Stimulating Discussions

Let’s Discuss Class Discussions

Whether we teach online or in-person, we know the value that stimulating classroom discussions can have on student learning. It is an opportunity for students to practice concepts, get clarification and apply new ideas. Getting discussions started and maintaining momentum can be a challenge. We might also have a core group of students who are vocal and others who sit back and watch. Leading classroom discussions is a dynamic art–the challenges, tools and students are always changing.

Here are some common challenges faculty face in discussions with some helpful resources:

♦ Getting students off the stage:

We have to work constructively with these eager students who may intimidate others with their ideas and enthusiasm. We don’t want to shut he student down, but instead help channel their participation.

♦ Get students off the sidelines:

Students may be quiet in class for a variety of reasons–fear, lack of preparation, etc. Understanding the reason may help find an appropriate solution for moving the student forward.

♦ Writing useful and engaging discussion questions:

We might be able to have spontaneous discussions in class–especially for topics that engender passion. But, discussion questions which help students achieve course competencies can also be prepared in advance.

♦ A special note about online classes and the value of discussions:

Discussions take on a heightened level of importance in many online classes. Discussion activities can help students feel connected to their classmates and instructor. Students often report higher levels of engagement with the material and the course itself. Ultimately, these feelings may lead to greater motivation and course success. This short article from Jennifer Freeman at UT TeleCampus, Using Discussions in Online Courses: The Importance of Interactivity, gives online discussions their due and provides practical ideas instructors.



The end of another academic year!

Here we are in the last week of classes and starting final exams. While it is easy to let off the accelerator a little bit, this is the time to put all our efforts into the final lap around the track. Role model the behaviors and attitudes that you want to see from your students–help them carry their natural momentum to the end of the academic year. With final exams fast approaching, we need our students to stay focused and committed to learning.

The last day of class is a time to praise students and show them how far they have come in a few short months. Everyone deserves and needs a pat on the back! Read what some faculty do to end the semester on a high note and ideas for the last day of class and  think about how you can adapt these ideas to fit your students, discipline and teaching style.

Think about incorporating some new review techniques into final exam preparation. Show students that getting ready for the final exam can be fun and productive.

Share these studying tips and techniques with your students. They can help this semester and in the future! Encourage study groups and ways of connecting that might make this time of year less stressful.

Once the grades are calculated and entered, it is easy to out the semester to bed and forget about our own learning. We have all learned so much this semester, from our students and our colleagues—reflect on this learning. Review your syllabus from the semester and decide NOW what worked well and what needs revision.  The postmortem should include assessment of how well you believe students met learning objectives and course competencies. Your assessment will give you a head start on next semester.



Pedagogy and Andragogy

Pedagogy/Critical Pedagogy:

Many instructors seek strong pedagogical/theory-driven teaching and instructional approaches that show students are learning and that they can demonstrate the essential course objectives. Perhaps an additional goal is to create a culturally-responsive atmosphere for learners where they feel welcomed and included in decision making and the learning process as a whole.  Additionally, students need to understand the value of what they are learning and how it applies to their lives. The work of Paulo Freire is relevant toward this goal, but at the same time there are simple steps we can take in our classroom to promote cooperation and collaboration.


Adult learners are different than traditional college students—based on age, development, life stage, career and family. As a result, adult students sometimes feel isolated and distanced from their traditional-aged colleagues and the learning experience They need an instructional strategy that reflects their unique needs and goals. Student-centered andragogy (adult learning theory) offers a framework for individual growth and problem-solving through learning.

Core concepts of andragogy focus on learner interests, self-concept, prior experience, learning readiness, learning orientation and motivation. Adult learners bring a wealth of experiences related to learning, and have perceptions about their abilities, strengths and weaknesses. It is important for instructors to understand personal learning histories and student perceptions about how they learn best and what they want and need to learn. Andragogical principles make learning relevant and meaningful which stimulates student excitement, engagement and participation.  The result is a classroom where experiences of all learners are respected and diversity is valued. Knowledge and deeper understanding is developed through sharing and collaboration. Review the article  Motivating Students with Teaching Techniques that Establish Relevance, Promote Autonomy.

Principles of andragogy encourage students to embrace learning though goal exploration, peer and faculty collaboration, formulation of learning objectives and goal setting.  Instructors build trust and cooperation using specific teaching strategies that rely on consultation and participation with adult students. Andragogical principles can be adapted to any classroom, traditional or online. Andragogy focuses areas for student growth such as organization, time management, prioritization, study skills, self-evaluation, and communication and negotiation.

Andragogy Presentation

Principles of Adult Learning

First Day Activities

Nothing sets the stage for the semester like the first day of class! There is so much to cover in addition to course policies and the syllabus. Use the first class meeting to introduce yourself, get to know your students and outline what students will be learning in the coming weeks.  Start with some good advice about the first day!

Get ideas for the first day of class from Carnegie Mellon about the first day. This is you opportunity to make an impression on students and create a sense of trust and belonging among students that will endure for weeks to come. Review the five things you should do on the first day.

Meeting your students is an important part of the process, with so many icebreakers, there is no need to stick with the same old introductions. Simple introduction can be make more fun with a bag of ice breaker questions. Be sure to take time to tell your students about your own interests and what excites you about the course and the content.

Set some goals or adopt these commonsense ideas and sample lesson plan for the first day.