Effective Classroom Communication
Faculty often struggle to find the best method for encouraging meaningful discussion in face to face classrooms and online. Dallimore, Hertenstein, and Platt, (2004) discuss six recommendations identified by students that encourage classroom participation: required/graded participation, incorporating ideas and experience into discussion, active facilitation, asking effective questions, supportive classroom environment, affirm contributions and provide constructive feedback. I'd like to focus on providing a supportive classroom environment and required/graded participation.
It's very important to build a sense of community early in both the face to face classroom and online. Online education is still new to many of our students and they are not sure what is expected of them. Faculty need to actively facilitate meaningful class discussions. In the face to face classroom, I try to create a setting much like a business meeting. One tool that has been very beneficial to me in the traditional classroom setting is the use of name cards. At the first class meeting, I have the students pair up and get to know each other and then introduce each other to the rest of the class. This activity supplies me with the name they prefer and it gives me a fairly quick method of getting to know their background. Then by the time class meets again, I've prepared a name card for each student that is placed in front of them. It helps them to get to know each other and it's a nice way for me to take attendance without having to call out names. It also helps me to learn the student's names.
In the online classroom, I ask the students to introduce themselves in the conference area by sharing a little bit about themselves and also answering the following:
- your purpose for taking this course
- why you took this course online
- your biggest fear about taking a course online
- how you would like to be addressed online
Making clear your expectations regarding class discussion at the beginning of the semester is extremely important online and in the traditional classroom. For example have you made your expectations clear regarding classroom discussion (or online conference participation)? Development of evaluation tools is an excellent method for clarifying your expectations. It's also important for students to understand how often they are expected to participate in class discussion or online conferences. In the classroom, you may assign presentations, have students work in discussion groups, or have a large group discussion and limit the time for individual speakers (to discourage one student from taking all the time). For online participation, it's important for you to tell your students how often you expect to see them participating, and whether or not they should be commenting on the input of their classmates. Do you want to see them making entries 2 times a week, or 3 times a week? You need to tell them what you expect and how it will affect their final grade. In one of my courses, overall participation is worth 40% of the final grade. Participation consists of completing several open book exercises and participation in several discussion conferences. I label each conference GRADED so there won't be any confusion about whether or not a response is expected.
Development of a discussion rubric is an excellent method for clarifying your expectations. Documenting your expectations for classroom discussion will provide the student with a valuable tool for your class and possibly others. To get started on developing your own rubrics, visit the presentation developed by Dr. Porto.
Dallimore, E. J., Hertenstein, J. H., and Platt, M. B. (2004). Classroom participation and discussion effectiveness: Student-generated strategies. Communication Education, 53 (1), 103-115.
Porto, S. (n.d.). An introduction to the power of rubrics.