Category Archives: 2. Featured Articles

Seven Tips for Getting Students to Read

Have you ever begun a class discussion or lecture assuming your students have completed the assigned reading—which you’ve selected after painstakingly designing your course and syllabus—only to be faced with vacant stares that can only mean the group has no idea what you’re talking about? If so, you’re not alone. According to Chronicle Vitae columnist David Gooblar, up to 70 percent of students attend class without having done the assigned readings.

When students skip this work, they miss out on a critical building block to their learning and retention of course materials. Below are some tips to help you gain student buy-in so they complete this essential aspect of your business communication course.

  1. “Sell” the importance of readings. Explain early in the semester that reading selections include information students need to absorb before your lecture so they can understand what you’re discussing. Tell students that readings include perspectives, information, and insights you cannot possibly address in your short time together in class but that those elements are integral to their understanding of the subject matter. Remind your class that when they don’t study the strategies of business communication, they won’t successfully complete the documents they will be asked to write, in class and on the job.
  2. Offer credit for reading. Assign a minimal amount of credit for completing readings using any of the strategies listed in the points below. Not all students will respond to this inducement, but many will want to take the opportunity to boost their grades.
  3. Begin class with small group discussions of readings. Prepare questions for students to discuss before your lecture. You can check off participation by walking the room.
  4. Assign reading notes or journals. Require students to take whatever type of notes are most meaningful to them: summary paragraphs, outlines, graphic or word trees, and the like. Similarly, journal entries about how students relate to the reading (or how they perceive the information about business communication will shape their future careers) can be thought-provoking and stimulating. Collect in each class session or at the end of the term.
  5. Give quizzes.Whether planned or pop, quizzes can act as a not-so-gentle reminder that doing the reading is part of a student’s grade in your course. The downside is that students can see this approach as punitive.
  6. Don’t rehash information. If students see that you will cover the material in the readings in class, they have no reason to do them.
  7. Prepare reading response worksheets. Have students answer questions about main points you want them to take away from the reading. Likewise, ask them to respond to discussion questions you want them to think about. Consider drafting prompts that allow students to write about the purpose they perceive behind the assigned reading. You can initial each set of questions as students enter class daily and collect all the completed question sheets toward the end of the term.
  8. Require only necessary readings. If students see the readings are redundant or too vast to complete in a reasonable amount of time, they will simply not attempt them. Be honest with yourself when assigning readings and keep only those you consider essential.

If students see you take their reading seriously, there’s a better chance they will, too!

  1. How do you encourage your students to do their reading? Start a conversation.



Encouraging Students to Use Office Hours

Do you find yourself sitting alone during office hours, waiting for a taker to show up? Or perhaps your students visit in desperation the day an assignment is due, leaving no time to thoughtfully revise before turning in their work?

Encouraging students to take advantage of your expertise during office hours can be one of the best ways to help them learn. But how to get them through your door?

Experts offer a handful of strategies that can help. First, reach out to new and first-generation students who may not be comfortable asking for help instead of waiting for them to come to you. In the office, create a space conducive to private conversations, where “dumb” questions cannot be heard by others. You might even keep a bowl of candy on your desk to “sweeten” the experience.

Likewise, initiate discussions about assignments casually. Research shows that starting informal conversations with students before and after class can lead to productive sessions in your office later.  And while it may sound obvious, make it easy for your students to attend your office hours by holding them at times students can actually get there. Finally, some research supports keeping office hours in neutral spaces such as the library or an on-campus coffee shop as an alternative to the more formal office, especially in cases where instructors must share office space.

It’s also beneficial to discuss the value of one-on-one help with your students during class from time to time to remind them you’re available and willing to help.

The tips below can help make your office hours less lonely for you and more helpful for your students.

Publicize office hour times. List your availability on the syllabus and on the board early in the term. Post times for extra office hours when you expect more students will require help.

Create a friendly classroom space.Starting early on in the term, make yourself approachable so students feel comfortable making the effort to visit your office.

Consider one mandatory office visit per student.If done early in the semester, this initial visit will encourage future meetings.

Schedule individual meetings for important assignments.Mandatory one-on-one meetings can be the best way for students to gain from your insights. If you can schedule these during class time, better yet. Some instructors cancel class and have set appointments with students. Others hold these one-on-one sessions in the classroom while other students work individually or in groups.

Make office visits productive.Instruct students what they should have ready for your meeting, and don’t be afraid to end the session if a student comes unprepared.

Be gentle when identifying errors.Students visiting your office for help are probably already feeling insecure. While you must point out errors, try to find something the student did well, too, to encourage return visits.

Finally, consider circulating a handout such as the one below that explains the reasons for making use of office hours. We’ve created a PDF you can download at the end of the post.

A Student’s Guide to Making the Most of Instructors’ Office Hours

 Instructors want you to learn—that’s why they hold office hours. Remember that even if it feels intimidating to seek your professor’s input, getting one-on-one assistance helps you make the most of your education. Follow these guidelines when visiting your instructor’s office hours.

 Visit early in the writing process. Come before you feel the pressure of a deadline. Doing so will give you the time to make the revisions your instructor suggests.

 Come prepared. Have your work out and ready so you don’t waste time digging into your backpack or firing up your laptop. Your instructor is happy to help you but will not appreciate your coming unprepared.

 Ask specific questions. If you are coming before an assignment is due, think through what you want input on. And remember office hours are learning opportunities, not a time for your instructor to edit your work.

 Initiate the conversation. It’s your meeting. Start it off with your reason for coming.

 Take notes. Jot down pointers your instructor offers. That way you won’t have to rely on your memory to make use of the advice you sought.

 Obtain clarification. If you don’t understand something, don’t be afraid to ask your instructor to rephrase it or explain it another way.

 Use your best manners. Be polite and thank your instructor for his or her help. Professors are people, too, and such niceties are good business etiquette.

A Student’s Guide to Making the Most of Instructors’ Office Hours



Helping Students Get It: Cheating Hurts Them

Unfortunately, cheating is alive and well in the college classroom, and it’s a disheartening reality for instructors. After all, cheating flies in the face of the knowledge and values college teachers want to impart to students about the world and business communication.

Of course, most of the responsibility for honesty lies with students. Nevertheless, instructors can use strategies to discourage this behavior, beginning with explaining the repercussions of cheating beyond the boilerplate message of “it’s wrong.” Students must understand why cheating is counterproductive and how it can be prevented.

To set students on the path to academic integrity, instructors can take several steps.

  1. Adding a no-tolerance policy on the syllabus. Spelling out the consequences of plagiarism or cheating on the syllabus drives home the seriousness with which an instructor views this behavior. Linking to the university’s academic integrity policy helps: Research shows that institutions with honor codes experience fewer instances of cheating and plagiarism. Likewise, talking about cheating and plagiarism at the beginning of the term and then revisiting the topic sporadically throughout the term keeps students on course.
  2. Confronting dishonesty. If students know a teacher will call them on their behavior, they are less likely to continue it. Informing the class about a cheating or plagiarism incident (without mentioning names) puts potential dishonest students on notice and tacitly rewards those who have been honest.
  3. Giving students explicit instructions about how to use research. Lessons on citing sources, summarizing, and paraphrasing teach students how to honor academic conventions and encourages buy-in by explaining that citing sources makes a document more credible and adds weight to any argument.
  4. Linking cheating to lapses in ethical behavior in the workplace. By tapping the news cycle for illustrations of ethical lapses, instructors show students the consequences of such behavior in the “real world.”
  5. Explaining that cheating is self-defeating. Plagiarizing and cheating hurt students in ways they probably never consider. Instructors who explain how dishonest behavior is not in students’ self-interest will help them help themselves.

College instructors will probably always have to deal with some dishonest student behavior. But open discussion, clear policy, and swift action can keep it to a minimum.

[Instructors: Download the handout How Cheating Cheats You below to share with your students.]

How Cheating Cheats You  

You do not master material being taught.If you have to cheat to pass a test or complete an assignment, you are not learning the information your instructor assumes you know. This can only lead to your falling further behind because much of what you learn in college is cumulative, i.e. it builds on previous knowledge.

You miss out on learning skills. Employers expect college graduates to possess certain skills such as critical thinking and the ability to write. If you are copying answers rather than learning answers, you do not absorb the skills taught in your classes. This lack of knowledge will lessen/affect/diminish your ability to impress future employers.

You set yourself on the wrong course. Your moral compass guides your actions in life, not just in the classroom. Once you cheat in college, you are on a slippery slope to behaving dishonestly with employers, colleagues, and institutions.

You lose integrity. Your values and ethics form your moral core. Ask how you want to define yourself.

You harm others.Think about how your dishonest actions affect others. Failing to do your share, contributing unreliable work, or using shady actions to attain goals reflects poorly on a whole team. Dishonesty skews fair competition in the classroom. The results of the class as a whole are distorted when some students take the easy way out while others put in the honest hard work needed to succeed fairly.

You fail to develop grit. Grit is one of the main characteristics that helps people get ahead. If you have to cheat to do well, you are taking the short-sighted path instead of doing the work you need to succeed. People who are successful in college and beyond know that hard work is the reason.

You lose a sense of pride.  The sense of accomplishment you feel when you complete a difficult task cannot be matched by the short-lived sense relief you have when you see you’ve passed a test or cheated your way to an acceptable grade.

You waste your costly education. You (and perhaps your parents) are underwriting an expensive education. Cheating undermines one of the biggest investments you’ll ever make.

How Cheating Cheats You