Thursday, April 5, 2012

Here, have a sticker.

I wrote the following rant in my notebook during a class today and it is something I have thought for a while now. Maybe it is because I'm an upperclassmen and I find myself in classes with younger students who haven't experienced all the feedback and constructive criticisms I have, but sometimes I can't help but become frustrated while sitting in a class discussion. So, I will write what I dislike about discussions and offer some advice that will hopefully help you. I am actually pretty shy, I usually don't like participating too much, so I know what it is like. Maybe this can help you.

I have a small bone to pick with how some students perform in classes with a dedicated discussion time. Participating in a college class discussion is not merely repeating what the professor said during the previous lecture. This is not high school, middle school or even elementary school for that matter. You are not supposed to copy you teacher's statements, it is not a game of Simon Says, it is supposed to be a mind stimulating exercise. What are you proving to everyone when you simply repeat a point the professor, or even another student has made? How good of a listener you are? Here, have a smiley sticker.

Please note that there is a difference between when a professor calls on you in search of a specific answer and an open discussion about a book, article or selected reading.

Also, professors who let students get away with this type of behavior are just as bad, if not worse. They are training brainless, thoughtless and creativity-deprived puppets. A generation that does not think for themselves will not progress and that is a generation lost.

Excellent, you remembered the themes of our previous lecture - have a cookie - but how is that reflected in the reading? Great, you recall the point I made when I introduced this article to you - have a lollipop - but what did you extract from the reading?

Personally, I don't speak a lot in class discussion, but when I do I always try to bring something new to the table. A counterpoint or an alternative viewpoint. I guess what I'm saying is don't waste class or discussion time by repeating something that is already a given, already known by the class and especially if it was already spoken by the professor. Use your brain to think, analyze or critique. Don't be broad, general and safe. That is boring. If you really want to help that discussion and boost your participation points, be creative with you talking points.

Quality, not quantity. Nobody likes a know-it-all, even professors (which is why they will delay and ask if anyone has an idea or thought if the same kid(s) keep raising their hand). Students like that, while knowledgeable (although there is nothing better when they are wrong) generally don't change their discussion methods. Try throwing out a curveball once and a while and you will be rewarded.

That being said, I have been involved in some great discussions where I walk away very happy, but those seem to be rare as of late... and maybe I'm just an old fart now.

Stay classy, not UMassy.

PS: RIP Kurt:


  1. I always enjoyed speaking in class and I always did better in courses where class discussion or participation was a factor in the grade. I am sure I earned the disdain of many of my classmates for talking too much.
    To my mind there are three things wrong with discussion in most courses. Firstly, most students do not have much practice at it. As you allude to, it is not common in secondary schools. At most American colleges, class discussions are included in the curriculum largely at the discretion of instructors. Depending on their majors, many students encounter discussion in a small portion of course.
    Secondly, courses tend to be very focused. It can be challenging to make original points if the group's knowledge of the discussion is limited to the lectures and one text. I even encountered instructors who discouraged referencing unassigned materials in a discussion.
    Thirdly, this is an indication of a lack of commitment to liberal education. I was once in a humanities course that contained many freshmen and sophomores looking to fulfill a gen. ed. requirement. There was a weekly discussion period in which very few of the underclassmen participated, until the last class, where the topic was whether the course itself was useful. One student after another, spoke up, mentioning their non-liberal-arts major an stating that the course did nothing to contribute to their future career. Students and society do not see much value in the concepts of liberal education, but they are the concepts that virtually every four-year college or university in this country were designed to deliver.

  2. Sometimes it is positive to have students, who have nothing to say, just speak up and participate. They can just be simply saying nothing, but it helps some people to repeat certain things out loud. Also, sometimes people aren't well informed.