Biological Systems Engineering


Date of this Version



Heeren, D. M. May 16, 2016. Increasing student attentiveness and engagement in growing Mechanized Systems Management courses. UNL CASNR Instructional Improvement Plan. Final report. Presented at the BSE Annual Undergraduate Curriculum Workshop, Lincoln, Nebr.


Background Growing enrollment in undergraduate MSYM courses has carried increased class sizes and then made it more difficult for students to remain attentive and engaged during lecture. In fall 2014, I maintained a dynamic lecturing style in MSYM 354, Soil Conservation and Watershed Management. Readiness tests, an active learning tool, continued to be helpful, but the mode of delivery was still largely a traditional lecture. Team based learning was utilized which divided the class into diverse learning teams for both the lab and the lecture. Students completed readiness tests both individually and in their teams. The objective of this activity was to solicit more student attentiveness and engagement in the fall of 2015 by improving the mode of delivery.

Improvements I implemented three improvements to my lecture style in fall of 2015 in MSYM 452, Irrigation Systems Management. With Dr. Eisenhauer’s retirement, I had agreed to teach MSYM 452 instead of MSYM 354. First, a more effective use of readiness tests to stimulate discussion and introduce lecture topics was utilized. Instead of going over readiness test answers quickly, I took 5-20 minutes to discuss the answers while the students were curious about the correct answers. Also, I used one or two of the readiness test questions as a transition to introduce the new lecture topic. Sometimes there was a shuffle in the classroom when students realized I had went over all five questions and they began to relax for the regular lecture material, indicating increased engagement during this time immediately after a readiness test. Second, I used more in-class example problems. These required students to work in their teams to quantitatively apply the concepts they learned in lecture. Example problems were scheduled for the middle of the lecture period when student attentiveness can start to wane. Finally, I increased the use of the white board and decreased the use of PowerPoint. This forced me to slow down (which is hard when I am excited about the material) and be more interactive with the students. I can better read students’ faces and body language, and then adjust my lecture accordingly. A good textbook in MSYM 452 helped make this transition possible, since I did not need to rely on PowerPoint to disseminate detailed lecture material.