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Vignette C1

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Vignette C1. Sam’s Story: Should I have left my script and opened up the conversation?

Sam is an associate professor of Anthropology. At the start of each lecture he asks students some questions in order to check their understanding of the subject matter and to see what they remember of what they have been learning. In doing so, he would like students to feel comfortable expressing themselves. At the same time he is convinced that in this way misconceptions may arise and can be addressed, and that incorporating different perspectives on the topic into the class is crucial. However, he has found that it can be quite difficult during lessons to check students’ understanding: few students engage in conversation or interact with the teacher. Moreover, when faced with a situation where classroom discussion could be opened up he realized that he tended to hurry to get back to his scripts and plans for the lesson.

Reflecting  on his experience Sam says:

I was checking their understanding of what we did in the previous lecture. And a question from one student led to a conversation between two students, which I mediated, and I found it really positive, interesting. At the moment I was quite satisfied that they engaged in this conversation. However, seeing again that moment I realized I closed down the conversation too soon, while I would have liked to open up. Perhaps I should have followed their lead, and engage the rest of students to react to their peers. Instead, I move on and come back to my slides.


Sam introduced this challenge from his teaching to his peer during a session of Intercultural Peer Observation (iPO), organised as part of the IntRef project. The two peers involved recorded their own teaching, shared the recordings, and then discussed them in a one-to-one synchronous virtual chat.

What did his peers suggest?

Gareth says:

Yeah, I know what you mean. Sometimes we feel the pressure to come back to the lecture and respect the course schedule, or to provide answers to them, and we do not really listen to them. I think that leaving your script as instructor and following their lead as a facilitator is difficult to do but crucial. And letting them interact with each other may remove the examiner-examined effect that represents a barrier to their engagement.


He went on to note:

I saw that after class they come to you to ask questions. And you said that during workshops or laboratories where they are in groups they are more active. Have you ever thought that students might be afraid to speak in front of the teacher and/or in front of the class, at least the shyest ones?


Gareth then made this suggestion:

It is a very pervasive problem of lecturing, I think we see Q&A during lectures as real interactions, but maybe they are not. Students feel they have to listen and take notes while the teacher is supposed to explain. And these are the supposed roles. Have you ever thought that traditional settings such as a fixed chair, students sitting in front of the professor, etc. may discourage students from having an active role in the classroom teaching and learning process? Disrupting the “lecture format” can stimulate them to participate and contribute to the class!


Sam’s Reflections

Reflecting on his peer’s comments, Sam responded:

Yeah, that’s right. For next year I would like to do some ice-breaking activities, to get students to know each other, build a rapport and feel they are in a safe space. These activities may be related to the course content or also disconnected from it, but with the aim of fostering interactions and creating a sense of community!


And he liked the idea of a change of format, commenting:

And maybe engage them in peer discussion (in pairs or small groups), such as the think-pair-share activity, to offer each student a chance to speak, or letting them work closely with the study materials such as maps, to make them more comfortable, while contributing to a general discussion of multiple viewpoints.


Vignette C2. Melanie’s Story: How do I include and involve all the students during seminars?