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. Thats 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 waysusing
both high and low techthat 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:
- E-mail me your muddiest point. Ill consolidate the points received
from all class members and e-mail my answers back to the entire class.
- E-mail me your reactions to several Web sites that relate to the topic
of the week. Ill check you off for having completed the assignment.
- When you spot a newspaper story that relates directly to our course, use
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).
- Plan to check your e-mail at least every 24 hours, so that I can feel comfortable
changing an assignment between classes.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- By providing a portion of my lecture online before class, time is left
during class for face-to-face discussion.
- 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. Thats right. And if computers arent
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Brown (email@example.com) is vice president and dean of the International
Center for Computer Enhanced Learning at Wake Forest University.