Imagine if we asked everyone to wear the same style and size of shoe, despite their different preferences and foot shapes. Only a small fraction would be able to walk comfortably (Danley & Williams, 2020). Let’s extend that image to students enrolled in a course. Some are working ahead, some are falling behind, and others are somewhere in between.
Unfortunately, many busy instructors rely on one-size-fits-all instructional methods. Using choice boards is an alternative to the one-size-fits-all assignment that helps the instructor become more of a facilitator and lets students take more ownership own of their own learning.
What: Choice boards allow students to actively engage in their learning by selecting from a menu of learning or assessment activities. This is typically an asynchronous activity.
Why: Differentiation has been shown to be an effective approach to engaging college students in learning. Even seemingly small opportunities to exercise choice have been shown to impact students’ motivation, including the chance to select a project partner or to choose where to sit in class (Parker et al, 2017).
When educators clarify the relevance of students’ assignments to their personal goals, they support students’ sense of autonomy, one of the foundations of motivation and engagement according to Self-Determination Theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Studies have shown that giving learners a choice in their learning positively influences their motivation (Assor et al, 2002).
Providing choices in how to learn the content helps to differentiate instruction and supports student-centered learning and engagement in the classroom.
How: One way to engage students’ perceptions of autonomy is by assigning coursework that is related to their future goals. Assigning Labster simulations supports this intention by presenting ready-made opportunities to help students connect theoretical knowledge to real-world applications of interest to them.
Here’s how to use Labster to implement choice boards in a way that shifts some of the responsibility for lecturing and grading onto Labster and rubric-based peer grading.
Tip: The most effective choice boards offer a moderate number of options since research has shown that the motivational benefits of choice tend to wane when there are too many options or when the criteria for selecting options are unclear (Parker, et al 2017). For best results, we recommend offering no more than 9 options with instructions to select 4.
Differentiation gives students voice and agency that can be critical to their success in the class and beyond. Remember the shoes; we don’t want students to feel like they have the wrong fit. This technique may take some practice, but ultimately, students will thank you for giving them choice. After all, they have the best insight into what works best for them (Parker et al, 2017).
Assor, A., Kaplan, H., & Roth, G. (2002). Choice is good, but relevance is excellent: Autonomy‐enhancing and suppressing teacher behaviours predicting students' engagement in schoolwork. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 72(2), 261-278.
Danley, A. & Williams, C. (2020). Choice in Learning: Differentiating Instruction in the College Classroom. In Sight: A Journal of Scholarly Teaching.
Parker, F., Novak, J., & Bartell, T. (2017). To engage students, give them meaningful choices in the classroom. Phi Delta Kappan 99(2), 37-41.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary educational psychology, 25(1), 54-67.
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