Feel good hooks!

Professor Rhys C Jones, FHMS

This piece describes creative strategies to engage and motivate students, using large scale interactives for large cohorts/classes. Ideas from this case study will be useful if faced with challenges of remote teaching to large cohorts, or if you are interested in creative strategies for motivating and engaging students.


In my previous institution at the University of Auckland, I was a course leader for a large module called STATS 101/101G/108: Introduction to Statistics, that often attracted over 6000 enrolled, full-time students per year. Over time, we identified issues in keeping students engaged and motivated, particularly in large lecture halls (over 700 students per sitting). This case study focuses on the use of Google Sheets with embedded activities in session recordings undertaken with one stream from the cohort, which included 600 students. Students who take the module are studying for degrees in the biosciences, biology, psychology, commerce, economics, and statistics. The overall aim was to engage these diverse student cohorts.

Design: challenges and process

A range of interactive activities to engage and motivate students in large cohorts were developed. This involved recording sessions via Zoom and uploading them to Canvas (the virtual learning environment used at the University of Auckland). The activities developed included: the use of in-house created apps and Google Sheets, for students to answer video embedded quizzes, questions, and games. Google Sheets was used to elicit ideas from students, to help keep everyone engaged. Using student responses to direct, adapt, and design engagement activities and learning opportunities became integral.

The technology used included: Zoom, Google Sheets, Google Hangouts and Canvas Quizzes. These different tools became learning platforms utilized in a variety of ways, for example: to facilitate office hours, illicit feedback from students, and engage them in class discussions. Engagement activities developed included: “Name that tune” (tunes were played on a keyboard and were embedded in a session recording of course content, where students were encouraged to guess the tunes), “Guess Who the Famous Person Is?” (Impersonations of celebrities were presented to students for them to guess, embedded in session recordings). Two teddy bears were given names (Frederikke and Jessabella) and personalities, and they presented students with riddles and quizzes, whereby students were encouraged to provide their answers via Google Sheets.

Lecturer against a background of an angry cat

Several of these activities were suggested by the students and demonstrated the value I placed in their suggestions, and it also showed that the I was listening to their ideas and comments. Students were also presented with opportunities to upload pictures of their whanau (Māori word for family) and other family members (including pets) to share with the class, via Google Sheets. Students were also provided the opportunity to state any concepts or key ideas they did not understand and record them into a Google Sheet. A recording was then made to answer said queries and questions, so that they were then available to be watched on the student learning management system, Canvas.

Picture of computer screen showing comments from students

Implementation and evaluation

The use of Google Sheets and Docs was easy to set up, implement and elicit feedback for students. It also provided an alternative platform for students to engage with, outside of using Canvas.

What worked well?

Creating and embedding activities, like the ones I have outlined in this case study, became really fun, I looked forward to setting them up, and then waiting to see responses from students. In creating a safe and inclusive learning environment, that didn’t necessarily need to be directly linked to the learning content of the course, this led to an increased engagement in the course. This is because the activities embedded and presented to students were done so within the boundaries of the module itself, so students saw them as part of the module and were therefore encouraged to engage with the actual content (i.e., statistics) a lot more. In terms of time spent on these activities, the actual technology used to set these things up was relatively straightforward to use. Google Sheets and Docs are easy to set up and share with students. Embedding activities in videos and using the students’ voices to help come up with suggestions really helped to create a mutual trust between lecturer and student. They could see that I valued their suggestions, I was listening to them, and wanted them to be a part of the process.

Student engagement was clearly apparent, with students providing responses via Google Sheets, and through feedback in emails. For some of the initial activities I set up, for example asking them where they were from, and where would they like to travel on their next holiday, over 60% of the class responded via Google Sheets. Facebook groups also noted increased engagement with members, because of the numerous online activities provided for students. This was highlighted to me in a series of feedback emails from the class representatives. The activities developed and implemented created a safe and inclusive learning environment, which made a direct impact on their engagements and subsequent learning on the course. I received a significant number of emails from students highlighting how thankful and appreciative they were of the effort that was put into these activities (I have included, with permission, several below). One student also produced a Tik Tok reviewing some of the “memorable” moments from the session recordings.

Hi Rhys!

I was planning to email you at some point during this semester with some feedback on the lectures, but I thought I would take the time now since you have very kindly emailed me. I just wanted to say how much I have thoroughly enjoyed your lectures and being in your stream this semester, the effort and enthusiasm you consistently put into your content delivery is really inspiring. For me, personally, and I’m sure many other students will feel the same, I have found your lectures and the fun activities you incorporate into them so uplifting and motivating, especially during lockdown, they never fail to put a smile on my face! Being a first year student, you have made my first ever university lectures a really positive experience, and I appreciate the care and support you offer to us students in your course, it makes the transition into university a lot more comforting.

Thank you again

Hi sir!

Wanted to make a TikTok compilation of my favourite moments from your lectures because my friends all LOVE how uplifting and entertaining you make everything! I couldn’t fit nearly everything in but I hope you enjoy and thank you so much for brightening up all of your students’ lockdowns I definitely think your antics have been a huge positive impact on lecture engagement!!

Hope the Apple crumble turns out well hehe


To read much more click on the link below: