In the typical college classroom a small handful of students make the vast majority of comments. As a teacher you want to create a classroom environment that helps students of various learning styles and personalities to feel comfortable enough to contribute as well as understand the importance of class preparation and active participation. To reach this goal requires a constant balancing act of encouraging quiet, reflective students to speak up and, occasionally, asking the most active contributors to hold back from commenting in order to give others a chance.
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
As another year draws to a close, the editorial team at Faculty Focus looks back on some of the top articles of the past year. Throughout 2011, we published nearly 250 articles. The articles covered a wide range of topics – from academic integrity to online course design. In a two-part series, which will run today and Wednesday, we’re revealing the top 11 articles for 2011. Each article’s popularity ranking is based on a combination of the number of comments and shares, e-newsletter open and click-thru rates, and other reader engagement metrics.
All too often students shuffle into class, take notes while the professor lectures for 50 minutes or so, and then pack up and leave. Rinse and repeat throughout the semester. Some might never raise their hand, offer their opinion, or even learn the name of the person sitting in front of them.
If you’ve been teaching for any amount of time, you probably have a few nicknames for students based on the personality traits they exhibit. Roben Torosyan, PhD, associate director of the Center for Academic Excellence at Fairfield University, has some nicknames for his students, too. Names like Q, Sunny, and Light Bulb.
Participation is one of those workhorse instructional strategies—easy to use, straightforward, expected, and often quite successful at accomplishing a number of learning goals. It’s good to remind ourselves of its many different uses, especially on those days when getting students to participate feels like pulling hens’ teeth.
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.
We are used to discussing topics with our colleagues. They know the material, have already thought a lot about it, and can answer questions quickly. We want conversations in class to clip along at a similar pace—there’s always lots of material the class needs to get through.
Sometimes it’s good to revisit an instructional standby. Discussion is a staple in most teachers’ repertoire of strategies, but it frequently disappoints. So few students are willing to participate and they tend to be the same ones. The students who do contribute often do so tentatively, blandly, and pretty much without anything that sounds like interest or conviction. On some days it’s just easier to present the material.
Students find discussions disillusioning just about as often as faculty do. In the analysis referenced below, students objected when a few fellow classmates dominated the discussion; when the discussion wandered off topic, making it difficult to ascertain main points; and when students participated just for the sake of participating.
A funny thing happened to some graduate students at Drexel University. They enrolled in an online program, drawn by the anytime/anywhere convenience the medium affords, but found that one of their favorite aspects was the live synchronous learning elements.