Book Review: Elizabeth F. Barkley, Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty

By Paula J. Bishop

Student Engagement Techniques

Both theoretical and practical, Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty by Elizabeth F. Barkley (Jossey-Bass, 2010) has become an important resource for me when I am looking for ways to enliven the classroom experience and draw students into the learning process. The techniques, strategies, and learning activities for promoting student engagement are the result of Barkley’s own experience and interviews she conducted with other college educators from a variety of disciplines and institutions. Barkley grounds this  anecdotal and experiential information gleaned from fellow educators in the current literature regarding student engagement and underscores specific connections between the research and her advice.

Barkley divides the book into three parts. She first presents a synergistic model of student engagement that combines motivation and active learning and takes into account other factors that affect student engagement including the sense of community, appropriate levels of challenge, and holistic learning opportunities. A set of tips and strategies to promote student engagement drawn from the literature on best-practices in the college classroom follows. These suggestions, which align with five categories based on her conceptual framework, focus on fostering motivation, promoting active learning, building community, ensuring students are appropriately challenged, and advocating holistic learning. While her tips are rather general in nature, Barkley references and briefly summarizes the relevant literature. For instance, after suggesting that one “offer options for nonlinear learning,” she notes the work of Susan El-Shamy (How to Design and Deliver Training for the New and Emerging Generations, Pfeiffer, 2004), who suggests that teachers allow learners to choose their own path toward the desired endpoint.

The final section offers fifty Student Engagement Techniques (SETs) in the areas of knowledge, skills, recall, and understanding; analysis and critical thinking; synthesis and creative thinking; problem solving; application and performance; attitudes and values; self-awareness as learners; and learning and study skills. Each SET identifies the essential characteristics of the exercise: individual vs. collaborative; activity focus (writing, reading, discussion, problem solving, analyzing, note-taking, etc.); duration of activity; and online transferability. Along with a description and step-by-step instructions, Barkley includes examples from a variety of disciplines, online implementation strategies, observations and advice, and a list of relevant literature.

Student Engagement Techniques is a teaching resource that, like John Bean’s Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom (Jossey-Bass, 2011), I find myself returning to often during my course preparation. The ideas presented are rooted in research, yet communicated in a personal and relatable tone. She understands that educators come from different backgrounds and institutions, are at different stages in our teaching careers, and have different goals. Not insignificantly for the AMS Pedagogy Study Group, Barkley is also a musicologist and the author of the textbook Crossroads: The Multicultural Roots of America’s Popular Music (Routledge, 2006). Consequently, she sprinkles the text with anecdotes and examples from music courses, something I have not seen in other pedagogical books. Barkley’s book can be read from cover to cover, or referenced like an idea book.