News From Terre Haute, Indiana

October 27, 2013

Improving student success

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — A lecture-only college class with no student discussion is the least effective way to teach, some Indiana State University student leaders say.

Students prefer a class that includes not only lecture, but a mix of discussion, short power points and engaging activities to keep them interested and involved, based on a small, informal survey of 30 to 40 students.

Last week, four student leaders gave their perspective on teaching techniques that work. They spoke during a  Student Success Conference, the first of its kind at Indiana State University. About 150 faculty and staff attended, and the conference also involved 50 students.

Other breakout sessions dealt with such topics as assisting high-risk students; creating a culture of success; a campus diversity climate study; and freshmen perspectives on what they like least, and best, about ISU.

One of the students who offered his perspective Wednesday was Logan Valentine, Student Government Association president.

Among his suggestions to faculty: “On the first day of class, demand their attention. Don’t let students play on their phone.”

In a lot of his classes, students are using their phones or laptops for non-class purposes, and it can be distracting to other students, he said.

He suggested faculty be upfront, telling students, “You can listen to me for the education you paid a lot of money for, or you can look at your laptop in your room.”

Valentine said that as a student, “I don’t see anything wrong with that.”

But faculty also need to make students feel comfortable about asking questions and taking advantage of faculty office hours if they are having trouble with the class.

The student leaders presented other suggestions on what works:

n Review days before exams mixed with study guides and questions that will refresh student minds and ensure they are studying correct material.

n Short weekly quizzes to make sure students attend class and stay on top of material.

n Outlines of a chapter that help students understand what major points teachers want to convey.

A consistent complaint of students was when faculty don’t have an outline or review guide for exams.

The student leaders gave personal examples of things that worked — and things that didn’t. Sowmya Challa, a graduate student, talked about an MBA class in which students did group projects, but there was an imbalance in the workload and also in mid-term grades.

After mid-terms, when the faculty member teaching the class noticed the disparity in grades, he reached out to students through email to ask for their feedback and any concerns.

Based on the feedback, the faculty member revised the course to ensure there was a more equitable rotation of tasks among work groups.

Challa appreciated the fact that the faculty member was open to suggestions from students, opened the lines of communication and reached out to students through email. Students may have been reluctant to offer feedback in class, she said.

Randi Chelf, president of Zeta Tau Alpha and a communication major, said faculty need to make the course relevant to students’ lives. For example, they might somehow incorporate music or television shows popular with students, or use social media.

She likes use of group discussion in class. “I love to talk,” she said.  Smaller groups are less intimidating for those who don’t like to talk in larger settings, she said.

Valentine said he likes weekly quizzes to help students stay on top of their studies each week. Another good tool he said is for faculty to ask questions that put students on the spot in class — it will force them to pay attention.

Josh Powers, ISU associate vice president for student success, said after the session that student success has always been a priority at the university, but the strategic plan now places an even higher emphasis on retention and graduation.

The conference “is a new element we thought would help to expand awareness and insight about good practices” both in and out of the classroom, Powers said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or