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Reinventing the Classroom for 2016

As we begin to prepare for our fall classes, we must maintain a balance between what we deliver and how we deliver it. We wouldn’t consider teaching the same material we did 20 years ago, yet somehow we think it’s acceptable to teach in the same way.

In talent development, we teach adult learning principles, yet we don’t always adopt them in our own classrooms. Management classes regularly focus on the changing business landscape, yet colleges and universities are wed to the time-worn lecture format for delivery. Our responsibility is to teach students how to think, versus what to think. With workplace challenges and problems continually evolving, providing students with the right answers doesn’t help them if the problems keep changing.

Here are some thoughts we should keep in mind as we reinvent our own classrooms.

Approach each class as a blank slate. Let’s ask ourselves, “If I were starting from scratch teaching this course, what would I do?” Our go-to approach has been to simply tweak what we did last semester or last year, but we may lose some of our energy as we teach the same course over and over again. And if we are bored, what’s to become of our students?

The classroom should mirror the real world in as many ways as possible. The use of experiential exercises enables students to more effectively practice the skills they are learning. Most textbooks come with a range of exercises and assessments that can be used in the classroom. Additionally, group work provides opportunities for refining team skills and communication skills.

We’ve seen the surveys highlighting the deficiency of soft skills in college graduates, but we don’t have to teach an English or speech class to help students refine their writing and speaking skills. Using written assignments and essay exam questions allows us to provide feedback on writing, while group reports and more formal presentations allow for feedback on public speaking skills. Debates are a great way to have students practice speaking skills while interacting with others.

The diversity of today’s workforce is often mirrored in the classroom. We can use this to our advantage with group work. Yet it’s important to mix it up a little. In some instances, students could be offered the chance to select their own groups (usually picking friends and students sitting nearby); in others, a count-off in the class can ensure that they work with different students.

As professors, we are part entertainer and part educator. The good news is that there are more resources available to us than ever before. Multimedia lets us use sound bites to provide new perspectives and more opportunities for class discussion, which can help students develop critical-thinking skills. In particular, TED Talks and YouTube videos reinforce points and deliver messages in fresh ways.

What are you doing to reinvent your classroom? Please share your ideas in the comments section.

About the author:

Pat Buhler, a professor of management at Goldey-Beacom College in Wilmington, Delaware, is a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources and a SHRM Senior Certified Professional. Pat teaches in the graduate and undergraduate programs, specializing in management and human resource management. She has received the institution’s Excellence in Teaching Award twice and was named to Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers twice. In addition, Pat was the 2005 recipient of Delaware’s Ron Shane Lifetime Achievement Award for Human Resources and the 2015 recipient of the Delaware Valley HR Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2011, she served as the director of the Delaware State Council for SHRM. 

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