class discussion February 6

Class Discussion: From Blank Stares to True Engagement

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Thirty years of research in the scholarship of teaching and learning in higher education have demonstrated that when students are engaged in the classroom, they learn more (Pascarella and Terezini 1991, 2005). Classroom discussion is likely the most commonly used strategy for actively engaging students. Whether it is a seminar course centered on discussion or a lecture punctuated by moments of interaction with students, discussion is likely second only to lecture as the most frequently used pedagogical strategy.


Four students talking May 27, 2015

Fostering Student Learning through the Use of Debates

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There are many ways to get students engaged in a classroom, but when topics are controversial or taboo, students may shy away from sharing their thoughts on the subject. In contrast, some may be so overly passionate about a topic that they proselytize their point. One tactic that helps students feel comfortable enough to speak about controversial topics is through debates that are structured and promote students’ preparedness in defending or opposing a particular stance on a topic.


May 6, 2013

The Little Assignment with the Big Impact: Reading, Writing, Critical Reflection, and Meaningful Discussion

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Several years ago, I came across the Purposeful Reading Assignment that was reported to encourage students to read, reflect, and write about readings assigned for class. Research (Roberts and Roberts, 2008) and experience tell us that supporting students’ reading, writing, and reflective practices is one of the most challenging aspects of learning and teaching. Although this assignment appeared to be simple, it has proven to be an influential tool for learning and has increased engagement and participation among my students.


June 27, 2012

Three Ways to Ask Better Questions in the Classroom

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I’ve been doing some presentations on classroom interaction and thinking yet again about how we could do better with our questions — the ones we ask in class or online. Good questions make students think, they encourage participation and I think they improve the caliber of the answers students give and the questions they ask. To achieve those worthwhile outcomes more regularly, I’d like to recommend three actions that have the potential to improve our questioning.


February 15, 2012

Distributing Points and Percentages Across Assignments and Activities

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I started thinking about this when I wondered in a previous blog whether the 5 or 10% that many of us give for participation was enough to motivate students, or whether being such a small part of the grade, it actually devalued what students contribute in class. Since then I’ve been thinking more about how we decide on the allocation of points or percentages for the various assignments students complete in a course. For many of us (that includes me), it isn’t as thoughtful of a process as it should be. Rather, we do what we’ve done before, or we ask around, get a general sense of what everybody else is doing and follow suit.


September 21, 2011

Practical Ideas for Improving Student Participation

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At a recent workshop at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, I asked participants to identify the one thing about participation they would most like to change in their classrooms. From a variety of items mentioned, we decided to focus on three. They are listed below along with a range of solutions suggested by the group. Some of the solutions apply to more than one of the problems.


July 7, 2011

How Much Should Class Participation Count toward the Final Grade?

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Two faculty researchers assembled a large collection of syllabi from introductory courses in their field and then analyzed them to see how much active learning it looked like the teacher would be including in those classes. It’s a really neat research design which I explain in the next issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter. They also looked how much participation and in-class discussion counted in the total grade calculation and that’s what I want to write about in this post.



November 12, 2010

Could We Hear from Someone Else, Please?

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Generating participation in a large class discussion is fraught with teaching land mines. We can call on people who raise their hands, but too often it is always the same people. We can ask to hear from someone else and risk offending those who have been volunteering, so that there are even fewer hands. We can call on people randomly and risk embarrassing those who aren’t prepared or don’t understand. Maybe that will motivate them to prepare, or it may just be reflected in our teaching evaluations. I’d like to share an exercise that broadens class participation and offers a way around these potential risks.