Breaking the Habit
'You Thinking What I'm Thinking?
Published: Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 22:11
I conducted an experiment in class the other day. For my two back-to-back afternoon classes (class names will remain anonymous to protect my grades) I made a conscious decision not look at my Blackberry during class. This meant no email, no Twitter, no Scrabble, and no Tiger Woods Golf. Going into the classes I did not know what to expect; would I be invigorated by the spirit of learning and the professor's insights? Or would I spend 80 minutes staring at the clock watching the time tick away?
Now, your first question after reading this is likely to depend on who you are. But I would guess that if you are a fellow student, you are probably asking the simple question, what happened to your phone? Surprisingly, my phone is with me as I write, and in good working order.
The impetus for this experiment came out of a conversation I had had the day before with Professor Diane Lennard (Clinical Associate Professor of Management Communication). I met with her for this article to discuss the dynamics of the classroom, and we ended up focusing our time on the balance of responsibilities between professors and students for creating an invigorating classroom experience and atmosphere of learning.
My initial plan for the conversation was to talk with Professor Lennard to create a humorous (at least in my opinion) article about what assumptions professors make about students based on where they sit. And how do professors deal with the awkward silence after asking a question that no one seems interested in answering? But thankfully for all involved, the conversation quickly turned to the more meaningful subject of how to create a stimulating classroom environment.
As it turns out, and as Professor Lennard told me, there is a lot of research that has taken place in this field. Specifically, Prof Lennard talked about the importance of active learning and creating a comfortable atmosphere for class participation. In some ways these things tend to go hand in hand.
For example, I have always wondered what purpose a professor is trying to serve when they say "OK, now take ten minutes to talk about this with your neighbors before we talk about it as a class." Professor Lennard explained to me that this approach serves two purposes. First, by giving everyone in the class a chance to engage on the topic, it creates an atmosphere of active learning that tends to result in added retention. Second, this approach helps to create a comfortable class room atmosphere and tends to give more courage to those who may be hesitant to speak up. By encouraging all to participate and adding more voices to the conversation, the entire classroom learning experience is improved.
Now going back to the experiment from the other day, I found the results a little surprising (perhaps none more so than the fact that I had the attention span and self-restraint to actually complete the experiment without cheating). But more importantly I learned a few things about myself and the classroom in the process. By paying more attention, I found I was more interested in the topics being discussed and was able ask more insightful questions. Additionally, the increased attention allowed me to engage throughout the full class and not simply on the topics in which I was interested. And finally, the class actually seemed to pass quicker than normal.
So how does this all tie together? Well, something Professor Lennard told me rang true. The responsibility for the classroom experience is balanced between professors and students, and each group has certain actions they should take to improve the experience for all involved.