Posted tagged ‘student participation’

The key to better teaching and learning: securing student participation

July 2, 2011

A recurring theme in many of the conversations I have these days with higher education teachers is how difficult they find it to get students to participate in class. Students attend less class-based activities anyway, it is often observed, and when they are there they tend to see it as an occasion to receive information and ideas in a purely passive way.

On the other hand, it is clear that successful teaching requires a high level of interaction. So here are two contributions to this issue.

The first is a project from Monash University that used technology, in the form of a ‘computerised audience response system’, at relatively low cost to stimulate student interest and encourage them to work with the subject being taught.

The second is a set of suggestions from the University of California in Berkeley to prompt interaction in classes.

Perhaps an overall goal in good teaching that secures student participation should be to introduce innovation and change regularly. Learning needs to be presented as intellectual innovation, and the approach of the teacher should also reflect that. Otherwise it is difficult to engage students and maintain their interest.


Securing student participation in class

June 15, 2011

Over a cup of coffee with me the other day, three academics complained that, in their view, student participation in lectures and tutorials is not what it used to be. Most students, they felt, preferred silent anonymity in class and did not engage. Even when specifically prompted they tended to keep comments to a minimum. This had made lectures much less interactive and had made successful tutorials all but impossible.

One theory suggested by one of my friends was that students had not become less able to participate, but rather that their forum of debate was no longer in the physical world, but was now more or less entirely online. On social networking sites, or on the web, or sometimes in emails students could be vocal, inquisitive, interactive and intellectually assertive. But put them in a classroom and their familiar props were gone, and with them their sense of self-confidence and their taste for inquiry.

Another yet more pessimistic view by one of the other academics was that, finally, the learn-by-rote-and-don’t-ask-questions culture of secondary education had worked its way through the next level and was rendering students unable to be analytical or critical.

Of course whatever the reasons might be, if this is indeed a trend it is serious for society. Higher education is all about developing intellectual creativity and independent inquiry. Even where students are heavily focused on a professional trajectory, they still need to develop these skills. It will be important for universities to engage with this phenomenon and to consider how it can be tackled, so that today’s students will be tomorrow’s inventors, entrepreneurs and social and cultural innovators. The real mission of higher education must not be lost.

Time for a student voice

December 8, 2009

This blog is primarily (but not exclusively) about higher education. However, while I have had guest contributors from various parts of the academic and political and business worlds, I have not to date had a student contribution. So today I am starting to address that, and below you will find a post by Bridget Fitzsimons, UCD student and News Editor of UCD’s excellent student newspaper University Observer (which is, I might say, a sister paper to DCU’s own must-read student paper, College View).

Perhaps we need to be better more generally at canvassing student views and, crucially, ensuring that these views are taken into account when formulating policy. We also need to ensure that student feedback is used in assessing the quality of programmes.

More specifically in the context of this blog, I hope that other student readers may come forward with posts that they may wish to publish here – feel free to contact me at

Class twittering

November 27, 2009

For those who have wondered – as I have – whether the ‘micro-blog’ site Twitter could be used successfully in teaching, here’s a story that suggests that it could be. According to a report in the US Chronicle of Higher Education, Purdue University in Indiana has set up a program that allows student to ask questions in class by using Twitter on their computers or phones; they can even make their questions anonymous, for those who feel nervous about identifying themselves in case their question is considered stupid.

According to the report, others have tried it also, sometimes with mixed effects. It seems that the important requirement is that the lecturer needs to be forceful enough to stay in control, while also allowing the interaction with students to guide the content. However, as class attendance has become an increasingly difficult issue in universities all over the world, new techniques that might stimulate more interest could contribute to more participation.

Maybe this is worth trying in Ireland?