class discussions July 27

Facilitating Discussion: Five Factors that Boost Student Engagement

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It’s another of those phrases frequently used and almost universally endorsed but not much talked about in terms of implementation. What does facilitating discussion mean? How should a teacher do it? Two faculty researchers, Finn and Schrodt (2016), frame the problem this way: “The literature is replete with descriptive accounts and anecdotal evidence but lacks the kinds of empirical investigations that could create theoretical coherency in this body of work” (p. 446). They decided our understanding of discussion facilitation could be deepened with an operational definition, one that resides in an instrument to measure it quantitatively.


diversity in college classroom June 9

Activities for Building Cultural Competencies in Our Students and Ourselves

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“Who am I to speak about diversity and inclusion? I am a middle-aged white woman from an upper-middle-class family. I have been afforded numerous opportunities many of my students never have been, and possibly never will be, afforded. I am the picture of privilege.” This is what I told myself at times when the topics of diversity and inclusion came up. However, when you look at the racial/cultural makeup of most college campuses, if faculty “like me” do not broach the sensitive topics of diversity and inclusion, who will?


students sitting in a circle May 5

Acting Out: Borrowing from Life and Art to Teach Ethics

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“No. I won’t do it. It’s wrong,” said Cecily. “I quit.”

“Here’s a box,” Olivia responded icily, reaching out to Cecily. “Empty your desk and leave now.”

The rest of us watched in silence, riveted as the scene unfolded. And it was, in fact, a scene. Despite their impressive realism, public relations students Cecily and Olivia (not their real names) were improv acting so their peers could see what it looks like to take a principled stand.


student writing conferences April 24

Student Writing Conferences: Metaphors and Office Décor

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Faculty know that holding student writing conferences will overwhelm them, or at least that is what they’ve heard from colleagues. They’ve even heard such advice from those who never conference with students to provide individualized attention and feedback on their writing.

Perhaps the most disheartening is that conferencing faculty need to take on new and enervating roles as scheduler, negotiator, and time manager. And yes, reader—let’s not forget all those papers conferencing professors “have to read” before students arrive at their office doors!



student raising hand in class March 27

How Do Students Learn from Participation in Class Discussion?

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Despite numerous arguments favoring active learning, especially class discussion, instructors sometimes worry that discussion is an inefficient or ineffective way for students to learn. What happens when students make non-value added, irrelevant, or inaccurate contributions? What about comments from non-experts that may obfuscate rather than clarify understanding? What about students who speak only to earn participation credit rather than contribute substantively to the discussion?


group work activity in college classroom. March 20

Three Ways to Engage Students In and Outside the Classroom

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When students become directly engaged in the learning process, they take ownership of their education. The following learning activities have helped me to engage students in and outside the classroom. The strategies also help keep my teaching relevant, fresh, and creative.

Get real
Silence filled the classroom when the grimacing woman wearing layers of torn sweatshirts and mismatched work boots kicked an empty desk by the door. She fished out a wrinkled paper from her jean’s front pocket and waved it high in the air. “The court sent me,” she said, looking directly into the eyes of a startled young freshman. “And I want to know, who’s gonna make me stay?” Rolling the document into a ball, she quickly darted to the back of the room and dropped it onto the desk of the biggest guy in the room. She asked him, “Is it you?”


male professor calling on student March 13

Participation Points: Making Student Engagement Visible

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As I contemplate my syllabi for a new semester, I possess renewed hope for students eager to discuss anything at 8 a.m., yet I have taught long enough to know that I will simply appreciate clean clothes and brushed teeth. As reality sets in, I add to my grading criteria an element that I hope will encourage engagement from even the most timid learners.


small group discussion February 20

An Activity That Promotes Engagement with Required Readings, Even in Large Classes

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On the first day of class, I often say something like this to my students: “Nothing floats my boat more than great discussion. Nothing promotes great discussion like having completed the readings. And nothing promotes completing the readings like having points attached to it.”


Professor helping his students February 6

Assignment Helps Students Assess Their Progress

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Midterm evaluations bring a host of institutional measures to reach out to underachieving students. However, what might make the most difference to students’ success in their courses is to enable them to assess their own performance and set goals as well as to ask questions of and provide feedback to the instructor. Instructors can give students this reflective opportunity through an online journal assignment in which students do the following: