5 Things I Have Learned Teaching College Students

I have been teaching college students at Concordia University — Wisconsin for the past twelve years. Even in those twelve years college students have changed. They used to be much more engaged in the classroom. Now they’re much more passive. It means that educators have had to adjust, as well.

Teaching is simply one form of communication, and it’s techniques apply to other forms, too. Here are five things I learned teaching college students that apply to communication, no matter what it may be.

  1. College students care when their teachers care. Students can tell from the moment a lesson begins whether a teacher cares and is passionate about the subject. If they sense a caring teacher, they will be immediately engaged. If they sense a teacher who is disengaged and uncaring, they will be too. Don’t ask me how I know this… Good communicators care about their audience.
  2. In this digital generation, college students frequently need things changed up. How many minutes is it between TV commercials? That’s generally how often teaching techniques in the classroom should change. Every eleven to twelve minutes switch from lecture, to small groups, to video, to question and answer. Good communicators keep an audience on their toes.
  3. Over the past few years, college students would rather listen to a lecture than do small group work. This generation of young adults is used to having people cater to them. That’s OK for a while, but they do need to be stretched and taken out of their comfort zone if true learning is going to happen. Lecture for a while, but don’t do it exclusively (see above). Good communicators do the same.
  4. Given the opportunity, most college students want to impress. Give an assignment that’s more than just writing a term paper, and most college students will go above and beyond just the bare minimum. They want to create something excellent and unusual. I once had a student write and perform a song, ala Phoebe on Friends. It was one of the most excellent homework assignments I have ever had the pleasure of grading. Good communicators give their audiences opportunities to participate in a unique way.
  5. College students sometimes need some motivation to keep them on track. It’s the reason why there are tests and grades. Some students are motivated by them more than others, but all college students need motivation, whether it is a “carrot” or a “stick.” Good communicators motivate their audience to move forward in some way.

Based on your own learning style, how would you suggest communicators keep you interested and engaged?

Commencing into a New Commencement

I’ve attended a great many graduations over the years. I’ve been a parent, a participant, and even a speaker. For some reason graduations make me very emotional. It may be the pomp and ceremony, or, more likely, the marking of one of life’s milestones.

There are many positive things about graduation ceremonies. But maybe it’s time to re-think and update them.

Here are some of the things I’d suggest to someone planning a commencement ceremony in the year 2012 or beyond:

  1. Always have a Communications professor make one of the major speeches. The best speech I heard this weekend at our daughter’s graduation was done by a communications prof. Um, they know how to communicate.
  2. Convince the major graduation speaker to be short-winded. Nobody’s there to hear them…but they could still have a huge impact with a short, properly worded speech.
  3. Let grads tweet their thoughts during the long awarding of diplomas. A screen above the stage could scroll (screened) tweets that would be wildly entertaining during that long drawn out process.
  4. Make it visual. Use screens to display an action photo, piece of art, or some other  work done by each graduate. In this day and age of technology it would be easy to do.
  5. Give the poor faculty something to do other than sit there during the ceremony. Maybe they could escort the top student in their discipline. Perhaps they could read the names of the names of the students they had in class (logistics could be figured out).
  6. Involve parents by letting them interact electronically. Instead of lining up at the end of the stage to take pictures, they could walk across the stage with their child (again logistics could be figured out).
  7. Honor extra-curricular activity. More than letting the choir kids sing and the band play, displays of talent could be made by athletes, theatre students, or forensics club members.

How would you make a commencement ceremony better?

Re:Creating Life

In this ongoing series I am recapping the incredible speakers I experienced at re:create 11, a conference for “creatives” in Franklin, Tennessee. If this blog were on a piece of paper you would probably see tear stains on it. Ken Davis is certainly in the top five public speakers I have heard or witnessed in my life. For me it wasn’t so much what he said (although it, too, was fanstastic), as it was how he said it. And it brought literal tears to my eyes.

I noticed that the notes I took during his talk mostly failed me, because I was so enthralled in what Ken was saying and how he was saying it. Nonetheless, here are some of the things I jotted down:

  • There is an exhilaration you feel when you’re doing what God had in mind when He spoke you into existence.
  • Irenaeus: “The glory of God is man fully alive.”
  • Ben Franklin: “Many men die at 25 and aren’t buried until they’re 75.”
  • Switchfoot: “I wanna wake up kicking and screaming.”
  • This life is not a waiting room for eternal life.
  • A sign of life is discipline.
  • Do what you do to live, not because it’s a living.
  • The opposite of discipline is death.
  • If you proclaim anything you will be criticized.
  • Fail quickly; get it over with.
  • Failure is the ticket to success.
  • Confidence is using your giftedness according to God’s purpose.
  • Take chances and risks.
  • “Signs of life” are relationships.

At this point, Ken began to speak about his own relationships. He introduced us to his family and his grandchildren. He told us about what he called his “Fairy Granddaughters.” He spoke about them with humor, passion, compassion, and the kind of love only a grandfather can have for his grandchildren. He engaged us by allowing us to get to know them all. I was drawn in deeply because I saw my own family in his.

And he told a story. It was a story about his granddaughter getting lost on a mountain in Colorado. The story was captivating because it was filled with “real life” situations, humor, tension, humor, exhilaration, humor, relief, and humor. This is the part of the talk when I found myself wiping away tears. I was identifying completely with the speaker and feeling the arms of the story being wrapped around me. I saw my own love and passion for my children, the way Ken has love and passion for his grandchildren.

It was a bold and blatant reminder that one of the greatest reasons to be alive is to be in relationship with those closest to you: your own family. I wasn’t taking notes at this point, but while his granddaughter was lost Ken said he found himself out in the woods on his hands and knees praying something like this: “Take my property; take everything I own; take my health; …take my life…but please bring back my granddaughter alive.”

What parent or grandparent wouldn’t pray that same prayer in a similar situation? My family is more important to me than life itself. I guess that’s why I found myself in such an emotional state at that point of the talk. I saw others wiping tears, as well (fellow re:creators, you know who you are!).

I guess Ken’s point was: God gives life in this world purpose. That purpose is filled full in many ways. One of the greatest ways is by the very people with whom we laugh and cry, sing and shout, live and breathe…the people that we call our family.

When the room was, at the end, still with the silence of incredible appreciation, Ken finished his talk with words I will never forget: “Live. For God’s sake. Live”

  • Ken had set us out to sea with self-deprecating humor.
  • He floated the bait by using interesting quotes.
  • And he set the hook by using his own story to get us to think about our own.

As Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” What is it that makes you feel fully alive?