My objective as a teacher is to get students excited about the material. I think that the most effective way to accomplish this is to demonstrate the ways in which course material will be useful in their future careers and in their political behavior. I use technology in the classroom in a variety of ways, for example, using Living Room Candidate as a learning tool. I often grade their work online as well and give them feedback with an annotated copy of their writing.
I am especially interested in helping students develop their careers. I emphasize the ways in which traditional classroom expectations (respectful behavior, articulate speaking and writing and so forth) are essential to almost every industry. I sometimes offer an extra-credit assignment in which I ask students to write an application for a job or internship, have their application edited by the career office on campus, and also conduct a practice interview with the career office. This three-part series sets students on the path to finding work for the summer or post-graduation. When appropriate for the course, I have students compile a portfolio for use on the job market. The portfolio demonstrates that the skills used in the classroom can be used to accomplish projects that are large in scope, publicly visible, and have similarity to projects that students might be tasked with in their future career (example linked below).
I was inspired to make-over my syllabi when I discovered this post by Tona Hangen on the value of visual design. As faculty, we place a high value on our syllabi and are routinely disappointed when students have not read them. Rather than sternly telling them to read it, why not entice them? As part of this process, I had the idea to change the traditional format of the first day of class, in which the professor rattles off the key points of the syllabus. Now, I put the students in groups and give each group a few minutes to study one section of the syllabus and then report to the class what they found. Students pay more attention to the content when they hear a peer describe the syllabus, so they are retaining more information. They are also getting acquainted with their fellow students which creates a comfortable atmosphere and helps students find study partners early on.
Not all students have established productive study routines. I've developed a student-led approach to ensuring that they have
productive work habits, like silencing a cell phone during study time. I am incorporating some study skills into my courses by introducing students to the "pomodoro technique", which simply means that they work for short time intervals with a timer visible. I have asked students to do their reading in 25 minute increments and record their progress with mytomatoes.com. I make this a one-time assignment, and leave it to them to decide if this system works for them. The feedback I had was very good, and the results are a stark contrast to a didactic approach. Even my best-performing students said that they hadn't realized how often they stopped work to read texts, answer phone calls, and such. I think this assignment is hugely productive because it makes students self-aware and interested in improving, and that is gratifying to see.