I’m trying to diversify the teaching. For instance, I want to have continuous discussion sessions where we move between lectures and discussions. Sometimes I incorporate videos into the classroom and ask students their opinion about that. I think different teaching activities appeal to different students, for instance, I also bring very short newspaper articles into class and some students prefer reading a short article and perhaps saying their opinion whereas other students prefer viewing a video in class and again, other students would prefer discussing with their colleagues in small groups. So by putting as many different activities within the class, you’re trying to pitch to different students.
I usually divide the class into smaller groups, for instance, four groups, and I give a question to each group. This is an example from a second year course on theories of international relations, when we were discussing realism:
|Group 1: Do balance of power politics continue to be relevant in the contemporary globalised era?Group 2: According to realism, ‘States are the only actors that really “count”’. Do you agree?|
Group 3: Structural realism argues that domestic politics do not affect interstate relations and the foreign policy of a state. Do you agree?
Group 4: Realism is often accused of being immoral. Why? Do you agree with this accusation?
I leave them to discuss this question for themselves for around five to 10 minutes and then they feed back into the class. This is usually verbal but with online teaching, you have occasionally some students/groups who/which will use the chat function, preferring not to speak.
Sometimes I used Padlet, so I would send the link to students and it would be a brainstorming session. You can write anonymously in the public post, your thoughts, your questions and you can also make comments and other people’s posts. That was quite useful to take the temperature of the class and see what they think about a particular question. This helps when students are less confident with their English. They may be more comfortable in sharing their thoughts with the class members through the Padlet, and then the group as a whole can feed back to me. By giving the option to write questions and answers anonymously, you might encourage students who aren’t used to tackling controversial issues or opinion-based discussion. So this is one way to get a good start and create a positive atmosphere.
For example, there were some international students who were very shy, and didn’t speak much in class or enjoy group discussions. But there were lots of positive responses when they could view the material in advance. They were comfortable with writing down and less comfortable with speaking within the class, and they prefer to work on their own time and on their own rather than doing activities in the classroom. So what I do now is to send material beforehand, and I can see that the responses are better and more students engaged with these materials.
One key strategy for me is to share material to read and prepare beforehand. If it’s something very controversial I give them a word of warning well in advance. So if they feel uncomfortable they can send me an email, or communicate in private with me to create another activity for them. I will try initially to choose some examples or areas or countries that are more or less neutral. For instance, if I know that I have three or four nationalities within the class initially I would bring examples from different areas.
This is probably not the best approach in terms of diversity as some people believe that everything should be said in the classroom and that we should confront students with their own prejudices and controversial opinions. But I don’t want any student to feel personally threatened or offended within the class because then they will stop engaging so there is no point. In terms of how to make students feel comfortable, I sometimes ask students to tell me about their particular interests at the beginning of the class where I ask students about a particular interest in an area or country, and then I would bring more examples from their interests, rather than from the countries they are from. I want to avoid stereotyping, so to avoid this I ask students to tell me what are their research/study interests rather than making any assumptions on my own. If the students tell me explicitly that they want more examples/cases that relate to their own experiences and background then I try to incorporate these examples.