When I started my teaching career at Allen University, Columbia, SC, in 1999, I didn’t believe in any other teaching method than lecturing.  In fact, this was the only teaching method that most of my instructors used throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies in History and Political Science.  These instructors would come to their classroom filled with students eager to listen and take notes.  They would lecture for one, two, or even three hours and, from time to time, give the students writing assignments, tests and examinations.  The instructors would then grade these writing assignments, tests, and examinations, and post the final grade at the end of the semester. 

However, as I interacted with my colleagues and read some books on teaching philosophies and methods (particularly, Teaching Tips, Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers, by Wilbert J. McKeachie et al, 9th Edition, D.C. Heath and Company: Lexington, Mass, 1994), I realized that lecturing was not the only teaching method that can be used in the classroom, and it was not the most efficient either.  And I recalled my experiences with some of my former instructors who did not lecture.  I remembered, for instance, that I did well with these instructors not only in terms of grades, but also in terms of knowledge.  As a matter of fact, most of my knowledge in International Relations theories and practices, and research methods was from these instructors who relied on class discussion and participation in their teaching.  Different terms have been used to describe this method (or cluster of methods).  Some people call it “active learning,” others label it “teaching by class discussion and participation,” or “Socratic method.”  But, the main idea sustaining this method is that, instead of lecturing, the instructor is leading class discussions or projects.  Instead of being a traditional “knowledge provider,” he or she becomes a “facilitator,” guiding and helping students to learn by themselves.

Consequently, since my third year at Allen University, I became a firm believer in “active learning” or “teaching by class discussion and participation,” which allowed me to maintain a lively and interactive classroom.  For example, my Introduction to Political Science class would typically start with a short explanation of the subject of the day.  Then, if I have an average class of 20 to 25 students, I would divide them into groups of 3 or 4, and I would ask each group to address a specific question or issue related to the subject.  I would give them 10 to 15 minutes to come up with an answer or position.  Next, a volunteer from of each group would present and defend the answer or position of the group to the class.  Even if I have a large class of 60 students, I would still ask students to think about some questions or issues related to the subject of the day, and allow some volunteers to present their answers or positions.  This exercise is very instructive, because each student has to think about his or her own answer or position and, at the same time, has the opportunity to know and understand other students’ answers or positions.  Most of my classes include also class or group research projects, which extend the collaboration among students beyond the classroom. 

As much as possible, I also try to integrate technology in my teaching.  Typically, each one of my classes would watch one or two video programs during the semester.  After watching a video program, the students would have to write a video report answering specific questions about the video program, or reacting to it.   When available, online exercises or projects related to the textbooks are also assigned in each of my classes.

In addition to having a lively and interactive classroom, teaching by discussion and participation allow me to reinforce students’ critical thinking and communication skills.  Most institutions now emphasize the development of critical thinking and communication skills of students as one of the most important learning objectives of each academic program.  And I believe that teaching by class discussion and participation is the most efficient method to achieve this objective.  Indeed, by using this method, the instructor is encouraging the students to think critically about specific questions or issues, and present and defend their answers or positions to other students.


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