April 9, 2013
Peer and self-evaluation of participation in discussion
We often focus on presentation skills as oral communication skills, but students more frequently need to either lead or contribute to productive group discussions. Small group discussions can easily go off the rails when students indulge in off-topic talking, inadequate listening, and disrespectful behavior. The dynamic quality of class discussion presents challenges to faculty who would like to hold students accountable for the quality of their participation in these discussions.
Multhaup (2008) describes how to prepare students for substantive class discussions and suggests two strategies for evaluating student contributions to class discussion. Many of these strategies can be adapted for the online environment.
Establish ground rules for effective class discussion(first week of class)
Establish expectations for class discussions by facilitating a think-pair-share activity during the first week of the term.
Use the comments from the group discussion to identify some ground rules and expectations for individual participation in class discussion during the remainder of the term.
Adaptation for eLearning: Create a threaded discussion based on questions such as
Peer evaluation of the quality of participation in discussion
Require students to complete a Participation Survey 3 or 4 times during the term. Each student must complete the following three evaluation elements for every student in the class, including themselves:
Compile the collective (anonymous) feedback for individual students and distribute this feedback to each student. If necessary, edit comments or add your own comments.
Adaptation for eLearning: Create a drop box assignment or survey in eLearning in which students answer these questions. You can make completion of the feedback a graded assignment (completed/not completed), compile the feedback information for individual students, and distribute this feedback through the course email function or provide it as feedback in the dropbox.
If you ask students to facilitate discussion, gather peer feedback about this skill
After each facilitated discussion, members of a discussion group complete a peer feedback survey for the discussion leader. The peer feedback answers the following questions:
Provide feedback several times during the term to enable students to improve their participation and discussion skills over time.
Multhaup, K. S. (2008, Spring). Using class discussions to improve oral communication skills. Teaching Tips (APA Division 20 – Adult Development and Aging).
November 8, 2011
Using game show formats to engage students with course content
Are you looking for a novel way to review material, encourage participation, or use an activity to refocus attention during a lecture? Consider incorporating games in your class to involve your students in the learning process.
Benefits of using games
Tips for successful use of games for learning
Want to try using a popular game show format for a class session? Several web sites offer free templates that enable you to transform a PowerPoint presentation into a game show. Download the template and add your course questions and material.
Downloadable Game Templates
Includes Who Wants to be a Millionaire (PowerPoint Template by Mark E. Damon), Jeopardy, & Password
Template for Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?
Family Feud Demo Video
This tip is based on a contribution from Allison Boye, Suzanne Tapp, and Micah Meixner Logan, Teaching, Learning, and Technology Center, Texas Tech University.
Millis, B.J. and Cottell, P.G. (1998). Cooperative learning for higher education faculty. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press.
Jones, K. (1997). Games and simulations made easy: Practical tips to improve learning through gaming. London: Kogan Page Ltd.
Rosato, J.L. (1995). All I ever needed to know about teaching law school I learned teaching kindergarten: Introducing gaming techniques into the law school classroom. Journal of Legal Education, 45, 568 – 581.
Sarason, Y. and Banbury, C. (2004). Active learning facilitated by using a game-show format, or who doesn’t want to be a millionaire? Journal of Management Education, 28, 509 – 518.
September 6, 2011
Use PowerPoint to prompt engaging learning activities during class
Dilbert depicts Power Point presentations as a direct route to slumber and employee revolt. PowerPoint presentations need not be deadly. Instructors can create slides that prompt class activities that engage students, motivate meaningful class discussion, and promote deep learning (Berk, 2011).
Instructors commonly organize and plan the presentation of content while they create a set of PowerPoint slides. Consider creating slides to plan and prompt engaging learning activities at key points during a class presentation.
Instructors who use personal response systems (clickers) can add a slide that poses a question to evaluate student understanding of a critical concept or to ask students to apply a model or principle to a specific application. Allow students a moment to think individually or discuss the question in small groups before they record their response to the question with their clickers.
An instructor who does not use clickers can present a slide that poses a question as a prompt for small group discussion (e.g., as a pair-share activity) or a brief in-class written response to the question (e.g., a minute paper).
Share responses to the prompt with the entire class. If using clicker questions, display a chart summarizing the pattern of responses from the group. Otherwise, ask for a show of hands for typical responses or initiate a class discussion in which several groups report the consensus response from their discussion.
Wrap up the discussion and refocus attention on the content that triggered the activity.
Include no more than one or two of these engagement slides during a class session to engage student interest and focus attention on critical points for the day’s lesson.
Berk, R. A. (2011). “Powerpoint® engagement” techniques to foster deep learning. Journal of Faculty Development, 25, 45-48.
Bruff, D. (2009). Teaching with classroom response systems: Creating active learning environments. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
December 7, 2010
Use T-charts to develop metacognitive skills in students
T-Charts are tables or matrices (graphic organizers) in which students list and examine facets of a topic, such as the pros and cons of a position, describe the advantages and disadvantages of several potential solutions to a problem, or identify pieces of information on a controversial topic as either facts or opinions.
Use T-Charts to develop skills. We often assume that students already know the skills they need to thrive in our classrooms. However, students often cannot describe the specific behaviors intended by words faculty use to describe their expectations for classroom behaviors, such as participation, preparation or listening. Similarly, students do not necessarily connect behaviors such as punctuality, use of communication tools, and characteristics of their discourse with teachers and peers to the concept of civility.
Consider the responses students might give to the following question: What are the boundaries for an acceptable response when a peer makes a point you find offensive? Students might not respond to this prompt by articulating specific behaviors. The ability of students to articulate and engage in appropriate behaviors that faculty describe in response to this question represent team skills that are critical to successful functioning in a collaborative workplace.
In addition to using a T-chart to develop firm expectations about team skill, this activity can be used to help students develop specific study skills, such as reading a textbook or listening for and understanding another’s point of view. Create a T-chart to show visually what “active listening” sounds and looks like in terms of specific behaviors.
An instructor could develop a T-chart to describe expectations and distribute this as a handout. However, creating a chart collaboratively can have a more powerful effect because the activity will develop consensus and create buy-in. Constructing a T-chart with student input requires about 5 minutes of class time. The activity can also be used to encourage students to model some of the skills. This activity is a great opportunity for creating student engagement and class participation, often with a refreshing touch of humor. T-charts can be created to focus on any skill you would like to develop.
This tip was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium, (sponsored by Western Kentucky University) by Michael Dabney, Director, Center for the Advancement of Innovative Teaching, Hawaii Pacific University.
September 14, 2010
Use a rubric to evaluate class participation
George Kuh (2008) and Carol Twigg (2003) propose that if a given activity or study strategy is known to be effective and we want to encourage our students to use it, we should find a way to make the activity mandatory. This usually entails grading the activity in some way.
Students who prepare for class and actively participate in discussion are more engaged and learn more, but grading these activities can be a challenge. Many instructors include class participation as a graded element but have difficulty evaluating student participation. Simply recording attendance or how frequently students ask questions or make comments during class feels superficial and sometimes encourages students to make uninformed or off-topic contributions for the sake of “participating.”
A rubric that describes appropriate preparation and participation behavior will enable instructors to provide clear guidelines to students about participation expectations. The rubric also gives students effective formative feedback about their participation if you provide feedback with the rubric periodically throughout the term. Finally, scores based on the participation rubric serve as an unambiguous method for determining a participation grade.
An example of a rubric (PDF) that I developed and used in a small seminar is posted to the CUTLA web. The rubric includes evaluation of the quality of the student’s preparation for class discussion, the substance of contributions made to discussion, and aspects of general class citizenship (listening skills, responding to other students with respect, promoting on-topic discussion).
I shared this rubric with students during the first week of the class and provided feedback to them about once a month during the term, with a final evaluation at the end of the term. This strategy allowed me to give regular feedback based on a period of observation that I could recall accurately. When I provided feedback early in the term, the students initiated a useful discussion about my expectations for participation. I noted an improvement in the quality of discussion following this initial feedback that persisted through the remainder of the term. Students appreciated the opportunity to make corrections and improve the quality of their participation across the term.
Examples of rubrics, including rubrics for class participation, are posted on the CUTLA web site.
Kuh, G. (2008). What matters to student success: Lessons from high performing institutions. (PDF) Workshop on Assessing Student and Institutional Performance, University of West Florida, Pensacola, FL.
Twigg, C. A. (2003, July). Build it, but will they come? Learning Market Space. Electronic newsletter published by the National Center for Academic Transformation.
Evaluating students on class participation
Want to include class participation in your grading but find it difficult to grade participation fairly?
Develop a rubric to evaluate student participation. Suggested criteria for a rubric include:
Share your participation rubric with students in the first week of the class. Invite student comments and suggestions for revisions (within acceptable boundaries). This strategy will clearly communicate your expectations for effective participation and promote student acceptance of these criteria.
Evaluating participation in every class session can become burdensome and encourage student participation merely for the sake of earning points that day. Instead, use the rubric to grade student participation once a month. This strategy will allow you to base your evaluation of participation for intervals of time that will be manageable for your ability to recall student behavior. It will also provide students with feedback about their early participation and allow them to make corrections and improve participation across the term.
This tip is based in part on a contribution by JoAnne Majors of Immaculata University to the web site of the Teaching and Learning Center, University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.
Updated 04/09/13 cdw
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