Engaging Students

Oftentimes before students can engage deeply with complex ideas, they must be engaged by their instructor. This becomes challenging considering the mismatch between the length of a typical lecture period (one to three hours) and the average student attention span in a traditional lecture class (about 15 minutes). As a result, instructors must be creative in getting and keeping student engagement. While some instructors design lectures that resemble choreographed performances to capture students’ attention, this is certainly not the only way to engage an academic audience....

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Deepening Understanding

The challenge of narrowing a vast body of research and knowledge into a semester’s worth of material can be daunting, no matter the field of study. On top of that challenge, the effective instructor endeavors to awaken in students the same type of engagement that enlivens scholars in the field. Application and extension exercises help instructors to go beyond mere transmission of knowledge by adding the depth and inspiration necessary to transform students into scholars. Such exercises additionally equip students with the tools and...

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Responding to Students

Class discussions often mirror the form of a tennis match between professor and students: Professor serves question to student, student sends answer back to professor, professor moves onto next student, and so on. Sometimes, however, it makes sense to volley continuously with one student so they might explain and expand their thinking further. Other discussions might better function as volleyball matches, where ideas are passed among students before the professor is brought back into the action. Whatever the situation calls for, one thing is clear -- how...

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Scaffolding New Material

Every instructor who intends for his/her students to achieve ambitious learning objectives by the end of a semester must first answer the question: “How do I get them there?” Just as physical scaffolding enables a work crew to reach new heights at a construction site, instructional scaffolding supports students as they begin to grapple with progressively more challenging skills. Through the use of strategies such as modeling a professor’s own thinking, co-constructing common knowledge as a class, and building off of student contributions, instructors provide the initial support...

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Framing the Discussion

To an observer, effective discussions can look seamless. A question or two seems gets the conversation started, and students take it from there, sharing insightful perspectives, building on each other’s ideas, succinctly articulating the instructor’s key takeaways, all in perfect time. But the “behind-the-scenes” work to frame a discussion -- creating a space where daring, student-centered conversations can flourish; being clear about discussion objectives; asking the right, generative questions -- requires significant up-front planning.

What steps can we...

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Balancing and Pacing

A truly balanced discussion promotes equity by amplifying the voices of all students rather than just the outspoken few. This seldom occurs by chance. Rather, it is the result of careful planning and intentional strategies. We would additionally be hard-pressed to find an instructor who has not struggled with pacing class discussions. In addition to keeping an eye on the clock, this demands quick thinking and real-time adjustments, nimble reframing of questions and nonstop judgment calls. Without attention to pacing, lesson objectives might not be met. Meanwhile, without some healthy...

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