Explore potential strategies.
Students’ cultural values and norms may inhibit their participation.
Cultural values or norms (based on nationality, gender, region of the country, etc.) may dictate the level and style of participation. For example, students may feel uncomfortable disagreeing with other students or challenging the professor, be concerned about “showing off” what they know, be intimidated by peers who define discussion as confrontation, etc.
Clearly specify your expectations regarding what constitutes meaningful participation. For example, tell students that asking thoughtful questions, making connections to theory, building on previous comments, and identifying real world examples or applications make valuable contributions toward collective learning. The reason this is beneficial is because it allows student to engage in learning behaviors that align with the goals of the course and to monitor their progress toward those goals.
Lay ground rules for participation (pdf) that clearly defines acceptable and unacceptable behavior (e.g., turn-taking, language). For example, it is not acceptable to use pejoratives, labels, or sarcasm; it is inappropriate to verbally attack a person rather than their idea; it is important to allow others to speak rather than interrupt or usurp the floor. The need for ground rules is even more important if you are dealing with a controversial issue where students in the minority perspective could potentially feel inhibited to participate. You may even involve students in this process to insure greater student buy-in.
As you participate and lead the discussion, demonstrate for students meaningful interaction. For example, show students how to respectfully disagree with an idea or perspective rather than attack a peer.
Tactfully indicate to students who violate ground rules that their behavior is detrimental to the discussion. This can include the use of humor (e.g., “Folks, this isn’t the British parliament or a rugby game”) or depersonalization (e.g., “Without realizing it, some of you use a tone that can be perceived as confrontational”).
If your tactful in-class response to the violator has not been successful, you need to approach the student outside of class and explicitly describe the impact of his/her behavior on others during the discussion.
If you are concerned about international students’ lack of participation, you may want to contact the Intercultural Communications Center for advice.
This site supplements our 1-on-1 teaching consultations.
CONTACT US to talk with an Eberly colleague in person!