On Barkley…

Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me, and I may not remember. Involve me, and I’ll understand.  – Chinese Proverb

Summary on… Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty by Elizabeth F. Barkley

You will see this quote in my writing and presentations over and again… it’s a practice that has carried over from working in business for so many years.  In my humble opinion, it’s the earliest form of engagement known; describing cognitive development through the engagement of another individual, a student, in the learning process.  In the business world, I simplified and described it as “the tell, show, do & coach method” … that is…

  • TELL someone… how to perform a task…
  • SHOW someone… how to perform that task…
  • Allow someone… to DO (perform) that task, while COACHing them through the process…

Again, you will see this in my video presentation, but it stands as the basis for engagement in the classroom and beyond.  Imagine that each student whose life we effectively touch is engaged in the learning process, understanding how that engagement works.  Then imagine how effective they will become in the work place by implementing the same process.

Finally, on Barkley…

The handbook begins with discussing the contextual concepts and teaching models of student engagement.  She begins by introducing us to a well-founded, although seemingly commonsensical, quote from Pascarelli and Terenzini (1991), “… the greater the student’s involvement… in academic work… the greater” their “level of knowledge acquisition and general cognitive development.”  After discussing a research-based definition, she concludes, as we all should, that “student engagement continues to evolve and deepen…” (p.5).

Barkley follows by discussing two ways college teachers define student engagement;

  • they want to learn, they exceed expectations, and they have passion and excitement… the foundation of engagement is motivation.
  • active learning, using higher-order thinking.

From this definition she states, “student engagement is the product of motivation and active learning” (p.6).  From there she gets into a more philosophical concept of transformative learning whereby students are challenged to grow beyond dualistic leaning and/or thinking, utilizing both objective analyses and self-values, to something more complex where truth is contextual and relative.  In other words, philosophically, there is no truth…

It’s then discussed that active learning and motivation work “synergistically and build in intensity… contributing incrementally to increased engagement” (pp. 7 & 8).  From this, Barkley adapted a DNA double helix model, an image I found confusing.  Her discussion induced me to think more in terms of an infinity model, never-ending, on-going lines that intersect at/into engagement; a give and take process, motivation creates active learning, active learning creates motivation… this evolved to become an hourglass of sand infinitely turning, intersecting (a synergistic interaction) at engagement, as seen below…


Following this, she discusses that motivation is the interest/enthusiasm/effort and desire to learn that one engages in a behavior of learning.  Further discussing models/theories the motivate a student to be engaged, they flow respectfully through time and research, in more simple terms, as follows…


Expectancy x value of motivation is most prevalent today.  This model was broken into further definitions… where expectancy is linked to self-perception (self-efficacy, attribution, and self-worth models/theories) and value is linked to the concept of “flow” (a benefit for/of doing).  Engagement is a direct result of a motivated student.

The following chapters in part one delves into further discussion of previously discussed concepts and the complexity of engagement.  The handbook discusses deep learning as characterized by constant change of connections between what has been learned and what is being learned.  Further, creating strategies increasing the synergy of motivation and active learning (my hourglass).  Finally, Barkley quotes an adage, “In theory, theory and practice are the same, while in practice, they’re different” (p.77).

Part two of the handbook has fifty tips and strategies (T/S), best practices, that are categorized and incorporate student engagement as previously discussed; when students want to learn, learning is dynamic, human need for sociality of community, and being challenged.  Each chapter within this section provides tables and exhibits that present various learning activities; tasks, strategies, nature of inquiry, icebreakers, holistic items, along with their purpose, examples, and basis of strategy.  These conceptual frameworks are real world examples for use in the college teaching environment.

Part three, over 50% of the handbook (53.5% to be more precise), contains fifty student engagement techniques (SETs) that have been “field-tested” and proven to be “effective in engaging students” (p.149).  The SETs are broken down into two categories; “learning course-related knowledge and skills,” and “developing attitudes, values, and self-awareness as learners” (p. 151).  The handbook guides the teacher in how to use SETs, as well as the format of the SETs.

As any reader of my summary might surmise, I much prefer summarizing than critiquing. In reading this handbook I found myself thoroughly engaged… I couldn’t stop reading.  The fact that the handbook discusses the concepts and presents tested examples that we might use through our teaching.  I was excited to find no less than ten SETs I intend to dig deeper into in order to further engage students in both traditional classroom and online settings.




  1. I liked your summary. Your comments and insight are always inspiring. You will continue to impact others in a profound way. You are a deep thinker.


  2. Hi, Darryl,

    I liked both graphics. More specifically, I liked the first graphic because I was able to organize my thoughts concisely around student motivation, active learning and student engagement. Your attention to detail regarding the sand sifting from motivation to active learning is kinda genius and I did not catch it the first time reading it. I
    liked the second graphic because it showed concisely how behaviorism, cognition, goals, motivation and expectancy and value relate.

    Full disclosure, I laughed out loud (belly laugh laugh) at your “53.5% to be more precise” comment. In all seriousness though, I am unable to determine whether you intended to be humorous or more sarcastic because it was written on a blog rather than said in person. I might suggest that if the comment was meant as more sarcastic that you should make sure you know your online audience.

    Best regards,


  3. Hi Darryl,

    Your review of Barkley was well-organized and insightful. I loved how you prefaced the review with your “tell, show, do, coach” method explanation. That is a really great way to catalyze that wise Chinese proverb and to segue into your review. It seems to me after reading our colleagues’ Barkley reviews that the concept of transformative learning stood out to most of us while reading this handbook. The classes in which transformative learning happened for me stay with me even now. In your experience as a college professor, is it difficult to create moments of transformative learning for your students? The currently-in-college traditional age group of students sometimes gets the reputation of not willingly engaging in thoughts or dialogues that challenge their own viewpoints (a reputation that I think is unfairly attributed to this group of students too often). However, I’m curious as to whether you’ve encountered this resistance to challenging viewpoints in your classrooms, and if so, how have you challenged and supported your students to experience transformative learning?


  4. Hi Darryl,

    I love how you incorporated the Chinese Proverb in your intro. I also was intrigued by the way you tied in your experience in business with your current work as an instructor who is contacting working towards engaging his students. I think you have provided a succinct summary and evaluation of Barkley’s work. Likewise, the graphics you included are helpful to conceptualize your discussion.

    You note that more than half of the book (53.5% to be more precise) consists of the SETS. Were you happy to see this much of the handbook devoted to these techniques or did you long for more of either part 1 or 2? Or did you feel that 53.5% was the exact right proportion? 🙂 I also really enjoyed this book. I think it’s a really helpful tool for teachers. Thanks for sharing your insights.



  5. Hi Darryl,

    I appreciate your dedication to integrating your tell-show-coach method across the different assignments for this class – especially given the importance (and timelessness) of the message. And, I am impressed by the thoroughness of your review, as it must have taken a lot of planning to get all that material summarized so effectively. Although you state you prefer summarizing over critiquing, I cannot help but ask for a bit of your reaction. For example, what are the ten or so SETs that you were particularly interested in exploring? If you could, I would love to hear about how a particular SET would be implemented in your classroom (given that all these SETs are really just outlines to be adapted to specific topics). Or, are there any specific tips from the text that you would want to use in the future?

    All the best,


  6. Great summary Darryl! I agree that it was hard to critique this reading. The tell, show, do method is golden and I am so glad that you mentioned it in your summary. I am curious if your business background made this information even more relevant because I personally thought it could be applied to the classroom or traditional work environments. As always, your work is easy to read and comprehend and provided detailed information. Great work!


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