What do 2 prize winning instructors, 10 instructors from a variety of disciplines and TLS staff have in common? They recently came together for an informal lunch to share experiences, ideas, questions, and tips about teaching. As a newcomer to the TLS team, I was glad to be able to join them. It was an opportunity to hear about TLS services in depth, as well as what was on instructors’ minds. Together, they engaged in a spirited exchange on a variety of topics.
Discussing controversial subjects in class: While instructors agreed that it is important to let students express themselves and hear everyone’s opinion, it’s also important that all students feel comfortable. Professor Laila Parsons from the Department of History and Classical Studies shared her approach, which is to get student buy in around the content, avoiding the divisiveness of debating opposing opinions.
Getting students to read the material: Students do not always read the assigned material, often opting to use information found on the web. Opinions seem to diverge on this subject, with some instructors arguing this is the students’ problem while others argue that this made the instructors’ jobs more challenging as students may not be coming to class with the same knowledge base. One solution that was proposed was to embrace the students’ use of the web by allowing them to use it while answering difficult homework questions, forcing them to research the subject.
Allowing the use of laptops in class: Depending on your perspective, laptops can be a helpful tool or a big distraction. While instructors all agreed that seeing their students type furiously, or worse, browsing social media during their lectures is distracting to them as well as to other students, strategies to manage the distraction vary: some instructors limit access to the devices and use them to engage students in specific contexts, while others forbid laptops entirely.
The role of social media in the classroom: Informal Facebook groups are often created by students so they can keep each other updated on classes and work progression. The instructors that were present agreed that social media can seem intimidating and that they aren’t familiar enough with the existing platforms to use them as tools in their classes. Justin Fletcher from TLS pointed out that many similar tools are available on myCourses, including discussion boards.
Using polls in the classroom: While instructors don’t want their classes to turn into game shows, using pollling in class can help gauge student comprehension. Thanks to Polling@McGill, students can answer multiple choice or open ended questions directly from their laptops or cellphones with results becoming available immediately.
It was both interesting and rewarding to see both new and experienced instructors mingle and share opinions and strategies. The Lunch Spot was also a great opportunity to let new instructors know about some of our initiatives, and we hope you will be able to join us at the next one!