Onstage, the performer senses he’s losing his audience’s attention. Either it’s the morning and students are still waking up or it’s the end of a long day and he can tell they’re getting restless. Suddenly, he jumps onto a table, standing tall so even the people in the back of the room can see him. The audience stares at him and then starts to chuckle—and just like that, he’s reeled them back in.
Dr. Kunal Bhanot isn’t an actor. He’s an assistant professor in the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program on the Austin campus who relies on what he calls the four “Ps” to keep his students engrossed during lectures. “Students can get bored easily, and when they’re bored, they’re not learning,” he explains. “It’s my job to keep them engaged by making the material engaging and fun.” Bhanot read about the first three Ps—passion, preparation, and personality—in a journal article and found that they resonated with his own experiences. An instructor who’s passionate both about teaching and the material can help spark that same passion in students—but only if that excitement is accompanied by a true understanding of the subject through thorough preparation for each class. “Every student learns differently, so you have to use different strategies, such as lectures, demonstrations, group discussions, and activities,” he says. “A flexible approach can help you engage every student.”
“Every student learns differently, so you have to use different strategies, such as lectures, demonstrations, group discussions, and activities. A flexible approach can help you engage every student.”
Bhanot added his own “P” to this list of must-have qualities: performance. “If I’m entertained by something, whether it’s a movie or a sporting event, I’m engaged,” he explains. “To hold students’ attention, a teacher has to be a performer, too.” That’s why he supplements his lectures with a variety of attention grabbers, from telling humorous stories or acting out the body’s natural movement to using props like a skeleton, bone and joint models, or rubber bands to give students a hands-on feel and simplify complex subject matter. Such tricks are especially useful in livening things up, he says, when students’ attention naturally tends to wane.
Now in his third year of teaching, Bhanot admits that he still has a lot to learn about the profession. Yet his colleagues are impressed by his infectious teaching style, and his students rave about the courses he teaches. Last year, the university recognized his innovative methods with its Board of Directors Excellence in Teaching award. His approach to engaging students, however, is one he believes any instructor can put into action. “It’s not just about what we teach,” he says. “It’s how we teach.”