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Author Models Strategies for Engaging Students


James Groccia, professor of Higher Education at Auburn University, is the author/co-author/co-editor of numerous book chapters and journal articles and 11 books on teaching, learning and higher education including Evidence-Based Teaching (2011).  His visit to the University was sponsored by the Center for Instructional Development & Distance Education (CIDDE).

“Most of us tend to teach the way we learned,” Groccia observed.  However, he emphasized, “teaching styles often disconnect with student learning styles.   Students today need hands-on application activities, repetition, and discussion.

“Research says a professor’s expertise is best used to help students understand and apply information from course materials.  Class should be used for applying and sharing knowledge,” asserted Groccia.  To demonstrate the techniques, participants worked through several activities, including “Think-Pair-Share” and “Alone-Together-Alone” which he described as “simple, low-risk engaging techniques techniques that can be used several times within a 50-minute class.

Such activities, Groccia said, engage all students, even those who are not part of what he described as the “Success T,” a term derived from the formation of desks running across the front and down the middle of a traditional classroom class.  Groccia said high achieving students, which he jokingly called the “Answer Mafia” because they usually respond to questions, tend to sit in the “Success T.

Why would faculty hesitate to use interactive learning strategies?  Reasons mentioned by Groccia include “worries about the amount of time and work required, whether students will like the activities, and whether colleagues will resent (our efforts) and fear the possibility that they, too, may need to change. The amount of fear seems to correspond with lower student ratings,” he observed.

His advice for introducing new teaching and learning strategies is to “go slow, in bits and pieces.  Pick up and try out one new idea at a time.  Certainly don’t overhaul your class mid-semester.”

Perhaps most importantly, “We understand why we’re doing what we’re doing, but we have to be more transparent about everything we do and communicate it to students.  Share the rationale for these approaches.  For example, point out second-order skills such as communication and teamwork are enhanced when students are engaged in interactive learning.”  This, Groccia pointed out, is especially important when students are from cultures that have traditional, didactic teaching and feel that learning from peers “is strange and uncomfortable.”

By Carol DeArment, CIDDE Senior Instructional Designer

Evidence-Based Teaching (2011), published in new Directions for Teaching and Learning, Wiley Periodicals, Jossey-Bass.



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