Interactive Teaching

Increased interaction is one of the five “holy grails” sought by 150 professors when they spent time and effort to incorporate computer enhancements into their teaching. The other four teaching strategies are the use of controversy and debate, the involvement of “outside” experts, student-with-student collaboration, and customized learning.

By far, the quickest and greatest learning gains from computerization come from increased interaction and better communication among students, and between students and their professors. In my own course of 15 students, one semester I counted 1,247 individual e-mails between me and my students. That’s nine e-mails per week per student. Overall, this close communication allowed us to become a true learning community, where each of us supported the others. With most classes, even two or three years after these communities are established, e-mail exchanges continue.

When on the lecture circuit, I often encourage audience members to list ways—using both high and low tech—that they increase interaction in their own classes. The results are almost always mind-expanding. As a catalyst, here is a selective list of how I interact with my students:

  1. E-mail me your muddiest point. I’ll consolidate the points received from all class members and e-mail my answers back to the entire class.
  2. E-mail me your reactions to several Web sites that relate to the topic of the week. I’ll check you off for having completed the assignment.
  3. When you spot a newspaper story that relates directly to our course, use our group
    e-mail to inform the entire class (and send a copy to the group e-mails of several of my previous classes on the same topic).
  4. Plan to check your e-mail at least every 24 hours, so that I can feel comfortable changing an assignment between classes.
  5. After I complete my lecture, e-mail me a paragraph that explains in your own words the key concept. If most of the e-mails miss the mark, I can then approach the topic in a different way.
  6. At the beginning of a class, I sometimes ask each student to e-mail me a brief paragraph on what they learned in the previous class. Once students come to expect this, I have noticed that the chatter in the room immediately before the class starts is often a student-to-student review of the last class.
  7. When a student raised a follow-up question after a lecture, I challenged class members to answer it, then shared the best answer with the entire class.
  8. By providing a portion of my lecture online before class, time is left during class for face-to-face discussion.
  9. During class, I often ask three or four students to work in a team to prepare a short Microsoft Corp. PowerPoint presentation (often a single slide) that answers a discussion question. Often I will then provide the answer I would have given if I had lectured on the topic.

Even the casual observer will note that most of the things mentioned above can be done without computers. That’s right. And if computers aren’t available, they should be done by sending groups of students to the board, by asking students to meet between classes face-to-face, etc.

In the spirit of interaction, drop me an e-mail chronicling some of the things you are doing to support interactive learning. My address is brown@wfu.edu.

About the Author

David Brown (brown@wfu.edu) is vice president and dean of the International Center for Computer Enhanced Learning at Wake Forest University.

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