Category Archives: Learner-Centered Teaching

10-1/2 Strategies For Engaging Students In Large Classes

Whether you are relatively new to teaching large (lecture-hall style) classes, or you have spent years educating large classes, join Barbara Nixon, Michael Reksulak, and others from the Georgia Southern Unviersity Faculty Learning Community on Teaching Large Classes to learn and share your strategies for being both the sage on the stage AND the guide on the side.

For more tips and strategies, see

NOTE: Speaker’s notes will be included in this presentation sometime after the April 8 presentation.


A Vision of Students Today

As it says on the YouTube page for Michael Wesch’s video “A Vision of Students Today”:

[This is] a short video summarizing some of the most important characteristics of students today – how they learn, what they need to learn, their goals, hopes, dreams, what their lives will be like, and what kinds of changes they will experience in their lifetime. Created by Michael Wesch in collaboration with 200 students at Kansas State University.

How similar are these students to your students?

Wesch wrote a post last fall as a way of Revisiting A Vision of Students Today. It’s definitely worth a read.

In Large Classes, It Drives Me Nuts When . . .

Lecture Sleeping Pt. 1 by Seb Payne.This semester, I’ll be teaching a large section of Introduction to Public Relations at Georgia Southern University. I’d love to get some feedback, especially from students, on what professors have done to HINDER your learning in a large class. The more I know from the student point of view, the better I can prepare for this class. 

So . . . what have professors (or teaching assistants) done that really drives you nuts in large classes?



Photo Credit:

A Mnemonic Wrap-up to the Semester

bendable-racecar-driversAt the end of each semester, I usually have my students do some sort of in-class activity where they tell me what they got out of the class.

This semester, this is what I plan to do.

  1. Allow each student to come to the front of the room and choose one manipulative (toy) from the basket, along with one sheet of 8-1/2×11 paper. (I purchased inexpensive manipulatives from Oriental Trading Company.)
  2. After students return to their seats, I ask them to name their toys. If they choose a short first name (three letters or fewer), they must also give their toy a last name.
  3. Students then write the name of their toys vertically down the long edge of the paper.
  4. Have students write one thing they learned for each letter in the name of their toy. For example, if you’re in a Public Speaking class and your toy is named Beetlejuice, the B could stand for “Be yourself.” Allow them no more than five minutes for this part of the activity.
  5. Break students into small groups of five or fewer to shair their memories with each other. (They can also help each other out if not everyone was able to come up with something for each letter in the name.)
  6. [OPTIONAL, depending on amount of time you have] Back in the large group, ask students to share their toys’ names and what they’ve come up with for each letter of their toys.
  7. Ask students to provide their toys’ names (etc.) as as comments to a blog post you’ve created for them, so that you can save the information for your own future use. Have this count as part of their class participation for the semester.


  • Instead of giving students toys, have them use their own first names (or first and middle, if the names are short). Or have them use the name of their favorite actor or musician.
  • Let students borrow the toys, and collect them at the end of the class, rather than allowing them to keep the toys.
  • If you have a document projector, students could come to front of room and display their handwritten thoughts and the toy by using the projector.

Photo Credit:

“OMG! You Got My Grade Wrong!”

It’s about the time in the semester when students may start becoming concerned about their grades. There hasn’t been a day gone by lately that a student hasn’t popped in during my office hours to ask about grades.

How should a student approach you if he or she thinks you’ve recorded a grade incorrectly? Let’s come up with a list of do’s and don’ts. I’ll get us started:

DO: Visit me in my office. Show me your graded assignment that’s been handed back to you. Say something like, “It looks like the grade that’s on this assignment isn’t the same as the one that’s recorded in WebCT Vista. Could you check on that for me, please?”

DON’T: Write me a Facebook message saying, “OMG, Prof. Nixon! U screwed up 1 of my grades!”

I look forward to reading your thoughts on this topic.

Photo Credit:

Letting Students Inside Your Head

When you were in college, did you ever want to know what your professor was thinking or where he or she was coming from? I know I did.

I shared tips on how to arrive, survive and thrive in my classes with my students at Georgia Southern University earlier today. I figure it’s only fair. It helps to get my new students on a somewhat level playing field with those who have had me as a professor before.

Do you ever share tips like these with your students? I’d like to see what you do. Please comment and link to your blogs.


[Cross-posted from Public Relations Matters.]

An Open Note to All of Prof. Nixon’s Students at Georgia Southern University:

We’re off and running in our Fall Semester classes at GSU. This semester, I’m teaching five classes; the classes, with hyperlinks to the syllabi, are listed below:

So that we can make the most of this semester, please (PLEASE) take some time to read through the blog posts I’ve included here. I promise you, it will be well worth your time. (How often do professors let you get inside their heads, letting you know their tips for success and their pet peeves?)

Additionally, here are a few more tips:

  • When communicating with me via e-mail (or Facebook), please put your course number (such as PRCA 3339) in the subject line to help me immediately identify who you are and frame your questions or comments.
  • When submiting an assignment in WebCT Vista, always put your last name as part of the file name, and also include your name in the document itself.
  • Follow me on Twitter, if you really want to get inside my head. (What’s Twitter?)

Let’s make this a great semester together!

Don’t Text in Class . . . And Here’s Why

Text Messaging in Class

As a professor, I'm not ROTFL about cell phones in class

Like many educators, I have a short statement in my syllabi stating that I do not want my students to be spending time in class text messaging or surfing the web. But many of my students probably believe this is just because I want them focused on me instead of elsewhere. And that’s partially true.

Why don’t I want them doing other things in class? Read this syllabus excerpt by Professor Cara A. Finnegan. (Cara gave me permission to reproduce her article from her First Efforts blog.)



Technology and the Problem of Divided Attention

In recent years the saturation of cell phones, text messaging, and laptops, combined with the broad availability of wireless in classrooms, has produced something I call the problem of divided attention. A March 25, 2007, article in the New York Times summarized recent studies of productivity in business settings. Researchers found that after responding to email or text messages, it took people more than 15 minutes to re- focus on the “serious mental tasks” they had been performing before the interruption. Other research has shown that when people attempt to perform two tasks at once (e.g., following what’s happening in class while checking text messages), the brain literally cannot do it. The brain has got to give up on one of the tasks in order to effectively accomplish the other. Hidden behind all the hype about multi-tasking, then, is this sad truth: it makes you slower and dumber. For this reason alone you should seek to avoid the problem of divided attention when you are in class. But there’s another reason, too: technology often causes us to lose our senses when it comes to norms of polite behavior and, as a result, perfectly lovely people become unbelievably rude.

For both these reasons, then, turn off your cellphones or set them on silent mode when you come to class; it is rude for our activities to be interrupted by a ringing cellphone. Similarly, text messaging will not be tolerated in class; any student found to be sending or checking text messages during class will be invited (quite publicly) to make a choice either to cease the texting or leave the classroom. You are welcome to bring your laptop to class and use it to take notes, access readings we’re discussing, and the like. You are not welcome to surf the web, check email, or otherwise perform non-class-related activities during class. Here’s my best advice: If you aren’t using it to perform a task specifically related to what we are doing in class at that very moment, put it away.

Thanks, Cara, for explaining why texting in class is not a good idea.

Photo Credit: “Spink!” was originally uploaded to Flickr by apples for lylah