Welcome to this episode of “Teaching & Learning Matters.” I am Dr. Garvey Pyke and today’s podcast is about the second “Principle for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education,” which Chickering and Gamson call developing reciprocity and cooperation among students. Reciprocity? There’s a word I always have trouble with. To put it in simpler terms, we want to encourage student-to-student interaction in our courses.
Oftentimes, I think it is easy for us to fall into a trap of thinking the only way we can cover a certain amount of material is if we are the only ones talking in class. We are hesitant to loosen our grip and let students talk and interact, in fear of loosing control. This reaction is completely natural and quite commonplace -- truly. However, classrooms that are more participatory and democratic result in greater student achievement. So how can we move towards involving students more?
There are many simple ways we can increase student-to-student interaction in the classroom, such as breaking them up into small groups or pairs for activities, for example, coming up with a collaborative definition of a term from the readings, or deciding on the major points on both sides of a current event, or perhaps filling in data into a table, or interpreting a graph.
Another easy way to have more student involvement is during class discussions: encourage students to answer each other's questions instead of answering them yourself. This may take some practice -- and some getting used to -- but it is an excellent way for students to feel engaged in the classroom as full participants. It is also a great opportunity for you to assess where your students are -- if they have any special interests that perhaps you could spend more time on, or even misconceptions that need to be cleared up. By hearing a diversity of thoughts and opinions from the students, you can get a sense of where your classroom community of learning is, and where it may need to head next.
Of course, the idea of “creating and encouraging opportunities for collaborative learning among our students” (Chickering & Gamson, 1987) isn’t confined to classroom activities only. Involving students in group projects or even semester-long study cohorts can be an excellent way to boost the interactivity of your course. They can work together online or in person to collaborate. You may even have them collaborate with students at other universities to complete joint projects. Or have them engage in peer review of each other’s work.
Many of these activities are very low threshold, and I am sure you can think of many more. Or if you would like to talk to me or someone else in the Center for Teaching and Learning at UNC Charlotte to come up with some strategies for increasing student-to-student interaction in your courses, just let me know.
And of course, be sure to tune in for my next podcast, where we will talk about the third Principle, encouraging active learning.
Until then, so long, and remember: "Teaching and Learning Matters."