How to use Brightspace to motivate students and improve engagement
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How to use the Brightspace platform to motivate students and improve engagement

  • 4 Min Read

Today we continue our exploration of how Chickering and Gamson’s seven principles of good pedagogical practice can be achieved and supported in a K-12 context through use of the Brightspace learning management system (LMS). You can access the entire blog series here, or start from the top with Blog #1.

Principle 3: “Encourage active learning”

Think back to some of your own most disengaged experiences as a student. Chances are high that the classes that left you feeling unmotivated were the ones that relied on what I like to call the three Rs: read, recall, regurgitate. Endless rote memorization in school was always frustrating and disengaging: read a worksheet or a textbook chapter, recall key points over and over again in your short-term memory, then directly regurgitate them during a test. Unfortunately, there was also a fairly common fourth step here: promptly forget all of that information as soon as the test was over.

According to Chickering and Gamson, “Learning is not a spectator sport.” In other words, passive learning (often called traditional learning) is not the most effective way for anyone to retain knowledge.[1] Students will gain a deeper understanding of lessons when given the opportunity to reflect, draw connections, discuss what they’re learning (check out our previous blog for tips on enabling collaborative learning in Brightspace), and be actively involved in the learning process.

Active Learning

Felder and Brent define active learning as “short course-related activities or small-group activities that all students in a class are called upon to do, alternating with instructor-led intervals in which student responses are processed and new information is presented.”[2] Rather than expecting students to solely complete worksheets and watch videos (although, of course, there is a time and a place for these!), active learning promotes tasks such as critical discussion/debate, experiential learning, personal reflection and interpretation, and the creation/production of new work. If we refer to Bloom’s Taxonomy (2001), we can conceptualize an ultimate goal of pushing students past remembering and understanding, and toward applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.

You might be wondering how online learning could ever possibly be considered “active” when by nature it occurs sedentarily behind a screen. But remember: an LMS does not have to be just a content storage facility! While the Brightspace platform will indeed provide you with a robust content experience that is both flexible and accessible from any device, there is also a wide array of capabilities within the platform, far beyond resource collecting and sharing.

Authentic Assessment

One way to drive active learning online is to incorporate authentic activities and assessment that mimic ways in which students could utilize classroom lessons in the real world. Our Assignments tool features an option for assignments “observed in person,” which will allow you to incorporate situational learning activities like presentations, oral debates (“analyzing”), internships, and lab experiments as required tasks within a blended space.

For fully online courses, take advantage of our Video Note functionality (located under Insert Stuff tool in the HTML editor) by setting up a text submission for your students’ next assignment, where they can easily record up to thirty minutes of video directly from their cell phone or webcam (“creating”). They could produce a video journal entry on a challenging theory from the textbook (math, science), interpret a scene from a play or novel (literature, drama), or argue their position for an academic debate (history, philosophy). Instead of having them recite vocabulary words off of flash cards, add an authentic element to language classes by requesting that students write and perform a scenario that incorporates those words (“applying”). Don’t forget to model best practices by recording your own sample video first!

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How to cultivate a digital community using Brightspace Thumbnail

How to cultivate a digital community using Brightspace

Group projects and presentations? Collaborative learning? Increased accountability and class engagement? Brightspace can...

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If you’re looking for synchronous instruction, you can hold a live lesson using Virtual Classroom — or better yet, a “flipped classroom”-style lecture where each student takes a turn at teaching something to the larger group. The adjacent Video Assignments tool also includes the option to enable peer assessment and feedback (“evaluating”).

Last, be sure to check out our Portfolio tool for pedagogical documentation tools and learner agency. Students can add audio and/or written reflections to their items in Portfolio; you can discuss beforehand whether these will be structured or open-ended. Not only does the process of cultivating and documenting one’s own work align with the idea of active learning and reflection, but a portfolio itself will represent an ultimate accumulation of authentic work.


[1]Chickering and Gamson:


Check out our next post in this series to learn how to create quality assessments and provide timely feedback in Brightspace

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