages through Facebook, Twitter, or in their university or personal email accounts. It’s extremely easy to sign up, and the program is easy to use. If I try to depend solely on the students’ email accounts, I end up receiving very few responses. Most of my students forget to check their university email accounts on a regular basis. By giving them access to material in their choice of format, I get higher student participation in my English classes.

Boost Student Engagement with ConnectYard

How exactly does ConnectYard encourage student involvement? I teach a couple of large lectures of Composition and Literature each semester, and I find that students in classes of 200 people or more, need an extra incentive to get excited about and involved in the course. Although they meet in smaller classrooms once a week, I want them to feel more connected to me and to each other in these large lectures. I post questions or special announcements in the ConnectYard app before and after class, which helps foster this connection.

Some ideas for posts and questions to encourage more student engagement include:

  • Who is your favorite character in a particular story and why?
  • How does the author use a particular literary device to show the theme?
  • How would you cite the author of this work in MLA (or APA) format?
  • Post the working thesis for your paper, and comment on at least two of your peers’ posts.
  • What are the conflicts in this story?
  • Why is the setting of particular importance in this story?
  • How does the author use a particular conflict to contribute to the story as a whole?
  • What is the point of view of the work?
  • Identify a symbol in this week’s reading; explain its significance in the story/poem.
  • Assign an extra assignment for a significant amount of points (15?), and ONLY announce it through ConnectYard (those who miss the announcement are more eager to sign up for ConnectYard)
  • What is your favorite poem (even if we didn’t read it in class)—and why?

Enhance Participation with Incentives

I also make it clear that participation in ConnectYard is optional. I offer special incentives, which vary, to increase participation. By offering prizes and/or extra points on a quiz for answers to ConnectYard questions, I help build excitement. In class, I often recognize particularly insightful answers. By having participants stand or raise a hand, I show which students are involved. Sometimes, to create a sense of urgency, I offer an extra-special prize to only the first student in each section who correctly answers a question or responds to a prompt. Whether the reward is candy, extra points, or a Barnes & Noble gift card, the students enjoy both the prize and the in-class recognition.

By using ConnectYard regularly, I find that my students are more engaged, more apt to come to class prepared to discuss the literature, and more likely to get their assignments completed on time. ConnectYard has greatly enhanced the student involvement in my classes. If there is only time for #JustOneThing to add, I highly recommend incorporating ConnectYard.