Some of you might remember the phrase from Cabaret – ‘In any and every language, Welcome!’ If the pandemic taught us anything, it was the value of seeing and hearing from our students rather than talking to blank screens. You may have tried inviting (or even pleading with) students to turn on their cameras. But what most teachers really missed and wanted was to see students engaging as a behavioural sign that they were also engaging with the content. Online teaching meant we were teaching without the fidgets, twitches and facial expressions as immediate feedback. We needed to design learning that was less remote.
The days of sage-on-a-stage are long gone. Today we need the skills of a podcast or a talk show host and to guide from the side. With information just about everywhere, we are no longer knowledge disseminators but rather knowledge curators. Importantly we still want to behaviourally engage with our students and to do so means we need to ‘nudge’ them into the behaviours we are seeking (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008).
For context, I teach a large introductory compulsory core course with over a thousand students for many of whom English is a second language. Their cultural background and experience can differ widely. Some may be reluctant to talk, turn on their microphone or share a screen, hence trying to create a transformative learning experience meant I had to nudge them to behave in a way online that showed some level of engagement with me and the content. By presenting different choices of behaviour, students could use them to express their understanding, or confusion, or even feelings. With these choices, I found students engaged readily, and even willingly.
Set the climate with music
The first nudge I offered was based on the Community of Inquiry intersection of social and teaching presence (Garrison & Vaughn, 2008) of ‘setting the climate’ to invite student interaction. Many teachers have been playing music for years in their classroom as a means to set the climate. But I also wanted to nudge them to interact, hence the song became a welcome, climate setting and lesson start. Next time you watch anything on TV, notice the song played as both an intro/outro- duction. If you listen carefully, these songs link to the content about to be shown. Music anchors the listener to emotionally connect (Arjmand, Hohagen, Paton & Rickard, 2017). The music at the start of class provided an informal connection point, a time to connect and reconnect each week. Students talked about life and the weather and posted emojis before class began.
Music is a universal language, beyond the lyrics, the beat and rhythm send a message. Linking back to the concept that music anchors to emotions, I wanted to create a positive, upbeat feel to my online classroom. My students are studying ethics and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. As part of this, we ask them to explore their values and behaviours. To select a song, I look for something that is:
- G rated
- Popular – often from a movie
- Simple in its message
- Relevant to what we’re teaching in that session
Once identified we add them to a shared Spotify® playlist encouraging students to use it to sustain their motivation once class is finished. It is also a great way for people to check their audio as they arrive. I always share the name of the song and tell them when we will start – then my cat arrives about 2 minutes prior to class and dances (she also has a TikTok® account – See Tiger Talks! For study tips and hacks). By nudging students to comment on the music, safe interaction behaviours are formed.
My other nudges are based on knowing my students were unlikely to ‘talk with me’ or turn their cameras on even if invited. Hence, I nudged their behaviour to use other forms of universal language such as emojis. Emojis are a shared language that are easy to use and quick for students to show an interaction (Gribble & Wardrop, in press), and when posted provide a dopamine hit by the ‘ping’ sound (similar to a social media like). I use popcorn rules i.e it has to be fast – just how popcorn pops in a microwave. My classroom chat is now full of emojis and just about everyone (~98%) posts every couple of minutes. The rules are to post a popcorn emoji when you hear something you understand or like.
Teaching online is likely to stay in some form and considering how to nudge your students to interact with you and each other means the darkness and silence becomes a screen of colour and sound.
You can read more about In the business of connecting: Nudging students in the ASCILITE Conference 2022 proceedings.
Arjmand, H.A., Hohagen J, Paton, B., Rickard N.S., 2017 Emotional Responses to Music: Shifts in Frontal Brain Asymmetry Mark Periods of Musical Change Frontiers in Psychology, Vol 8. DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.02044. URL=https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.02044
Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan, N. D. (2008). Blended Learning in Higher Education: Framework, Principles, and Guidelines. Jossey-Bass.
Gribble L., & Wardrop J., (in press) Exploring social learning theory in synchronous design for engagement in online learning In P. Kumar & J. Eisenberg, ‘Synchronous and Asynchronous Approaches to Teaching: Higher Education Lessons in Post-Pandemic Times’
Kander, J., & Fisher, D., 1966 “Willkommen” from Cabaret the musical.
Thaler, R., & Sunstein, C. (2008). Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. Yale University Press.
About the author
Associate Professor Lynn Gribble is an Education Focused Academic at UNSW Business School. Teaching large compulsory core courses at a Masters level, Lynn is interested in how students learn and transform in the process. When not teaching, Lynn can be found capturing the world as she sees it with her camera, playing with technology, and practicing her Chinese.