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Connecting with Students

For the past two summers I have had the privilege of speaking at the Annual Conference on Improving University Teaching and Learning ( Centered around rigorous research on pedagogy and learning theory, these conferences attract directors of teaching and learning centers from around the world, as well as many faculty. Last year Nelson Mandela welcomed to Johannesburg delegates from 31 countries. This summer we were greeted in Vilnius by Lithuania’s president, Valdas Adamkus.

At one of the conference plenary sessions Marcel Lucien Goldschmid, professor at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, Daphne Pan, director of the Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning at the National University of Singapore, and I facilitated a “town meeting” where delegates from 20 countries shared ideas about five teaching strategies. They boiled down to the “Five C’s.”

Communication: Increase your communication with your students and among them, create more collaboration, and foster feelings of a community of scholars.

Connections: Consolidate the connections between the concepts you are teaching and the real world. Involve consultants and practitioners, and enhance career connections for your students.

Contacts: Increase contacts with individual students and customize assignments by taking into account individual interests and learning styles. Convey a sense of caring to each student and make learning more convenient by considering your students’ circumstances and study conditions.

Concepts: Allow for more practice using concepts. Assign more problem sets, use surveys, test questions, and dynamic exercises.

Cinema: Include more pictures, movies, and simulations and expect students publicly to share what they have learned. Record in-class experiments for later replay and encourage students with role-playing assignments.

The delegates, working in groups of five or six, offered over 100 specific ideas about how, with and without technology, to implement these five strategies. Here are 10 of these ideas:

  1. Create an atmosphere of trust.
  2. Build and sustain the learning community via e-mail between teachers and students, students and students, and students, teachers, and experts.
  3. Provide fast feedback to students, even if some messages must promise a response later.
  4. Let students know when and how you prefer to be contacted, including how often you intend to access e-mails.
  5. Create online forums, threaded discussions, and chats.
  6. Use the Internet to access experts and ideas from “beyond the classroom.”
  7. Form student study groups with specific intent. For example, group by similar interests, group by different skill sets, or group by diversity of cultural backgrounds.
  8. Keep groups small, suggested optimal size no larger than eight.
  9. Assign teams to work together on projects.
  10. Link each student with a mentor or a specialist in the field.

A constructive exercise for any group concerned with quality teaching, like the IUT delegates, is to share specific ideas about the five teaching strategies. Conversation can be catalyzed by using the “Five C’s” as a worksheet.

About the Author

David Brown ([email protected]) is vice president and dean of the International Center for Computer Enhanced Learning at Wake Forest University.

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