Guest Post: Class Discussion–From Blank Stares to True Engagement in Your OM Class
Our Guest Post comes from Dr. Jay R. Howard, who is the dean at Butler University. His most recent book is Discussion in the College: Getting Your Students Engaged and Participating in Person and Online (Josey-Bass, 2015).
Thirty years of research have demonstrated that when students are engaged in the classroom, they learn more. Classroom discussion is likely the most commonly used strategy for actively engaging students. Yet there’s always the possibility that our invitation for students to engage will be met with silence.
Sociologists have long contended that our behavior is guided by norms. Professors believe that one classroom norm is that students are expected to pay attention. But in most college classrooms students are not required to pay attention. The real norm is paying civil attention—or creating the appearance of paying attention. Students do this in a variety of ways. They write in their notebooks, nod their heads, make fleeting eye contact, and chuckle when the professor attempts to be funny. Why can students get away with only paying civil attention? The answer is that we as faculty let them.
We believe they should be self-motivated to complete assignments and prepare for class. Therefore, we don’t embarrass students into preparing for and participating in discussion. The result is that students can safely slide by, paying only civil attention in most college classrooms.
How do we get students to move beyond civil attention to true engagement in our OM classes? Perhaps the most effective strategy is allowing students to formulate their thoughts prior to being called on to verbally participate. The think-pair-share classroom assessment technique is one example: Ask students to take one minute and write a response to a question. Then ask students to share their thoughts. Another strategy is to structure your course so it requires students to come to class having read an assignment and prepared a short response paper or answer an on-line JIT quiz. In these ways, faculty can create new classroom norms, replacing the norm of civil attention with the expectation that all students come prepared to participate in classroom discussion.