Panic! That’s what I felt when I heard my name in our Corporate Strategy class during my first semester at University of Michigan. I knew what was happening… I was the newest victim of the teaching technique of “cold-calling.” Out of the blue, Prof. David Butz asked me for my educated opinion on the use a business model on a specific corporation. Although it was an opinion he was looking for, it had to be supported by in-depth understanding of the model and the specific case we were to study prior to attending the class. The call immediately engaged me, turning me into an active learner. It also supported my participation grade, which accounted for 40% of my total grade.
This setting is one of the most common in today’s higher education institutions. Colleges and universities are looking for creative ways to engage students in the classroom environment, helping them really grasp academic coursework, and truly learn. Higher education institutions today value class participation and student engagement so much that we often find they account for a large percentage of the course’s grade. College and graduate school students are no longer expected to sit still in a classroom lecture in order to learn. As the internet changed the world in the last 15 years, the 21st century is also sneaking into the world of academia, transforming the way teachers teach and learners acquire knowledge. How do these changes affect our performance as students in a college or graduate school environment?
For centuries, higher education teaching has mostly consisted in specialists in one field or another, standing in front of large crowds of students, imparting their specific wisdom and hoping that it sinks in. But more and more, studies are proving that this teaching methodology is not always the most effective approach and so, gradually, the modern college lecture hall is becoming an interactive arena for learning. With the help of technology and new delivery methods, college education has become a two-way street with both the students and the professors taking responsibility for the learning experience.
There is no doubt that students greatly benefit from attending an interactive class, but only if they do the prep work. Today’s college students can no longer expect to be spoon-fed information to be regurgitated at exam time. In order to become competitive, students must understand what is expected of them and be ready to go beyond. Reading and discussing assigned material prior to class is essential in order to become enabled to actively participate in class. Understanding theories and their practices will allow students to support class discussions and refine the understanding of their peers. On the same token, students who come to class unprepared may find themselves in an embarrassing situation if the professor cold-calls them with a question. In an interactive classroom, students are expected to know the material, voice their opinions, and generally be 100% involved in their learning.
When a professor steps off the podium and opens the class up to interactive learning, students often discover how much they can learn from their peers. The modern classroom creates opportunities for students with diverse experiences and levels of understanding to work collaboratively, to discuss issues, debate and generally learn from each other. Students often feel a need to be accountable when working with their peers and will put more effort into their class work.
It is not at all unusual for professors to rely on modern technology to enhance their teaching and keep the students engaged. More and more colleges are using “clickers” in the classroom, enabling students to respond to questions by pressing a key. This little gadget gives professors instant feedback from the students so they can see if they need to adapt the lesson. The realm of educational technology is ever increasing. Students are often required to watch instructional videos to prepare for class, and of course, there is actual on-line learning. All of these technological advances have made it easier for students to fully engage in their own learning, becoming co-producers of their educational experience.
The new learning models resemble more closely the business environment of today, more horizontal and less hierarchical, one which welcomes opinion from employees at every level. Multidimensional teams have become the most valuable assets of leading organizations, celebrated for promoting innovative thinking and development. Students today can benefit from gaining the team experience when attending college, as institutions offer learning environments that foster these new and effective practices.
So, if you’re heading off to college or grad school any time in the near future, get ready to become actively involved in your learning process. You will earn the most benefit from your education experience by engaging in a “give and take” with faculty and peers. No more napping during lectures! You’ve got work to do in class and out, and team with others to maximize your learning experience. The more you prepare for your classes and interact with others during lessons, the more you’ll succeed in and outside of the classroom. By becoming an active learner, you are one step closer to becoming the leader and cutting-edge professional you know you can be.