Friday, September 15, 2006

Teaching: Fun in Class

What makes classes fun?

Oops, sorry. I forgot, classes aren't supposed to be "fun," they're supposed to be "engaging." Okay, what makes classes engaging?

Things I've noticed that get students' attention:
  • Interactivity. If I'm constantly asking questions and not just lecturing, everyone is paying attention. Students are more interested in listening to what their classmates are saying, than to what I'm saying :-). The questions don't even have to be 100% relevant, as long as they have some small relation to the topic (or they act as a segue into the next topic).
  • When I absolutely must transfer information without interactivity, students pay more attention if I'm animated and excited about what I'm talking about. It must be a quirk of human psychology: if someone is really interested in something, then you're more likely to be interested too, because there must be a reason why the other person is interested.
  • Playing games in class. I'm lucky to work in a department where every classroom has a really nice projector, where I can hook up a console and play it on the big screen. Even with the lights turned off (which always put me to sleep as a student -- I need light) everyone is watching the screen. I always give the controller to a student; playing distracts me and makes it difficult for me to point out what's going on in the game. Besides, there's never a shortage of volunteers.

I think it's vital for students to be engaged in any class with the word "game" in the title. It's an expectation, the same way that students taking a comedy class would expect to laugh a few times each class period.

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