Professors share class participation strategies

Published by adviser, Author: Erica Kurvach - Staff Reporter, Date: September 27, 2012
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Faculty shared advice on classroom participation to improve student learning at Open Discussion: Cultivating and Evaluating Class Participation on Tuesday during common hour in room 202 in the Bailey Library.

Dr. Timothy Oldakowski, an assistant English professor, led the discussion that allowed all faculty attendants to share their strategies and to ask questions about how to encourage students to participate in the classroom more.

These seminars are run by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Educational Technology (CETET), a program that helps faculty find ways to engage in teaching, learning technology, implementing assessments, and designing course development.

Brian Danielson has been the director of CETET for the past four years, which is about when CETET started.

“The open discussion was made so that the faculty members in attendance would gain some of the best practices in encouraging student participation in class,” Danielson said.

Dr. Danette DiMarco, CETET’S faculty coordinator and English professor, asked Oldakowski to facilitate the discussion since he has a personal interest in class participation.

Before the discussion, Oldakowski shared about how he graded participation in his interpreting literature class from last year. He had students sit in a circle and put up name tents on their desk. Then, he videotaped them as they took turns in introducing their names. After he watched the video, he learned their names. Oldakowski said that the students felt valued when he knew their names by the next class time.

Still before the discussion, Oldakowski shared an “icebreaker” technique that he saw some professors doing. Some collect cards that answer “That awkward moment when…” Oldakowski gave additional advice on how to ask questions and when to wait for a response. He recommended on getting students to talk to each other in small group discussions. He suggested that online classes, depending on class size, should have a group discussion board.

Sarah Williams, a Spanish professor, assigns a 15 percent participation grade in Spanish 102. She gives her students a weekly self-assessment on their classroom participation.

“I don’t want them to arrive at the end of the semester and be surprised by a low participation grade,” Williams said. “All along, they monitor their participation. I usually agree or disagree on their self-assessments with a rubric provided.”
Professors, such as Dr. Mark O’Connor, may have to confront students who are not participating instead of using student self-assessments. O’Connor pulls the quiet student out after class.

“You want to ask them to talk,” O’Connor said. “You know that they’re smart because of their written work. It’s a different kind of learning than talking aloud. Talking matters.”
Jesus Valencia, a business professor, offered to give a free copy of an Excel program that he uses for his 8 a.m. class to help those who don’t participate much. On the Excel program, he used the random selection to pick a student, call on them and mark their participation. Once the student is marked, they won’t be called on again until everyone participates. After the list is full, you can start a new round of participation. When you close the program, it won’t save absences, which will allow you to continue your round until the list is full or when every student is called on. Ask him and he will send the file to you through e-mail.

Later on, faculty shared their success stories. Some professors used candy, stress balls, small group discussion and self-assessments to encourage their students to talk. Even classes like computer science can interact with a Jeopardy review exams.

DiMarco said that the open discussions help bring the busy faculty together to see what each department is doing. She said that the discussions are designed for smaller groups from 10 to 30 people. If any professor misses a CETET seminar, he or she can access videos and podcasts on the D2L site.Sometimes CETET coordinates lectures. Last year, CETET taught the faculty on how to deal with students who experience post-traumatic stress disorder. In November, the next CETET seminar will be about the scholarship of teaching and learning. This will help researchers study about what goes on in the classroom and how to survey and grade students.

“There are a lot of good things happening on campus,” Danielson said. “It’s getting the faculty to share these methods so that they can learn and grow together. Ultimately, it’s to improve student learning.”

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