I was recently reminded of a conference keynote that I attended a few years ago, and the beginning of an academic term seems like an appropriate time to revisit it on this blog.

In 2019, Dan Heath, a bestselling author and senior fellow at Duke University’s CASE Center, gave a presentation at InstructureCon, a conference for Canvas users, where he talked about how memories are formed. He explained that memories are composed of moments. Moments, according to Heath, are “mostly forgettable and occasionally remarkable.” To illustrate, most of what I’ve done today–dropping my kids off at spring break camp, replying to emails, going to a lunchtime yoga class, and writing this blog post–will largely be forgotten by next month. There is nothing remarkable about today. Unremarkable is often a desirable state because it means that an experience occurred without any hiccups or challenges.

Heath went on to describe what it is that makes great experiences memorable. His answer: Great experiences consist of “peaks,” and peaks consist of at least one of the following elements: elevation, insight, pride, or connection. He argued that we need to create more academic peaks in education. Creating peaks, he contends, will lead to more memorable learning experiences.

So, how do we create these peaks that will lead to memorable experiences? Let’s explore some ideas through the four approaches outlined by Heath.

Elevation. Elevation refers to moments that bring us joy and make us feel good. You might bring this element into your course by directly asking students to share what is bringing them joy, perhaps as an icebreaker. Sharing their experiences might also lead to connection, which is another way (see below) to create peaks that lead to memorable experiences. 

Insight. Insight occurs when new knowledge allows us to see something differently. Moments of insight are often sparked by reflection. You might consider making space for reflection in your courses. Creativity is another way to spark new insights. How might students engage with course concepts in new, creative ways? To list off a few ideas, perhaps students can create a meme, record a podcast, engage in a role play, or write a poem.

Pride. People often feel a sense of pride when their accomplishments are celebrated. To spark feelings of accomplishment in your students, I encourage you to go beyond offering positive feedback and consider sharing particularly strong examples of student work with the class (after getting permission–of course!) Showcasing the hard work of students can help students to feel proud of their efforts and may even lead to moments of joyful elevation.

Connection. Connection refers to our ties with other people. Experiencing connection with others can feel deeply rewarding. As I mentioned above, asking students to share their experiences with peers is one way to foster connection. In Ecampus courses, we aim to foster student-student and student-teacher connection, but I encourage you to explore other opportunities for students to make meaningful connections. Perhaps students can get involved with their communities or with colleagues, if they happen to have a job outside of classes. Students could connect with their academic advisors or the writing center to support their work in a course. There are many ways to foster connections that support students in their learning!

It’s easy to focus on delivering content, especially in online courses. This was one of Heath’s overarching points. The key, however, to creating memorable learning experiences is to take a student-centered approach to designing and facilitating your course. 

I invite you to start the term off by asking yourself: How can I create more moments of elevation, insight, pride, and connection for my students? It might be easier than you think.

References:

Heath, D. (2019, July 10). Keynote. InstructureCon. Long Beach, CA.

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