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Student Participation/Active Learning

Tips marked with an * indicates that the tip is consistent with learnng-centered teaching

Student Participation/Active Learning



*Getting students to participate in class

Here are a few simple strategies to get students to respond to questions or participate more:

  1. give students a clue regarding the kind of response that your are expecting
  2. give students a minute to write their thoughts before anyone is called upon
  3. break students into small groups to discuss the answer, then bring them back to the whole group
  4. arrive early to class and chat with students informally (helps them fail more comfortable)
  5. use non-verbal means to invite people to participate - sit close to students, make eye contact with them individually, move around the room, or sit in different locations.

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*Promoting class participation, discussion among the entire class

If you want the class to actively participate in discussions, you might consider the following:
  1. State it clearly in your class syllabus, establish it as an expectation at the first day of class
  2. Count it as part of the grade
  3. If possible, arrange chairs in circle or U or have students seat in fixed seating in such a way to foster eye contact with each other
  4. Sit among the students during the discussion part of the class
  5. If one student is dominating the discussion at the expense of the others - break eye contact with that student and look at others.

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*Student classroom participation

One way to get the students to participate more in class is to give them an assignment that they have to come prepared to speak about. For example, you might ask them to bring a quote from the assigned reading which they especially related to, was inspiring or enlightening. Or you might ask them to bring a quote of a passage that they did not understand.

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*Getting more student discussion

Faculty complain that they have a hard time getting many students to participate in class discussions. Yet, faculty here have reported that if you allow students to conduct both oral and written discussions, different people participate. Written discussion help shy people or those who are having trouble with English to add their ideas, at their own pace. Chat rooms allow faculty to hold electronic discussions.

Mignon Adams identified a virtual environment that does not need any html expertise to use. This virtual environment, called Speakeasy Studio and Cafe, can be accessed by http:/speakeasy.wsu.edu/studio/, then click start, then about to learn how the cafe can work. You can use this type of a chat room even if your are not doing anything else electronically with your class.

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*Active learning within a large classroom

The FSLC technique may be familiar to you

F = formulate an answer on your own
S = share your answer on your own
L = listen carefully to your partner's answer
C = create a new answer that is superior to your individual answers

Each step is important, but we often do not emphasize the listen and create part enough.

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*Students working together on group projects, assignments

Employers constantly tell us that they want their employees to be able to work together in groups. Yet, students often complain about working in groups, partly because it is difficult to get together. To facilitate students working together, give them 5-10 minutes in class just to set up a meet virtually either on-line or through conference calls, etc.

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*Promoting class discussions

Here are a few tips to promote greater class discussion:

  1. The instructor should prepare open-ended questions in advance. Without an agenda, it is easier to get off onto a tangent. You can allow the discussion to flow from these questions.
  2. To help student focus on the question, put the question on an overhead, the board or a slide.
  3. If the questions to be answered are challenging or the students are shy about participating, consider distributing the questions in advance to the students.
  4. Pause before you call on anyone. This allows student to think before hearing an answer
  5. Do not answer your own questions.

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*Getting students to participate, answer your questions

When you ask a question in class that you would like students to answer:
  1. Wait 15 seconds before you call on anyone - gives more people a chance to think of an answer
  2. If no one has volunteered after 30 seconds, try rephrasing the question or asking students what they need to know to answer the question
  3. Try to call on different people throughout a class. You could say, I want to hear from someone who has not yet participated
  4. Give verbal and nonverbal feedback to students who have participated-praise for good answers, for non-helpful answers you might thank the person for volunteering and ask for more responses.

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*Promoting discussion in your class

The first class is an appropriate time to establish guidelines for class participation and discussion and to ask for students' cooperation in implementing these guidelines. Here are a few guidelines to share with your students:

  • listen carefully to everyone, particularly those with different perspectives.
  • don't stereotype people by who they are or what they have said before
  • keep what is said confidential, especially personal information
  • speak from your own experience, do not generalize to other groups
  • speak from literature or other evidence you have gathered
  • do not blame or scapegoat
  • avoid generalizations about groups of people don't dominate discussions
  • focus on your own and other learning

Some of these suggestions come from R. Wlodkowski, Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn, Jossey-Bass, 1999

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*Making student presentations more of a learning experience for the listeners

Asking students to make presentations in class is a good way to get the presenters very engaged with the material. However, the student-audience may not be as engaged. Therefore, give the audience a specific assignment to do in relation to the presentation. Depending on the level of the class, you might ask them to be critics on the content presented, come up with an argument for the opposite side, think of themselves as researchers having to come up with the next research question to follow from this work, etc. Or you might ask the students to summarize the presentation in a few bullet points and hand in their summaries, write down 3 questions that the presentation raised, 3 areas the listener wanted to learn more about relating to the topic. These hand-ins might be given to the presenters for feedback to them.

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*Making class discussions more of a group event

One of the unintended consequences of holding class discussions is that a few people dominant the discussion. Often the discussion really is a series of 1:1 dialogues between the student and the teacher and not a true discussion. Perhaps we are encouraging students to think of only their own contributions and not how to make it more of a collective learning experience. To encourage more people to participate, you might give a few points to everyone if majority or all of the people talk, depending on the size of the class; if each person only talks once during a class; or if the discussion really builds on other's comments - reflective, questioning, critical, new ideas coming from other student comments and not a series of 1:1 dialogues.

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*Helping students learn more from lectures

Here are 3 tips for helping students to learn more from lectures:

  1. Many students who are new to studying a discipline often have trouble seeing the structure to a lecture. One of the easiest ways to provide structure is to provide an outline that contains only the headings and subheadings with spaces in between. Students can take notes from your headings.
  2. For all levels of students, if you provide too much detail in your handout or outline, the students will not need to take notes and perhaps will not attend to what you are saying as much.
  3. You might also want to provide a concept map of your lecture. Providing a concept map facilitates learning, increases motivation and attention during the lecture. Students will take notes to help them understand your concept map.

These ideas are supported by empirical research as described in a chapter by deWinstanley and Bjork called Successful Lecturing: Presenting Information in ways that engage effective processing. In Halperin DF & Hakel, MD. Applying the science of Learning to University Teaching and Beyond, New Directions for Teaching and Learning, Jossey,Bass, #89, Spring 2002. This is a great book available in the Teaching and Learning Center.

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*Making group presentations better and more meaningful learning experience

As a result of group projects, students often give a group presentation. Many times the students divide the presentation and only prepare their own section. The presentation is often dis-jointed and students don't learn all of the parts. As you prepare students to give presentations from group work tell them that only one student per group will present and that you will randomly pick the presenter. This method ensures that they all work together throughout the project and that everyone learns the entire project presentation. If a student is unprepared or has not adequately worked with the group, you should allow another student to do the presentation and mark down only the unprepared one.

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*Helping students master the vocabulary and definitions in a discipline quickly

Plan to spend 5 minutes in class with the following active learning technique to help students master the vocabulary and definitions in your discipline:

  1. either have the students make up and bring to class flash cards with the word on one side and the definition on the reverse side or distribute a set you made up or download from your textbook auxiliary materials
  2. Pair off the students. Have each student ask the other person a word or definition from the flash card. Alternate turns. If the student gets it right, that student gets the flashcard or it is taken out of the active pile.
  3. As the pile of cards gets smaller the pair is going over only those words one did not know. Within 5 minutes most definitions can be spoken by at least 1 person and learned by both.

You can use this exercise as a check on reading the chapter before class, part way through a unit or as a review before a test.

Barbara Millis taught me this simple technique. She sends her regards to USP and is happy we are employing so many of her collaborative learning techniques.

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Getting students to participate more in class

To get more students involved in class participation, assign each student to facilitate a class discussion. The student should prepare the readings very well, develop focused questions, and be prepared to answer questions raised by other students. A few days prior to the class, the facilitator-student should meet with the instructor to be sure the student is on the same wave length and well prepared. After the class that student or another student should prepare a summary of the class discussion, which after approval by the instructor, can be posted on the Blackboard site for the class. At the beginning of the class, the instructor needs to explicitly model and discuss good facilitation skills. Sometimes students will participate more for fellow students than they do for faculty. The work done as a facilitator and summarizer should count as part of the class participation grade.

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Evaluating students on class participation

Most faculty like to include class participation in their grading, but find it difficult to grade for it. Develop a scoring rubric using 2-3 criteria and 3 levels of participation for each rubric. Suggested criteria might be what new ideas did the student contribute, how much did the student apply content/readings, etc. to what he/she said, and evidence of critical thinking. You might grade students using these rubrics every month so they can see patterns. Then class participation can be graded and it should count around 20% of the final grade. This idea came from JoAnne Majors of Immaculata University.

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Using brief questions to students in class

Many faculty are asking students brief questions in class. These questions are an excellent technique because they serve as a quick check on student comprehension, to break up the lecture and to get the students more actively involved with the material. However, when you use these questions, please make sure the students actually try to answer the question. You probably need to give the students a little more time to think about the questions and not just let the fastest students answer for everyone. Some students use this time for questions just to finish their notes or to chat with their neighbors.

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Calling on students in class

Some students are embarrassed or shy when they are called on in class. An alternative is to call on 2 people, perhaps sitting beside each other, together. Collectively they might do a better job than asking 2 students separately. This technique works especially well if the students have to think about an answer or do a calculation, or work at the board. This tip was suggested by Marion Cohen, a part time math faculty.

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*Recognizing the importance of conflict and conflict resolution in student learning groups

Many students think that a well functioning group should be conflict-free, when indeed, a certain amount of conflict is necessary to achieve more, and learn at a deeper level or expose different perspectives. It is the teacher's responsibility to help students to understand that conflict is necessary and should not be avoided. Teachers might even plan exercises that forces students to have a small conflict a few weeks into their group functioning. The teacher also needs to help students to manage the conflict appropriately. Probably the most important rule of conflict resolution is open and honest communication. Students have to feel comfortable talking about the conflict to all members of the group at once.

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Students helping peers to learn better

Students take advice much better from peers than from us. Why not incorporate student study strategies from previous years in the help you give current students. Sarah Spinler wrote her students after they got back the results on her exam and asked those who did well on specific questions (the harder concepts, I assume) to volunteer to write down very specific strategies and tips they used for studying. She would also like to share specific examples of things they made up. This type of help can be posted on Blackboard for all students to have access and you might want to spend some class time going over some of the strategies, tips and examples and a way of helping students to learn how to learn your material.

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Getting your students to work better in groups or teams

If you require your students to work in groups or teams, you probably want them all to work effectively. Yet you probably do not have much time to devote to the topic of group performance. One way for students to learn how to function better in small groups is to give them a short article about group functioning and have them write a short reflection on the article and how it relates to their group functioning in your course. Barbara Oakley, Richard Felder, Rebecca Brent and Imad Elhajj have found that superficial and sloppy reflection essays are predictors of problem team members.

We will be discussing more findings like these at the journal club on scholarship of teaching and learning on Monday February 21st at 2 in the Woman's Club room since we will be discussing the entire article (Turning Student Groups into Effective Teams, Journal of Student Centered Learning, 2004) that this tip come from. You can borrow the article and come to the discussion.

A good article for students to read is by Barbara Oakley, "Coping with Hitchhikers and Couch Potatoes on Teams" also in the Journal of Student Centered Learning 2004 and available from my office.

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Introducing and reinforcing active learning

If you plan to use active learning in your course, introduce an active learning exercise on the first day of class. Then use that technique or similar ones a few times during the semester to help the students master the technique and thus concentrate learning the material from your course.

This idea comes from Barbara Tewsbury of Hamilton College.

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Helping all students to share in a pair and share exercise

Some times especially when students are new at doing pair and share of interviewing each other or practicing skills on each other the first person takes too long and does not allow the second person to fully talk, practice, interview, etc. As a way to prevent that from happening, the instructor should be the time keeper and announce to the class that it is now time for the second person to begin talking or doing. You might also want to give them a little warning before the half time period and the end of the session. As students become more experienced with these paired activities, you can tell them that they will start becoming their own time keepers and that students need to learn to budget their time so both have equal access to participate.

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Getting students to show their work or thought processes

In many disciplines it is important for students to show their work or their thinking. However, many students do not do a good job doing that. If students show their thinking you can determine where they did not make the mark exactly, and can give better constructive feedback for them to improve in the future. One way to do this is for students to solve problems or to follow procedures using a split page answer sheet. On one side they write what I did and on the other side they write why I did it. Then as they solve the problem, complete a lab or follow a procedure, they need to fill in both sides.

Virginia Anderson from Townsend University, who writes about effective assessment, suggested this idea.

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A way to get dominant students to allow others to talk

This technique should work in small groups or large discussions. Try this simple technique in order to try to achieve more equal participation among students, help the dominate students to be quieter and the shy ones to speak up:

Give everyone 5-6 paper clips (you might want to get colored ones) and tell them to bring them to every class.

Once a student makes a contribution to the discussion,they should put a clip out in front of them.

Once they use up their allotted clips, they cannot talk any more.This might help the dominate ones to save some comments for later.

This idea comes from Kina Mallard of Union University and appeared in the October 2002 Teaching Professor.


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Getting more students to answer your questions in class

In most classes <20 of the students do most of the participating, especially answering most of the questions. One way to get more students to think about your questions, is to ask students to write the answer. Then you can call on someone who does not usually volunteer and perhaps they will feel better about answering a question.

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*Doing a cooperative, active learning debate in a 50 minute period

You can do a cooperative debate in literature, the sciences or the social sciences in one 50 minute period. Follow these steps and keep a very close watch on the time.

  1. Divide the class into smaller sections to work on different topics
  2. Students draw slips of paper to determine their team and their topic
  3. Students read the assigned material closely to gather support for their team's perspective
  4. Students work together briefly in their groups in class to develop the best possible arguments
  5. The instructor randomly determines which topic will be debated first and who will be the team's spokesperson
  6. The spoke person has 4 minutes to present their ideas
  7. After both sides have presented, each team is allowed an additional 3 minutes to present a rebuttal choosing their own spokesperson
  8. The teams who have not been presenting (because they were assigned a different topic) vote to determine which side presented the most convincing arguments
  9. Steps 5-8 should be completed in 20 minutes and then another topic teams should repeat the same steps. If this is a large class, it may take 2 classes to get around to all topics and teams.

Barbara Millis, who came here a few years ago and showed us many other activities, described this one to me.

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*Getting students to come to class having read the assignment

One way to motivate students to read and digest the assigned readings ahead of class is to ask students to develop 1 3x5 card based upon their reading assignment. These cards can be collected and returned to the person who developed them during the tests over this material. Their cards will only be as good as their preparation

Good luck getting all the grading done.

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Helping students get the key points or the gist of material

Many of our students highlight the vast majority of their textbooks. Then they think they need to memorize it all. The end result is that they often do not get the key concepts or the gist of the content. As a way to help students identify the most essential concepts, assign the following activity:

  1. After they have finished reading a chapter, tell them to take another color to highlight the next step. They can only highlight 5 critical aspects of the chapter. Each of the critical section needs to be less than 1/4 of the page. They can hand in a copy of the pages or a paper that identifies what they selected, if you want.
  2. In class discuss what they identified as the 5 critical aspects of the chapter. There will be differences.
  3. If you have a small number of students, or you can call on only a few people you can listen to what they say and comment on it, help them evaluate the importance of what they identified, integrate it with other points. This can be the lead to a great review of the chapter.
  4. If the number of students is large, you can ask them to work in small groups to discuss what they identified. They might hand in a consensus of what they decided. Try to get feedback to all of them.

This tip comes from Aimee Luebben from the University of Southern Indiana.

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Helping all students to share in a pair and share exercise

Some times, especially when students are new at doing pair and share or interviewing each other or practicing skills on each other the first person takes too long and does not allow the second person to fully talk, practice, interview, etc. As a way to prevent that from happening, the instructor should be the time keeper and announce to the class that it is now time for the second person to begin talking or doing. You might also want to give them a little warning before the half time period and the end of the session. As students become more experienced with these paired activities, you can tell them that they will start becoming their own time keepers and that students need to learn to budget their time so both have equal access to participate

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Helping people work in groups who feel they always do all the work in groups

Many hard working students do not like working in groups because they feel they do all of the work, while others take advantage of them and they all get the same good grade. Their feelings may be justified. Here is a way to help these students learn to negotiate, trust and share with others.

At the beginning of the semester, before you assign students to groups, ask the students to complete the following 1 item survey and list their name.

Think about your experience working in groups. Please select only one alternative that best describes your experience.

  1. I enjoy working in groups because we understand the material better, produce better products or perform better.
  2. I question the value of group work for me, because I end up doing more than my fair share of the work
  3. I have little or no experience working in groups
  4. None of the above choices fit my experience is: (please describe)

When you form the groups, place all the students who selected #2 in the same group or groups. These hard working students finally are in good company and can achieve wonderful things. The other students also benefit because they must learn to work harder without the one who is willing to do all of the work.

The idea comes from Byrnes, JF and Byrnes, MA. (May 2007). I Hate Groups! The Teaching Professor, 21(5):8.

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Getting and giving feedback on meaningful class participation

Students sometimes confuse mere participation in class with making worthwhile contributions. To help see the distinction, give the students a self-assessment that they hand in to you. This assessment should be done several weeks into the class, and preferably once you know their names and can identify how much students are making worthwhile contributions. Make sure you give the students feedback on their self-assessments and correct their misunderstandings. Ask the following question and allow students room to write a rationale, additional comments or cite an example.
How much are you contributing worthwhile insights during class discussions or furthering the understanding of the material by the entire class?
  1. I contribute worthwhile comments several times during every class. Please cite an example
  2. I contribute one or more worthwhile comments almost every class. Please cite and example
  3. I often contribute or participate in class discussions. Please cite an example
  4. I occasionally contribute
  5. I rarely contribute

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Letting the classroom environment foster student participation

If you can move table-chairs or tables around in your classroom, you might get better participation. Move the chairs into a semicircle, a U or 2 rows facing each other. Make only 1 row so everyone is equal and part of the arrangement. Put in only as many chairs as you need, turn the rest of the chairs toward the wall, so that all students sit in the chairs in your semicircle and not distance themselves from the class. Once all of the students feel the need to sit within the seats for participants, they will start to participate more.

As a courtesy to the next class, move the chairs back to the way they were before or ask the next teacher if she prefers them left the way you arranged them.

This tip was suggested by Miriam Cohen, a former adjunct faculty here, who now is teaching at Arcadia University.

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Suggestions for peer and faculty assessment of participation in class or small group discussions

More and more faculty are giving students credit for participation in their final grade. If you divide the class into small working groups, you can use peer assessments as part of the participation grade. If you have a small enough class, you might be able to assess each student on their participation. Here are a few items that you might ask students to assess on, or you can use yourself. Each item can be rated on a 3-5 point scale to give you a numerical index.

Preparation - evidence of preparation for the class/discussion
Engagement - quality of engagement is active, respectful and inclusive
Initiative - questions asked show focus, clarity and/or summarize the discussion
Response - quality of responses reflects knowledge, comprehension, and application of the concepts, readings, etc.
Discussion - quality of the remarks extends the discussion with peers, reflects analysis, synthesis and evaluation

You can do this assessment weekly or at several different points in the semester. The important thing is that there be more than one observation.

Anna Lathrop from Brock University developed these points. They were published in March 2006 issue of The Teaching Professor.

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Giving students credit for class work

Sometimes we ask students to do significant learning work in class. While you may want to count their work toward a grade, you do not want to spend much time grading the products.
I suggest you grade as a 0 for not doing the work, absent or doing a poor job, 1 for an average job and an occasional 2 for an exceptionally good job.
You might consider grading on some of the following components:

  • Interpretation of content
  • Use of evidence
  • Connection new content to previously learned material
  • Integration concepts to real world or personal experiences
  • Development of conclusions based on the above
  • Reasoning/problem solving

Jennifer Romack of Ca. State University at Northridge suggested most of these components.

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Are your students ready for class?

Although we ask students to be ready for class, they may not know what we mean by being ready. Like so many other things, we have to make our implicit assumptions explicit to the students. If you ask students to read before class, what does that mean about the desired level of comprehension and ability to apply the material? Being prepared for class should mean that the students have already constructed a knowledge base and that they will be able to use it in class.

These ideas come from Jennifer Romack of CA State University at Northridge.

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Class participation Rubric. doc

As more of us are using active learning and discussions in our classes, we are trying to count class participation in how we grade students. The question always is how to do it fairly? Here is a rubric that looks at attendance, level of engagement in class, following directions, critical thinking/problem solving, preparation, communication, and modifying behavior. You can modify it to suit your own needs. The URL is: www.rcampus.com/rubricshow.cfm?code=BXWA83&sp=yes& You will find many other scoring rubrics at this site.

Thanks to Lora Packel for showing this to me.

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Asking for information from the students very early in the semester to help you meet their needs

Assign students a brief get-to-know your assignment between the first and the second class of a new semester. Ask the students to tell you what they think will be interesting in your course, what they think will be challenging or difficult for them, and if they have any questions for you.

At the third class, make a few comments to show you heard them and are incorporating their ideas into what you are doing.

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Getting all members of a student group to be effective team members

Students often complain that one person does not participate on team projects. To avoid hearing this toward the end of the semester, be proactive about the problem early in the semester. Talk about group participation, ask groups to develop rules for participation that they sign. Tell your class that they need to address team problems as they come up. If they need help in resolving conflicts, they should ask you for help. Tell students that if they cannot participate in their groups and do their assigned role, you can remove them from the group and expect them to do all of the work individually.

All of these efforts are worthwhile because students can benefit so much from working on effective groups.

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Using an ice breaker at the beginning of the semester

During the first day of class, especially if the students do not know each other, use a fun and humorous ice breaker to get everyone talking to each other and to get to know each other. Darby Lewes asks small groups of students to make an interpretive dance. You might also have them create a picture, a rhyme, a chant, etc.

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Getting students to engage in their reading

Faculty across all disciplines complain that students do not learn from reading textbooks or other assigned readings. Most students highlight their books which is a rather passive activity and does not require really thinking about their reading. Asking students to keep a journal it is a good way get them more involved in their reading. You want them to have cognitive and affective reactions to what they are reading. Possible questions for students to answer in their reading include:

  • What do you think about the key points in the reading?
  • What is the impact of X on Y?
  • Choose the 5 most important phrases in the section? Why are they so important?
  • Predict the next steps.
  • How does this apply to me, to my culture, my patients, to the world, etc.?
  • Rewrite a figure, table or image in your own words.

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Gathering formative, peer assessments for small group work

Well before the end of the semester, preferably even two times during the semester, it is a good idea for students to assess each other when they are working together in small groups. These peer assessments can be formative and not count toward the group participation grade, or they can count a small amount. The most important issue is that students get feedback so that they can improve before it is too late. Some of the aspects that peers can assess each other on include:

    • Group attendance, punctuality
    • Dependability, did what was asked of them
    • Did the work on time
    • Quality of the work submitted, contributions to the group effort
    • Did a fair share of work or what was agreed upon
    • Cooperation, communication, sharing, listening to others
    • Role in creating or resolving interpersonal problems
    • Cognitive contributions using knowledge and skills to help the group achieve its goals
    • Monitoring group progress
    • Special roles or contributions made

At the end of the semester, peers can assess each other on similar aspects. You might want to design this form so that students cannot give all of their peers the same score.

The list of aspects that is appropriate for self-assessment comes from, Baker, DF. (2008) Peer Assessment in small groups. J of Management Education, 32(2), 83-209).

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How much time to allow students when you ask a question using clickers or another system where all students are expected to answer

When you give a small group an assignment to work on and determine the right answer, you often have to gage how much time to allow the group to work. Here are two suggestions for deciding how much time the students need when you are using the clickers or asking every group to respond:

  • Karen Tietze recommends that you wait just past when the large groups of students weigh in. In other words call time once the response rate starts to decline. This works best with shorter problems.
  • Laurel Elder of Wright State University suggests that when you see that almost half of the class has responded, then you announce they have three more minutes. This approach works well with longer problems or where there should be more discussion.

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Getting students to buy in and do collaborative assignments

Students often resent collaborative assignments for many reasons. This is especially true of older, part time or online students. Here are some ways to help students engage with and learn from collaborative assignments.

  1. Explain the importance of learning to work in groups, as it will be true of most of what they do in their careers. It will improve communication skills and lead to a more meaningful learning experience.
  2. Encourage students to work asynchronously using electronic tools. When students learn how to use these tools, they are obtaining a new skill that will put them at an advantage such as video chats like Tokbox (http://www.tokbox.com), ways to share presentation, work documents, etc. like SlideShare (http://slideshare.com) or google docs (http://doc.google.com). Our Angel course management package allows groups to work together.
  3. Count the process of collaborating together and not just the final grade. Assess group participation through peer assessment. I have a sample assessment rubric.
  4. Make the product they produce something that really matters and is authentic. It might be a website the students can put up or a resource guide that others might use. The added incentive that it is authentic and can be used in the real world and not just will be seen by the instructor adds much value to the assignment and its taken more seriously.

These ideas came from the online webinar we downloaded given by B. Jean Mandernach. I have copies of her handouts, including the collaborative assessment rubric referred to above. Let me know if you want a copy.

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Giving a consistent message about the importance of collaboration

One of the most important skills that employers look for is the ability of employees to work together. We often implement collaborative projects for our students. Yet in other ways we are inconsistent. If we grade on a cure especially for the final course grade, we are sending the message that only some people can really excel and some people need to fail. It is hard to get students to work together and help each other if they are graded on a completive grading scale.

Karl Smith, the distinguished professor of engineering education and leader of pedagogies of engagement workshops worldwide gave me this thought.

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How to respond to the student question - Did I miss anything in class today?

How often do we hear, Did I miss anything in the class I missed? We have to get students to realize that of course they missed something, otherwise why are we in class. We have to see this question as a teachable moment to encourage different behaviors. You want them to realize that something is missed every time they skip a class.

The first response to this question might be. "What do you mean by this question?" Students might be honest and say something like did you tell us what will be on the next test? They might be asking for a handout, their paper or test that was returned, or something that you can provide them with. Whatever they answer can be the starting point for your dialogue with them

Do you want to encourage them to speak to a peer about a missed class? If so, tell them to speak to 2 peers and borrow notes from at least two people.

You might ask them if they are asking is there any way they can make up the work from the class or how can they prepare for the next class since they missed this one?


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Making student groups more effective

Many faculty use student groups to engage in collaborative, problem solving activities. Some faculty have tried them and do not like them, often because they hear from the most dysfunctional groups and not from the better functioning groups. A survey of perceptions of effectiveness of student groups found that the faculty had a much lower appraisal of how effective student groups are then the students themselves. Students reported that groups effectively resolved conflicts and saw the group activities as effective learning tools.

The best group activities involve problems or scenarios that have no right answer, require the discussion of multiple perspectives and true collaboration to solve. Students should also have enough resources available to them to complete the assignment successfully. These resources may be experts, electronic or print information, etc.

(Citation for the study: Chapman, Meuter, Toy, Wright (2010) Journal of Marketing Education, 32:39-49)

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Getting more students to participate in class or online

The climate in the class and the instructor's behaviors play a big role in fostering or inhibiting student paricipation in class. Ways to foster participation include:

  • Paying attention to students, show that you care about them
  • Recognizing them as individuals, calling on them by name
  • Showing respect for them, their culture, their lives
  • Supporting them as they try
  • Not being opinionated
  • Provide verbal and nonverbal feedback
  • Welcome diverse perspectives
  • Try to shape a wrong answer to be more correct without putting down the student
  • Wait sufficient time before calling on someone
  • Try to call on as many people as possible
  • Encourage students to show respect, civility for each other

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Using misconception clickers questions as a way to review material

At the end of semesters, many students ask for an extensive review session. Instead of going over what you plan to put on the final or summarizing the same material you already covered, use this review time to help students overcome their lingering misconceptions about the content. Misconceptions often hinder students' abilities to really grasp the material, and for them to be able to use it later. Research shows that even at the end of a course, many students continue to hold misconceptions in science or stereotypes in the social sciences that are not correct.

Design questions about the misconceptions in your discipline that you will use in the review. Good misconception questions should be answered incorrectly by 30 - 70% of the students when initially asked on a clicker question. If your students fall in this range, then ask the students to discuss in pairs or very small groups why they think their answer is correct. The purpose of this discussion is to reach a consensus on the correct answer. Often a peer's explanation can be more helpful than an instructor's to overcome these lingering misconceptions. Then repeat the clicker question. If necessary, you can cover over the correct answer focusing on the reasons for and against the various answer choices. If your students get most of the misconception questions correct, they probably understand the material.

If you use this procedure, focus on a few overarching or most common misconceptions. Do not expect to get through many questions.

At the end of the class, ask the students to list which concepts they changed their mind on as a result of the discussion.

I integrated ideas from several people including Derek Bruff of Vanderbilt University and Eric Mazur of Harvard. University.

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Getting students prepared for class discussion

Faculty often complain that the level of class discussion is not as rich as they would like because many students are not prepared for class adequately.
This usually means that the students have not read and really understood the assigned reading material. To help students prepare for class discussions, give them concrete preparation assignments. The assignment should focus the student's thinking on higher level concepts and require written responses. Higher level concepts vary by discipline, but might include compare and contrast theories or research, or making predictions. Students hand in these assignments. Faculty should only count them if the student did a serious effort; they should not be graded for accuracy. Class discussions should focus on getting students to develop the best answers to these difficulty questions or applications.

In courses where there is a lot of material to be memorized, this type of assignment and class discussions might follow discussion of the fundamental lower level content either through a lecture, reading, online quizzes.

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Establishing a positive climate for quality and frank discussions and for students to answer questions when called upon

When you use discussions as a means to exchange ideas and also for learning, or if you call on students in class without asking for volunteers, remember that the communication climate in the class is very important for getting cooperation from your students. You need to develop, maintain and nurture a supportive communication climate. Signs of a supportive communication culture are that all of the students feel valued, respected, not judged, engaged personally, and accepted. The communication needs to be open and not restricted. Students need to feel a sense of familiarity with their peers and the instructor. Research shows that if there is a positive and supportive communication environment, students will contribute their ideas and not feel stressed about being called upon without volunteering. Of course, the trick is to establish and maintain this culture. The opposite is also true, in a negative communication environment, students become stressed when called upon in class or do not want to contribute to class discussions.

This research was conducted by T. Souza, E. Dallimore, and B. Pilling and reported on in To Improve the Academy, 2010: 28. 227-249.

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Helping students to realize that they learn outside of traditional venues such as lectures

Many of our students are so used to being taught the content through lectures, that they may not realize that they are also learning on other venues, such as more active learning through discussions, constructing concept maps of the material, or service learning. The students may see these activities as a diversion from lecturing. It may help to ask the students to reflect on their learning, record what they learned and how much they learned in these situations when they have to construct their own knowledge. It also helps if the content covered in these ways appears on tests to reinforce that this is valued content also.

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Getting students to come prepared for class and participate in class

Here is a good way to get students to come prepared for class and participate in class:
Ask each student to do the assigned reading and to develop a higher level question using the material in the reading. They could ask for an application, develop a problem, etc. The students need to answer their own question and then forward their question and answer to you the night before the class. Then you assemble the questions in an order that makes sense for the content. Ask the student who developed the question not to answer it until others have discussed the question. If they have more to add, they can do so after the class has responded.

This technique can work with large classes by asking the students to work in small groups on the questions or in small classes with one discussion going on at once.

Murry Sperber who retired from Indiana University, Bloomington in 2004 used this technique.

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