Important COVID-19 Update

Read more about UNCP's response to COVID-19. 

Student Shaniya Bethel reviews Dr. Berntsen’s Presentation on Student Engagement

English, Theatre, and Foreign Languages

This article is part of an occasional series in which English students interview faculty about their research and report back. Shaniya Bethel is a junior English major with a literary studies emphasis.


At the Lilly Conference on Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning in Asheville, North Carolina, Michael J. Berntsen argued that by looking at patterns of student engagement in terms of grading based on participation and grading based on professionalism, we can see that students who are graded on professionalism are more motivated to participate in class than those primarily graded on their willingness to talk. This argument challenges the common assumption held by professors that preparedness and understanding of course material equals speaking up during class discussion. 

Berntsen asserts that his model of professionalism—influenced by his research of Culinary Arts and Music courses—is important because participation grades generally punishes or overlooks students with social anxiety or students who prefer to think extensively about the topic before discussing. “Student engagement is a buzzword,” he emphasizes. “What does engagement look like? Is it everyone writing? Talking? Using their cellphones? We have this buzzword, but we don’t really define it.”

When it comes to his profession, Berntsen’s model on student engagement “makes [him] a better teacher” and has the possibility to aid other teachers with their jobs, regardless of field. He enjoys pedagogy and experimenting with theories in order to introduce extra-curricular or in-class concepts to students and other professors, and values collaboration on a professional level.

 This interest of his makes presenting his ideas or discussing them with an editor the most enjoyable aspect of his researching process. In contrast, being able to find a place for his ideas to go where they’d be viewed by a current audience was his least favorite aspect of the researching process due to publication wait time and publishers who may prefer more “qualitative theory and research” over his work. 

Overall, there’s a sheer honesty in Berntsen’s approach to his job: he wants his students to have fun, be comfortable, and take something away from his course(s) besides participation points. And his approach to linking education and professionalism does just that.