Encouraging Student Involvement: An Approach to Teaching Communication

By Hunt, Stephen K. | Communication Studies, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview
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Encouraging Student Involvement: An Approach to Teaching Communication

Hunt, Stephen K., Communication Studies

Research demonstrates that students approach learning using the following strategies: (a) surface strategies (meeting requirements at a minimal level, usually through rote learning), (b) achieving strategies (striving to receive high grades, even if the subject is not of interest, by performing the activities typical of good students), or (c) deep strategies (working to develop competence and interest in the subject, such as trying to relate new knowledge to previous knowledge) (King, 1996). Most teachers would agree that the facilitation of meaningful, deep learning is the goal of instruction. How do we encourage our students to utilize deep learning strategies in the communication classroom? Deep learning is more likely in situations where students are highly involved and engaged in the learning process (Kember & Gow, 1994). In this article, I review Astin's theory of involvement and discuss the ways I use this theory to generate pedagogical practices designed to promote deep learning.


Astin's (1984) theory of involvement posits that students learn more the more they are involved in both the academic and social aspects of the collegiate experience. Students who are involved devote significant energy to academics, spend time on campus, participate actively in student organizations and activities, and interact often with faculty. On the other hand, uninvolved students neglect their studies, spend little time on campus, abstain from extracurricular activities, and rarely initiate contact with faculty or other students (Astin, 1984). Importantly, the most persuasive types of involvement are "academic involvement, involvement with faculty, and involvement with student peer groups" (Astin, 1996, p. 126). This theory is consistent with student-centered teaching approaches in that the student plays an integral role in determining her or his own degree of involvement in various educational activities.

According to Astin (1984), the quality and quantity of the student's involvement influences several educational outcomes including cognitive learning, satisfaction with the entire college experience, and increased rates of student retention (Astin, 1984, 1999). For a student to be deeply involved in the learning process, she or he must invest energy in academic relationships and activities. The amount of energy a student invests in these types of activities will vary based upon the student's interest, goals, and other commitments. Astin (1984) argues that instructors should use involvement theory to maximize student learning. To accomplish that goal, instructors must be aware of how motivated students are and how much time and energy they are devoting to the learning process. In the next section of this article, I explain the ways in which I use involvement theory to guide the pedagogical practices I employ in the classroom.

Practical implications. There are several practical implications of Astin's theory of involvement. Chickering and Gamson (1987, 1991) offer the following pedagogical practices for facilitating student involvement and engagement: student-faculty contact, cooperation among students, active learning, prompt feedback, time on task, high instructor expectations for students, and respect for diverse talents and learning styles. Although I must admit that I have yet to master these practices, I use them as guiding principles in my teaching.

In terms of student-faculty contact, communication educators have long known that this is a critical variable in the educational fortune of students. I attempt to foster that contact both within and outside of the classroom. I believe it is important that teachers do all they can to facilitate a supportive learning environment where the students feel comfortable to contribute to on-going discussions, debate competing points of view, and ask questions. Therefore, I get to know each of my students as individuals; I refer to them by their first names; I refrain from using intimidation, belittlement, or other anti-social behavior alteration techniques; I demonstrate my passion for the subject matter and teaching; and I challenge my students while offering the kind of support I think they need to be successful.

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