Encourage Your Students To Talk
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Encourage Your Students To Talk

Doug Norton

A couple weeks ago I dawned my best undergraduate garb and wandered into a college course using MobLab. The instructor knew I would be there. But, I didn’t want an introduction. I wanted to be an anthropologist and get first hand observations. It was a useful exercise and one thing became blatantly clear to me: Let the students talk.

Probably that seed was planted several weeks ago when Doug McKee, an instructor at Cornell, noted in his excellent teaching blog Teach Better (you can see his whole post here),

The morning class was good, but very quiet while the students were choosing production levels. In the afternoon I encouraged students to talk to each other about their strategies. They didn’t know who was in their particular market, so it wasn’t an opportunity for collusion. I think they got more out of the exercise and it was definitely more fun.

He’s absolutely right. There are several advantages to letting the students talk:

  1. Information Exchange: There is information exchange as students confer on strategies. Yes, some might talk about tonight’s party or ball game, but, there is some real peer-to-peer learning that happens when students talk.
  2. Fun: It’s more fun. The room has a different vibe: In addition to learning the games are more energizing. I would hazard to guess that students talking during games gives them a productive and more refreshing break from standard content delivery.
  3. Contamination Unlikely: They’re unlikely to be in the same group and therefore talking doesn’t serve the purpose of coordination. Sure it might change their strategy and the way they think about the game but you want that!
  4. Network Formation: Students form networks. Getting students to talk about a shared experience like the game is an excellent ice breaker. Perhaps the people they end up having conversations with become study buddies.

From where I sat in the classroom the silence was deafening. It’s an anecdote, but, once the students were allowed to talk in the next section of this class the energy changed and I’m hopeful their learning did too. Count me in with Doug McKee, let the students talk.