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.
It is not just military service that sets student veterans apart from their classmates. According to a 2013 American Council on Education report, they are often the first members of their family to attend college and are often about a decade older than other students. They tend to study harder and are driven to succeed, but feel less engaged and connected to campus life.
The good news in this study is that many veterans feel supported by their institutions. This support is found at every level—from the financial aid process and registration and the classroom. As faculty and staff, we need to find ways to ensure that veterans have the tools and skills they need to walk their educational path. But, there are challenges as you will read in this article from military.com. Misconceptions about veterans abound, do a reality check at NEA Ten Things You Should Know about Working with Today’s Student Veterans.
Cultivating a sense of belonging on campus can be helpful. So, how might we get started?
Here are some ideas:
- Ask if a student in interested in sharing his/her experiences rather than singling someone out in class discussions
- If a student veteran seems to be struggling, talk with him or her
- Know the resources that are available, this includes VetNet, but also the services that are available to all GCC students, both traditional and online
- Remember that sometimes active duty students need flexibility with due dates—be accommodating when possible
- Introduce them to organizations and activities on campus. Review tips for Getting Student Veterans off the Sidelines for some ideas
- Capitalize on each veteran’s strength and determination to help reach educational goals
The VetNet resource center is a must-stop for veterans on campus—it is the place to get certified for educational benefits, meet other vets and find support for challenges. Advisors can learn how to meet the needs of this population from the NACADA: Advising Student Veterans.
Perhaps one of the best all around sites for learning about student veterans is the American Council on Education: Supporting Student Veterans. The articles and resources here are directed at all members of the educational community. You will find information on helping make the transition from soldier to student and much more.
At the mid-semester point, we can start to see and feel fatigue setting in for both our students and ourselves. Finding that spark of creativity and enthusiasm can bring our classes to life and give us the energy to finish the semester as strong as we began. It can be as simple as new discussion starters, innovative ways to structure assignments or useful encouragement for students.
Working from the experience and practice of other faculty is often helpful. The Center for Teaching and Learning at UNC Charlotte has compiled an impressive list of Best Practices in College Teaching that looks at the kinds of challenges we all face.
- The Thoughtful Questions section is full of stimulating one-liners for those times when there is a lag in the discussion. These can also be used for critical thinking about course material and concepts.
- Use the Rewarding Learner Participation section to help move discussions forward in ways that simple praise doesn’t often do.
This is just a fraction of what this link has to offer!
You are sure to find your own favorite new ideas to try. Our challenge to you is try one new idea during your next class. Write it into your lesson plan for the day. Then chose another and another….
It has been a long winter—the cold and dark days affect motivation and commitment to academics. This is true for students and if we are honest, it is true for faculty and staff. At midpoint of the spring semester, there is a certain level of fatigue that needs to be addressed.
First, let’s tackle students:
For a theoretical orientation to motivation and science of motivating learners, look here.
Although this link is to the Geoscience Department at Carlton College, the information here about motivating students is applicable to any department and any population of students. Take a look at how faculty behaviors can directly impact student motivation. You make a huge difference in your classroom!
Not to be outdone, Vanderbilt University examines the types of motivation students possess and how we can tap into these in ways that encourage success and GRIT when the going gets tough.
Now, let’s address the needs of faculty and staff. If you feel like your “get-up-and go” got up and went, then this link is for you:
Perhaps, there is a 12-step program for motivation, but maybe 7 steps are all you really need. Or maybe 8 steps are better.
Like researchers, many of us who work with students often hypothesize about what it takes for students to be successful in college. Why and how do some students overcome adversity when others collapse under the weight of these challenges? And, perhaps more importantly, what can we do to foster the skills and resilience that college requires? Angela Lee Duckworth says it comes down to grit. Images of John Wayne may come to mind with good reason—true grit may be rare, but it is out there for us to discover and develop.
Ted Talk: Angela Lee Duckworth with a introduction to grit and what it means.
She has also written an excellent journal article on grit and the ability to reach long term goals.
Her work is so potentially important in education and our approach to student struggle that the Chronicle of Higher Education has focused on her work.
In Feb 2013, the Department of Education released a draft report on Promoting Grit, Tenacity and Perseverance Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century.
This report includes interesting strategies to foster a sense of stick-to-it-ness in our students and why it is deemed to be so important for creating students who have the ability to reach long term goals.
Explore ideas for your classroom here.
The article entitled The New, Nonlinear Path Through College, provides us with a gentle reminder that many GCC students have tried or will try other educational opportunities. The path to a college degree is not as clear and simple as it once was—students have many choices and they often struggle to find the right fit. The danger is that many students start, but do not finish their degree. At GCC, it is critical to help prepare students for their futures through skill development and by creating confidence in their personal potential for success.
We must consider how we are helping students to enhance and develop skills in our courses, and also how we embrace their entry and in some cases, their re-entry. For adult students, using the principles of andragogy can make a significant difference in their comfort level and the value they place on prior learning (both formal and informal). Diverse voices must be heard in our classrooms and we must create a safe educational space for students with different perspectives and life philosophies. University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching has a wealth of information on building a respectful and dynamic classroom, and honoring the needs of diverse learners.
Making a personal connection with each student, whether our role is as advisor, support staff or faculty impacts how students feels about their GCC experience. The key is building rapport. Knowing one personal and positive thing about each student creates a starting point—it might be something about their family, work, a favorite hobby or sport. Building rapport and engaging students on this level that shows we care about them as individuals and learners, and that we value their commitment to GCC and the choice they have made to be a student here.
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- Reusing existing Open Educational Resources (OER) can save significant time and effort by using educational materials that already exist. Search there extensive list of resources for materials for your courses and projects.
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.
Principles of Adult Learning
There is no single approach to teaching that works best. What we do in the classroom depends on who we are, who our students are, what we are teaching, and many other factors. There are some guiding principles that can help use to create the condition that support and promote learning.
Looking at this graphic, it seems that active classroom activities may help students learn and retain information in ways that traditional lectures do not. Get students engaged and excited about their learning using Active Learning methods.
Look for ways to prompt students to think more deeply about course concepts and the learning process through Prompts That Get Students to Analyze, Reflect, Relate, and Question.
The Flipped Classroom
The Flipped Classroom is a teaching approach that moves lectures outside of the classroom to allow classroom time to be spent in more dynamic learning activities. Before arriving to class, students often watch recorded video lectures and read through lecture materials, complete a basic assessment to ensure they have understood basic concepts. They then arrive in the classroom ready to engage with their peers in discussions and other student-centered learning activities. Looking at the Learning Pyramid provides some incentive to move away from lectures to more practice-based activities in the classroom.
Overview: Watch one instructors approach in her YouTube video
The Flipped Classroom: Pro and Cons
Flipping A Class: A How-to Guide for Beginners
This teaching strategy seems to be gaining momentum because it gets results. Shaking up tried and true teaching methods can be controversial and this approach is not for everyone, but for some teachers and students, it is breathing new life into the learning experience. Read more from the NYTimes on the Flipped Classroom.
A common goal and challenge for online faculty is to increase student participation in online classes. Not only does participation help promote student retention and satisfaction, but it also helps demonstrate student learning and understanding of course concepts. Encouraging student participation involves well-crafted assignments that link learning objectives with appropriate online learning tools. Students need to understand what is expected in an online discussion and how these assignments will be graded to help them meet expectations.
Provide students with some Tips for online classes to get them acclimated to the online environment.
This presentation from the New England Faculty Development Consortium Annual Conference in 2012 highlights best practices for online student participation and ideas about how to engage students using blogs, discussions and online learning journals.Engaging distance learners NEFDC 2012
Writing strong discussion questions can seem daunting. The goal is to stimulate student interest and promote learning. Use this resource from the University of Oregon to get started. Discussion question types University of OR
What is the role of faculty in online discussions? How often should the instructor post? Faculty online posts
Learn more about structuring online discussions. Look for new and innovative discussion activities from Laurel Warren Trufant in her article Move over Socrates…Online Discussion is here