Category Archives: 2. Featured Articles

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

Fostering Ethical Development in the BusCom Classroom

By Janet Mizrahi, BizComBuzz Staff Writer                                                                                   Lecturer, UCSB Writing Program

If your bus com students are anything like mine, there are days when you’re happy to read an assignment that at least doesn’t contain basic grammar errors. Those are the days when I despair that my course objectives also include fostering critical thinking and ethical behavior.

So I was thrilled when I came upon the non-profit higher education organization IDEA and a post about how to include teaching ethics development in any discipline. Using its overall design, I’ll share the Guffey Team’s take on this important learning outcome.

First, some background. We know that most industries and fields have codes of conduct. However, if we want students to genuinely understand why it’s important to be ethical, simply introducing codes of conduct is not enough. To learn how to make ethical choices, students must learn how to think critically so they can apply ethical reasoning to make ethical decisions.

Arriving at an ethical choice requires going through a series of critical analysis steps (visit for an excellent model of these steps in a real-world situation.)

  1. Recognize an event that requires a reaction.
  2. Define that event as having an ethical component.
  3. Consider the ethical aspect to be one of significance.
  4. Take personal responsibility to solve the problem.
  5. Research the abstract ethical rules that may pertain to the situation.
  6. Determine how those rules apply to the specific situation.
  7. Be ready to respond to forces that would negatively impact acting in an ethical way.
  8. Act.

Studies have shown that the best way to integrate teaching ethics is through case studies done individually or as group work. In the business communication classroom, many opportunities for both exist. Here are a few you might consider:

  • Assign a case (or several from which students can choose) to be completed as an individual assignment resulting in a memo or report that not only requires ethical thinking but that emphasizes basic business writing strategies.
  • Create a unit dedicated to ethics using a case on which students work in groups to write a report or a presentation. This can be a major assignment that comes at the end of a semester, after which students have learned and practiced business communication skills.

To find a business-related case that might work for your class, check out the following links.

Arthur Andersen Case Studies in Business Ethics

International Relations Ethics Case Studies

Let us know if you have chosen to work this important learning outcome into your classes!



5 Easy Steps to Better Teaching  

For beginner and veteran instructors alike, new ideas about teaching can be just the nudge to change a hum-drum term into one of the best ever.

A college professor, former marketing executive, and K-12 teacher, Norman Eng offers easy changes to incorporate into the classroom to help students better absorb college material in Teaching College: The Ultimate Guide to Lecturing, Presenting, and Engaging Students. Below are some of his key points.

1.  Create a student avatar. With his background in marketing, Eng calls for instructors to create an avatar (in web design called a persona) or a humanized version of your typical student. Use what you know about your students’ demographic and psychographic backgrounds to create an embodiment of your learner. Include an actual photo and give the avatar a name. Create a narrative for the generalized version of your student.

Armand is a 19-year-old first generation college student who holds down two jobs in addition to carrying a full load of classes. He struggles to get to class but is committed to completing his accounting degree so he can join his uncle’s business. He is reticent to ask for help and struggles with some writing assignments.

Having an avatar reminds instructors to always address the needs and constraints facing their students and address those issues in when teaching.

2.  Use name cards. Ask students to write their names on a 5X8 index card folded in half lengthwise. Eng says this tactic not only helps instructors learn names (or at least call on students using their names) but also helps students communicate more with one another.

3. Insist on participation. It’s easy to only call on students who raise their hands, but it’s usually the same handful who do so. To reach the entire class, tell students you have a “no opt out” policy and will expect everyone to be ready to participate. This helps students remain focused and accountable.

4. Require reading responses. Eng uses a strategy called “questions, quotations, and comments” (QQC) to encourage completing readings. He asks students to respond to readings informally by jotting down a question about the reading, an interesting quotation, or comment/reaction. Then, to hold students accountable, he suggests that instructors follow up in every class session by taking a few minutes to ask randomly picked students about the reading. Eng collects the written brief response entries several times during the term and assigns them a grade.

5.  Start class with an activity, not a lecture. If the day’s lesson is about writing bad news messages, begin the session by asking students if any of them received rejection letters to colleges they applied to. Then follow up with a discussion of how those rejection letters were composed. End with the lecture about how and why bad news messages are written the way they are.

It’s still early enough in the new academic year to add these simple steps to your teaching. Tell us how it works out, or share your own teaching tips and tricks to improve rapport and engagement!