Educators find themselves insisting new students make the leap and behave differently, more responsibly, more seriously with regard to their academic ambitions once they enter onto our college campuses. As such, educators can also find themselves in a quandary, convening in the faculty workroom or in online educator forums commiserating with colleagues over new students not rising to the occasion as quickly as they would prefer.
By the time they reach college doors, though, they have been children much longer than they have been adults, and many may have come from the school of thought that children are to be seen and not heard when it comes to engaging in the learning process and education on a whole. How, then, can educators expect thirteen years of habits and expectations to become undone and reworked during the course of, say, one new student orientation session?
Here are three recommendations for educators to help students successfully make the leap and make it in a more timely fashion:
"College is not the thirteenth grade."
How many of you can remember hearing something to that effect being announced at freshman orientation when you were a student, starting out on your college journey? You may have facetiously gasped in surprise. You may have rolled your eyes at the absurdity of the statement. (You were seventeen- or eighteen-years-old at the time, so that would have been totally normal, right?) You may have laughed it off.
Or you may have had a moment of clarity and a lightbulb popped on.
Think back to the last time you had a really good conversation. What did the other person do that made the engagement such a good experience? Did he have good (or even juicy!) information? Did she answer a big question you had? Did it feel like your listener enjoyed being there and was both physically and mentally present in the moment?
You grab and maintain audience attention - in-person and online - by immediately solving a mystery and giving the audience what it needs, by providing the audience something useful. The truth is you want to be able to hear a pin drop. Because you’ve researched and you know what the audience wants, you have people listening closely and ready to chime in as opposed to bored and waiting for the session to end. And it all starts with a shift in attitude.
You have prepared for what you believe is a killer presentation. You have your technology ready. You have picked the perfect setting. You are ready to make this live remote presentation one for the history books.
Okay. Perhaps that's a bit melodramatic; however, you get my point. You have invested time, energy, and research in designing a meaningful session to deliver to an audience of listeners who are located all over the country -- possibly around the globe. However, full calendars and busy lives can preclude your target audience from attending the session live, and you have more who opt to catch the recording at a later date that's more convenient for them.
While you can understand and respect those realities, it does nothing to make you feel better about preparing to present a live web-based presentation or a synchronous class session, right?
A friend and colleague once shared with me people make time for what's important to them. End of story. So with that, let's identify three ways you can make your session important to your prospective audience, so everyone's not putting it off until a later date but is showing up live and ready.
A number of BMcHAWK TALKS blog posts have encouraged you to get audience members/students/learners engaged as soon as possible. I have been shouting from the front of rooms and computer screens to anyone who will listen, "Move them from passive to active audience members fast!
And a few brave colleagues have asked "Uh ... so ... Bridgett, how do you do that?" I should have seen that one coming, right?
Here are some of my favorite ways to get the audience involved so it's not a chalk-and-talk or a sit-and-get session. They require virtually no preparation, and you can easily and expertly insert them into any presentation or class session at any time when you
1. need everyone to truly think about and process what you said;
2. sense a lull; or
3. know you have been talking too much and it's time for everyone to hear another voice.
And with each technique, I provide you with additional ways to adjust and take the technique up a notch. Enjoy!
The first three secrets simply were not enough, right? I am sharing with you some of my "hindsight is 20/20" educator revelations after reading Ken Bain's What the Best College Teachers Do. Reading this book evoked "ah-ha!" moments one after another after another; I realized how I could have been far, far more effective in the classroom many moons ago if only I had known then what I know now.
Read on, and see what ah-ha! moments you have!
Secret #4: It does not have to be a lightning round of Jeopardy!, but demonstrate for students it is expected and acceptable to ask questions. And they may (and should!) do so without fear. And this fear is dissipated by you inviting their voices. Start each class in a way that signals to students your voice will not be the only one that is heard in the classroom.
These are three of six secrets I learned many years after entering the classroom as an educator and after getting my hands on a copy of Ken Bain's What the Best College Teachers Do. (And, yes, I wish I had this book before I started teaching!)
I have found the time has now come to no longer keep the secrets to myself or within the four virtual corners of my online classrooms; here are quotes from Bain's book that led me to those secrets, and I trust they will lead you to discover/uncover some teaching secrets of your own!
Bain writes "We cannot take single pieces … and simply combine them with other, less effective or even destructive habits and expect them to transform … teaching …" (p. 20).
He goes on to suggest instead we should "… make a systematic and reflective appraisal of … teaching approaches and strategies, [and ask 'Why do you do] certain kinds of things and not others[?]'" (p. 21)
So here's secret #1: Just as adding fresh herbs to a piece of burnt fish does not make it better neither does adding effective teaching practices to a collection of less than effective approaches improve the classroom experience. Make a conscious effort to review, reflect, and revamp.
On January 27, 2017, I had the privilege of spending the day with several faculty members at Doña Ana Community College in Las Cruces, New Mexico, facilitating an edtech workshop entitled "Turn It App a Notch: Tools for a More Engaging iPad Educational Experience," and the richness of the conversations was mind-blowing!
Within the first minutes of the workshop, we began a conversation focused on what participants needed from me, the facilitator, and each other - essentially, their classmates - during the course of the workshop to make it a positive and productive experience for them.
And I want to pause now, and ask that you notice this breaking of patterns. Think back to the last time you attended a workshop; it is quite possible the facilitator had already reached conclusions about the participants' needs without actually gaining their input. Now, you might think "Bridgett, is that not ambitious and a bit challenging for the facilitator to wait until the actual workshop to get this information and then authentically and sincerely act upon it right there in front of a live audience?"
Yes, it can seem like a heavy weight on the shoulders and a high level of accountability; however, when you invite participants to make such a list, you show you care, and when you show you care, it makes it easier to accommodate the list of needs. Really! It does. It turns the workshop in to a conversation ... into an experience that makes everyone feel his/her interests and needs are in mind. And it feels SO GOOD to immediately hear participants' voices because the workshop is about them! It feels like standing back and gliding brush strokes of colors onto a blank canvas without worries of restricting borders or having to follow a set pattern!
Now back to the experience and how we REALLY discovered what it means to break some patterns in the classroom ...
I combined my pre-determined list with the participants' combined list of what they needed in order to have a beneficial learning experience in the workshop, and the amazing revelation at which we arrived was ...
Why wait until the student opinion surveys are tallied or until your dean, department head, or program manager evaluates you to find out how well you perform as an educator? And better yet why let someone else tell you whether you are doing a good job?! Harness the power of self-evaluation to assess your superstar status at the front of that room! (And if you conduct meetings, this is just as relevant! Simply exchange "students," "class," and "lesson" for "meeting attendees, "meeting," and "content/agenda.")
How exactly is this done? Simple! Ask and answer these questions at the conclusion of class (or a meeting!):
One of three situations is before you.
You have been assigned a course that is unequivocally one of your least favorite to teach.
You are teaching the same course for the umpteenth time.
It is your first time teaching. First. Time. Ever.
And believe it or not, all three of these educators are similarly positioned because you consciously think to yourself “I have to find a way to make it through this term and appear to effortlessly make it through without faltering or running out of steam for both my and the students’ sake. How is THAT possible?!”