McGuire on Media

Getting students involved

Today I have been asked to participate in a Cronkite School session on teaching methods.  Instructors will be coming together come together to share their thoughts on how to involve students in class discussion.  This is what I am going to share with that group.

I don’t teach “stuff.” I teach to provoke thought. I think that is a crucial first decision. If I teach them “stuff” to retain my style would be very different. My entire gig is to make them think critically about complexity.

I script my classes. I don’t rely on notes. I actually write a script. All of my comments and questions are in italics. Obviously I am prepared to follow the discussion and break off on tangents, but I do not count on the discussion “just happening.”

I try to never speak more than eight minutes. I will lose them if I talk any longer than that. After six or eight minutes it’s time to invlove students in the discussion.

I may ask questions about the material, but that is relatively rare. Most often I try to get students to make connections between the material they have read and specific cases, stories  or examples I might use.

When I teach ethical values I try to get students to relate Kant, Mill and Aristotle to their daily lives. I think it is terribly important that no matter how un-hip I am, and I am very un-hip, that I try to meet them where they live. FaceBook examples and Matt Leinart’s beer bong will resonate and engage.

I believe in showmanship. Students remember it. To reinforce the principle of credible information I have my class play telephone with this message: “The new building will be open nights and weekends except for every other Thursday and Football Saturdays. Grad students may come in any time as long as they wear maroon and blue and use the secret pass words Sparky is a nerd.” By the time that message got to the end of the row it was absolute hash. The students loved it. Ten weeks later students still bring up that exercise. They like to have fun and so do I.

I am also known for histrionics like declaring touchdowns and shouting the answers to questions. It would be nice if every student was engaged by their own volition. It ain’t the case. If it takes some silliness on my part to keep them engaged, I am willing.

In both my ethics classes and my business and future of journalism classes, I find that deliberate walk-throughs of real-life cases using suggested processes involve students and engage them in debates and critical thinking.

One of the most important lessons I have learned about some of those cases is that some fall flat on their face. I make no bones about dropping a case when it’s not working. I constantly adjust my script and material if it’s not working. Remember my goal is to make them think, not impart stuff. Thus, if something isn’t working I get the hell out. Many instructors who have skills material or important facts to impart don’t have that luxury. I understand that.

Vulnerability works. Students know we don’t have all the answers. I stress that and play off it rather than trying to pretend I know it all. I think that engenders a lot more discussion.

I will stop class and lecture about participation and I always try to connect participation to the workplace. I worry a lot that I do something to discourage females from speaking, but I find men are often more talkative in my classes than women. I don’t ignore that. I stop class and talk about it, and talk about the importance of expressing your views in the workplace.

One more thing about real-life. I never, ever miss an opportunity to make a real-life connection. I am a parent and my students are children of parents. If there’s an example to be had from that relationship I will grab it, because the best thing I can find on a student evaluation is this: “this class was about_______, but it was just as much about real life.”

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