Category Archives: 2. Featured Articles

Shutting Down Microaggressions in the Classroom

College instructors are duty bound to create classrooms in which all students feel they belong and are respected. But sometimes inadvertent mistakes in the form of microaggressionsmay be doing just the opposite.

Microaggressions are “everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”

Instructors may be guilty of inadvertent microaggressive behaviors such as:

Mispronouncing students’ names. If a student has corrected an instructor’s mispronunciation of his/her name repeatedly and the instructor has made no effort to learn it, the student may feel slighted.

Ignoring female students. Research shows male students are called on more often than female students. Doing so causes female students to feel snubbed.

Singling out students as representatives of their backgrounds. Just as no one professor is a representative of the entire professoriate, neither is one student a representative of his or her entire ethnicity or background. No individual can speak for an entire group.

Making assumptions about students’ backgrounds. Cultural and social identities may not be visible, so making statements about a particular group could end up offending someone from that very group. 

Expressing racially or politically charged political opinions. When instructors voice their opinions, they run the risk of marginalizing students who disagree and will feel silenced.

Allowing student-to-student microaggressions. Instructors must acknowledge and address microaggressions one students makes toward another.

Actions to Prevent Microaggressions

Instructors inherently are in a position of power and as such can lay the groundwork for creating a microaggression-free classroom. A few tips include the following:

  • Establish ground rules and expectations for classroom behavior with discussions early in the semester. Address these rules and expectations in your syllabus.
  • Avoid looking directly at a student who is a member of a group being talked about (LBGTQ, international students, students of color, and the like.)
  • Set high expectations for all students.
  • Use humor without degrading or targeting any group or specific student.
  • Accept criticism from students who have the courage to notify their instructor about their feelings.

Below are some links for more information about how to create a more inclusive classroom that is microaggression free.

Microaggressions: More than Just Race

Microaggressions in the Classroom

Responding to Microaggressions in the Classroom: Taking ACTION

Should College Instructors Grade Participation?

Millennial and Gen Z students are often characterized by their need to be rewarded for simply “showing up”—think losing teams taking home trophies—and as a generation of learners who expect their grades to reflect the fact that they “tried.” Some say giving credit to students for participation in a college course is a direct result of this expectation but one that nevertheless encourages students to come to class prepared, ask questions, and listen respectively. Others say grading anything beyond tests and written assignments dilutes the meaning of a grade.

The Pro Side

Those who favor giving credit to students for class participation say doing so can increase engagement. Since students are rewarded for listening, commenting, bringing books, and responding—assessed using a rubric the instructor completes after each class session—they are more likely to tune in.

A clearly defined rubric that measures student responsiveness also encourages learners to come to class prepared, according those who favor using this pedagogical approach. They argue grading participation has another benefit; it helps students learn to speak confidently in groups and hone their conversational skills, an important workplace skill. To make sure shy students are not penalized, instructors who grade participation offer a variety of ways students can join in without speaking, such as taking part in online discussion forums or turning in written exercises completed in class.

In some courses, especially those in the humanities where discussions are imperative to guide learning, instructors consider participation a key learning outcome.

The Con Side

However, not all instructors agree that contribution should comprise part of a student’s grade. They claim that a grade is a measure of performance and nothing else. By including non-performance elements such as extra credit for participation taints the purity of grades as a quantifiable measure of mastery over course materials, a prime directive of the professoriate.

The era of outcomes assessment likewise mandates that grades earned in college should exclusively reflect intellectual performance, these instructors point out. Say a professor gives extra credit for attending a lecture on campus. In that scenario, students whose graded work is lacking can jump ahead merely for having sat through the talk, during which they could have been looking at their phones. Giving credit for this type of participation further waters down the meaning of a grade, according to this argument.

The con side of the participation debate also notes that upgrading for participation is fraught with problems. Instructor bias can affect objectivity. The same hand-wavers can up their grades whether what they say merits credit or not.

Finally, those against rewarding students for participation claim to do so ignores the reality that grades are the measure of student performance in our educational system. Grades not only help determine whether a student is admitted to a graduate program, they help employers evaluate new grads. If grades are used to enhance a classroom experience rather than to objectively measure mastery of material, the system begins to fall down.

Both sides make a good argument. Where do you fall on the issue?


Speak Up! Improving Classroom Discussions

We’ve all experienced the classroom dynamic in which the same few students respond to the instructor’s questions, a pattern that can last the entire semester—and one that frustrates the instructor while indicating that the majority of students have abdicated their responsibility to come to class prepared.

However, much can be done to increase students’ participation and thereby enhance their learning. Below are some tips to help improve class discussions.

Prime students early in the semester. As early as the first day of class, put students on notice that they will be expected to participate. Do this by having a discussion about Ask students about their past experiences with class discussions and why participation is important. Then explain how research shows that students learn better when they participate.

Pose questions designed to generate responses.Take a hint from journalists who ask questions for a living. They break questions into two types: open-ended and closed-ended. Open-ended questions allow the responder to include more information and opinions, while closed-ended questions elicit a specific response. For example, an open-ended question would be “What do you like and dislike in your position as a financial consultant?” while a closed-ended question on the same topic might be “Do you like your job?” Open-ended questions can lead to more dynamic discussions.

In the business communication classroom, teachers can generate better responses by wording questions designed to elicit multiple responses with open-ended questions.In, say, a discussion about the direct and indirect organizational strategies, ask students about the benefits of using either strategy for delivering bad news. This open-ended question allows students to apply their own ideas to their responses. Also prod students to apply the rationale behind choosing the direct or indirect method of organizing a piece of writing. This step integrates the rhetorical reasoning that goes into the choice, thus deepening learning.

Asking students to provide their own examplesis another way to engage them and encourage them to speak. In the above situation, students might be urged to offer their insights about various contexts for using the direct and indirect strategy. 

Place students into groups for discussions. This strategy works well for larger classes and for reticent students who may feel more comfortable talking among peers in a smaller platform. Prepare questions ahead of time for the groups to work on. Then bring the class together to hear what the groups have come up with. (This approach works particularly well when discussing ethical issues in business. See the many situations with accompanying discussion questions under the BizComBuzz tab News You Can Use.)

Assign questions for next class session as homework. Have students write their responses to a question (or questions) that will be discussed in a subsequent class. This tactic has the benefit of encouraging students to find the answers in their assigned reading and then allowing them to read their responses in class instead of having to extemporize. When assigning questions to answer, devise them to be relevant to students’ experiences, analytical in nature, and indicative of important concepts.

If you have ideas about how to improve classroom discussions, please share them with us!

Adapted from How to Hold a Better Class Discussion, The Chronicle of Higher Education