Measured in hours, our time with students in the classroom represents a relatively small portion of each term, and yet its importance for the success of any course would be hard to overstate. It is during these hours each week that we lay the foundation for how students will engage our course material in libraries, dorm rooms, and dining halls. Taking time to think about the classroom presence you hope to project, the community norms you and your students will abide by, and the learning environment you’ll provide for your students are not just ways to improve student satisfaction. They’re essential features of becoming a fully reflective, purposeful scholar and teacher.
From what we have seen in the literature and from our experience working with a wide variety of teachers across disciplines, building rapport and creating a positive learning environment is one of the most crucial element of your success as a teacher.
How do you set expectations in the classroom? Communicating your expectations well helps to build rapport and set the tone for the class. All classrooms have both explicit and implicit contracts; understanding them well can help students understand what it takes to be successful in a course.
Active learning includes any type of instructional activity that engages students in learning, beyond listening, reading, and memorizing. As examples, students might talk to a classmate about a challenging question, respond to an in-class prompt in writing, make a prediction about an experiment, or apply knowledge from a reading to a case study. Active learning commonly includes collaboration between students in pairs or larger groups, but independent activities that involve reflection or writing—like quick-writes, or real-time polling in lectures—are also valuable.
A Catalogue of Instructional Strategies
At an institution like Harvard, where many class enrollments fall somewhere in between a cozy seminar and a vast, impersonal lecture, there is no reason why instructors shouldn't feel empowered to experiment with multiple strategies in the classroom, distributing the class period into segments of lecture, problem-solving, small-group discussion, and so on. As with every other aspect of teaching, you should choose your instructional strategies purposefully, with an eye to the method that seems most likely to produce the most evidence of student learning.
Technology and Student Distraction
In many ways, the ubiquity of laptops and mobile devices in lectures has been a boon to higher education—students can now respond instantaneously to online polls, collaborate in real time on written work, and engage with a range of media more flexibly than ever before. With those advantages, of course, come an equal and opposite set of possible disadvantages, and for many instructors the latter outweigh the former. As a result, an increasing number of instructors now include specific policies regarding technology in the classroom, many of them opting to ban laptops and mobile devices outright. Other instructors, however, opt to embrace—or at least resign themselves to—these technologies as means of rethinking the dynamic between student and instructor in teaching spaces.