Discussion as a teaching tool — pros, cons and teaching tactics

by Minch Minchin
Ph.D and J.D. student, University of Florida

Minch Minchin

Minch Minchin

Class discussions as a pedagogical tool are as old as teaching, itself.

Yet despite discussion’s rich and ancient lineage, some teachers may be wary of promoting discussions in their classrooms. Such fears are not without merit, as there are practical limitations to discussions as well as the potential for things simply to go wrong:

  • Students may not be prepared and have nothing to say (and silence is often perceived as awkward).
  • If students do all the talking, the teacher may not be able to cover the requisite material.
  • Students may ask questions for which the teacher is unprepared or doesn’t know the answer to.
  • The discussion may become controversial, off topic or out of hand.
  • One or two students may dominate the conversation.
  • Students may think the teacher is neglecting his/her responsibilities and making the students do all the work.
  • Students accustomed to passive learning may need to be re-wired to function within a discussion framework.
  • Skillfully guiding discussion rather than merely stating the facts in a lecture is generally a lot more difficult.
  • The room—especially auditorium-style rooms—may not be spatially conducive to discussion.
  • The class may be too big for entire-class discussions.

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4 strategies to prevent academic dishonesty

by Margaret Gaylord
Master’s Student, University of Florida

Margaret Gaylord

Margaret Gaylord

Academic dishonesty has reached epidemic proportions, starting as early as middle school.  Cheating is a complicated problem, not just explained away by a lazy student. The good news is that educators can be a critical part of education and prevention for their students on this subject.

Who Cheats? 

Honors students, weak students, low GPA students, high GPA students, students of color, students who are white, middle class students. In a phrase, all types of students.

We have seen evidence of cheating in places we would not expect: Harvard and the Air Force Academy, to name two. The point is, there is no typical student that can be identified as a chronic cheater. More effectively, instructors can find ways to reduce the incidence of cheating through practical changes in their own classrooms.

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9 principles of Universal Design assist in designing more effective instruction for students with learning disabilities

by Amanda Kastrinos
Master’s student, University of Florida

Amanda Kastrinos

Amanda Kastrinos

The goal of any successful instructor is to teach the course in a way all students will understand. But how can college teachers plan instruction for students with special needs, specifically students with learning disabilities?

With the passage of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Americans with Disabilities Act, teachers are required to make necessary accommodations to any student with a learning disability.

As the law states, “No otherwise qualified person with a disability shall, solely by reason of his/her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity of a public entity”  (Section 504).

Some of these accommodations could include providing a note-taker, preferential seating, additional time on tests and assignments, providing copies of lesson plans and assignments, or allowing video or audio recording of lectures.

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More research is needed to back up learning styles theories

by Cindy Spence
Master’s student, University of Florida

Cindy Spence

Cindy Spence

Intuitively, learning styles theory makes sense. Many of us have an orientation toward a certain kind of stimulus: visual, aural, kinesthetic. And many of us believe we learn better if a lesson caters to our orientation.

The evidence, however, says our intuition is wrong.

University of Virginia psychology Professor Daniel Willingham, who studies the role of cognitive psychology in kindergarten through university education, says the evidence for learning styles just does not exist. Learning styles, he says, are one of those things people think they have figured out. They believe science has settled the issue, in favor of learning styles, when very little research has been done at all.

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Culturally responsive teaching – A perspective for improving student learning

by Kendra Auguste
Ph.D.  student, University of Florida

Kendra Auguste

Kendra Auguste

Culturally diverse students face additional challenges associated with adjusting to an unfamiliar or predominately white culture. As a result, educational attainment at the collegiate level remains an issue for minority students.

Contributing stressors include:

The imposter syndrome: Students may feel like they aren’t smart enough and question if they belong on a college campus. “Surely the admissions committee made a mistake!” They may struggle with meeting some performance measure or find difficulty fitting in.

First-generation condition: Those students who are the first in their families to attend college may lack family support and find difficulty adjusting to a culture different from their own.

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Group project strategies contribute to learning potential for college students

by Daniel Pimentel
Ph.D student, University of Florida

The Parable of Stones: Communicating the Benefits of Group Projects

Daniel Pimentel

Daniel Pimentel

Often considered the holy grail of technology companies, Apple Inc. represents a diverse and interdisciplinary team of professionals. From packaging design specialists to software engineers, the team at Apple is what many would call the ultimate group project based on its roots in a California garage in 1976.

Nearly two decades after his small project revolutionized the way humanity communicated, Apple’s founder and icon, Steve Jobs, spoke on a childhood experience and the importance of teamwork. He described how as a child an elderly man on his block invited him to view his collection of rocks. The man was rugged and aged, and Jobs wondered what value these rocks provided for the man. Placing them in a motorized container filled with liquid and grit powder, the man turned on the machine causing a chorus of clanks and swashes. He invited Jobs back the following morning.

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7 tips to effectively use games and gamification in the college classroom

By Min Xiao
Ph.D. student, University of Florida

Min Xiao

Min Xiao

Many people think educational games are for elementary school students and adults are too old to play them. In fact, games are widely used in both academic and professional trainings.

In universities, some professors ask their students to role-play being a manager in a company to solve real-world business issues. This activity is actually a role-playing game.

In the professional world, many companies use games as major team-building activities during orientation for new employees.

When people play games, they are usually very happy. This positive mood helps them to learn knowledge quicker and better than usual.

Another way to enliven the class is to use a technique called gamification. People often confuse gamification with using games in class. In fact, the two concepts are very different.

Gamification means borrowing game elements and applying these elements in non-game situations. For instance, teachers can adopt ranking and rewarding systems from video games and apply them in their class. The structure of the class is like a game, but students may not play a real game in the class.

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