Category Archives: Classroom Management

How blunt is too blunt?

The following is a post from cac.ophony by David Parsons, a CUNY Writing Fellow, on a recent email exchange between Scott Galloway of NYU’s Stern School of business and a student, which has begun to generate all sorts of interesting discussion on the ways in which faculty members should or should not communicate with students. The original post is here.

UntitledA professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business, Scott Galloway, recently sent an email that has gone viral, due largely to its unique approach in response to a student’s particularly obnoxious behavior. The student, who remains anonymous, had arrived an hour late to class and been denied admission, and later emailed the professor to explain that he was late because he had been “sampling” different classes, the last of which was Professor Galloway’s, and that it was within his rights to explore different options at the beginning of the semester.

Galloway’s response has caught attention because of his brutal honesty in addressing what he sees as the student’s overall functional weaknesses. In short, he takes him down a few notches. You can read the full exchange here, but I wanted to focus on a specific piece of Galloway’s final advice:

“Getting a good job, working long hours, keeping your skills relevant, navigating the politics of an organization, finding a live/work balance…these are all really hard, xxxx. In contrast, respecting institutions, having manners, demonstrating a level of humility…these are all (relatively) easy. Get the easy stuff right xxxx. In and of themselves they will not make you successful. However, not possessing them will hold you back and you will not achieve your potential which, by virtue of you being admitted to Stern, you must have in spades. It’s not too late xxxx…”


Posted in Classroom Management, Classroom Rules, Communicating and Managing Expectations, Values | 1 Comment

More on Mobile Devices in the Classroom

This is a reply/follow-up to the November 9 post that raises important pedagogical questions about the role of mobile technology in the classroom.

I’d like to back up and ask a basic question. The number of students who now carry iPhones or Blackberries is noteworthy, not to mention those who text from standard cell phones. Given this level of potential distraction, has anyone developed a list of best practices for managing mobile devices in the classroom? What do you say in your syllabus? What is the appropriate response to a ringing cell phone? How about the student who sends text messages or the evening MBA who steps out to answer work-related calls? I want to give courtesy/respect, but the collective effect of 24 executives with 24 Blackberries is becoming downright disruptive.

Mobile phone jammers are illegal under the FCC’s Communications Act of 1934 (as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996). Scratch that idea.

I’ve been watching with interest Broadway’s struggle with changing etiquette. Did you see Hugh Jackman’s response when a ringing cell phone interrupted his late-September 2009 performance of “A Steady Rain”? According to the WSJ, Jackman is among a growing number of performers who are breaking from their characters to confront cell phone users, rogue photographers and videographers. How many times did you break from your script this semester?


Posted in Classroom Management, Instructional Technology, Uncategorized, Using Technology | 8 Comments

The Sound of Silence

Last night my executive MBA class discussed the case study “Deaconess-Glover Hospital” about a Massachusetts healthcare system that made significant improvements using the Toyota Production System. But before this column digresses into a “how do we improve healthcare?” debate, I’d like to share seven sentences Dr. Steven J. Spear wrote in the teaching note that accompanies the case.

Like most case study teaching notes, there is a recommended teaching plan. Immediately after suggesting that instructors ask, “Given what you know from the case, what would you recommend…?” Spear says, “Wait! Give students a chance to offer responses. Instructor silence is a powerful tool!”

If you read my 26-Nov-2008 post “Understanding ‘The Pause’,” hopefully Spear’s remark puts a smile on your face.

Spear offers other advice uncommon in most teaching notes. For example, he later suggests, “A key objective is to teach them [the students], through experience, to be specific both in terms of what they have observed and also in terms of what they would recommend. Therefore it is the responsibility of the instructor to challenge students.” And a little later in the lesson plan he advises, “Don’t let students off the hook. Whatever their response, ask…”

I appreciate these comments because case studies are hard work. They require significant student reading and digesting time as well as prep time on the part of the professor. However, when they work well, even exhausted executives have lively discussions at 8 pm at night. A little silence and challenge do go a long way.

(For those interested in learning more about the art of case teaching, please allow me to plug Baruch’s fall 2009 workshops.)

Posted in Classroom Management, Student Participation, Students' Thinking | 2 Comments

Why Post Grades on Blackboard?

Did you see the article “Student Expectations Seen as Causing Grade Disputes” by Max Roosevelt in the 18-Feb-2009 NY Times? The article asserts that students are feeling more entitled to high grades than in years past.

I made a small change about five years ago that significantly reduced the number of end-of-semester grade disputes. I wonder how many of my colleagues do the same. It’s simple: after every graded assignment—homework, quiz, project, exam, presentation, whatever—post the student grades on Blackboard (see the “Grade Center” in Blackboard 8.0’s control panel, formerly called “Gradebook” in version 7.0).

At all times during the semester, students can check their running tally. And they do. The C and B students who would otherwise fight at the end of the semester now know where they stand from day 1. Rather than holding a discussion at the end of the term, we talk about how the student can meet my standards months earlier.

I know students can keep their own running tally as we hand back every graded assignment—they don’t need Blackboard for this information. But by posting their grades, we communicate transparently our understanding of their performance, as well as any assignments that are missing. In addition to the student’s individual scores, the student also sees class statistics (mean, std. dev., high, low, etc.). It’s also a good “quality inspection” to eliminate grade book errors. (What, you never entered an 87% as a 78%?).

There are some downsides. First, it takes five or ten extra minutes per assignment to upload a grade spreadsheet into Blackboard, and entering the grades directly into the Blackboard grade book is not much better due to a gludgy interface. Second, some students obsess about their grades resulting in two issues: being hounded with emails 48 hours after an assignment was collected (where’s my grade?), and an apparent gradebook-checking obsession among some (if only they would dedicate as much energy to the readings).

Posted in Communicating and Managing Expectations, Grading, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Mendicant Preachers

At the end of the fall semester, I received this e-mail from a student in my MSC 1003 class who had recently earned a D grade:

i am on academic probation. if my G.P.A. doesnt reach 2.0 by the end of next semester, im kicked out of baruch. i mathematically cant make 2.0 if i have a D on top of a F. please, im begging u. i need to retake music or i will end up in community college.

This was just one of several e-mails from this fellow who begged for me to reward him for his D-work with an F. His agony was based on the shame of having to tell his parents that he’d be transferring to Kingsborough Community College because a mere music class beat him down. I told him that community college is no shame and reported on two close friends who started at QCC (one now a CPA who works for the AICPA and the other the chair of an art department at a Maryland college), and I sent him the Wikipedia link to former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona who started at BxCC. I spared him my usual spiel about how I’d bet music was not the only subject giving him trouble.

I find these requests more troubling than the can-you-raise-my-grade ones. Maybe it’s because the student should have had a good sense that he was running a D with 80% of the grade completed by early December, and he easily could have bailed on the last quiz, had he done the math; so this bespoke a kind of detachment from his own academic progress. Maybe because he failed the course once, in ostensibly an easier version of the course, only to stumble into my CIC version with all its extra writing-based requirements. Maybe it’s because, if he had attended only seven of the hour-long workshops that accompany the course, he would have received extra credit enough to raise his D to a C. Maybe because it is ultimately educationally sound for a D-student to re-take a course when he finally has become mature enough to pass it. Anyway you slice it, he could have either gotten his F or his C with very little effort. Yet the flurry of e-mails that his D engendered showed that he was eager work the art of the deal with me, to spend time arguing in favor of his F, and, of course, to preach to me about what it is really like to be a student.

Is it better–educationally sound–to give D students the retroactive F, if requested? Is it fair to others? Is it even legal?

Posted in Classroom Rules, Communicating and Managing Expectations, Grading | 8 Comments

Understanding “the Pause”

One of my saxophone mentors told me that “a great jazz solo is the buildup and release of tension.” For nearly a decade, I’ve been wondering if good teaching is the same. There are all sorts of ways we build and release this tension in the classroom and many of us do it.

I was recently reminded of a simple way to create tension and intrigue—something the orators of this nation have been doing for centuries. It’s called “the pause.” One of the masters was Samuel Clemens, aka, Mark Twain. Consider this quote from the Ken Burns documentary (Mark Twain, PBS, 2000) about Twain’s days on the California lecture circuit:

“He was an unintentional genius of the stage. He had this shambling gait and he had this bewildering drawl—his mother called it ‘Sammy’s long talk.’ Some people thought he was drunk when he wandered out on stage and kind of mumbled about like this. But as the act went on—as the lecture went on—they began to see that the pauses were the great formulations; the pauses were the great preludes to the cascade of humor. So the silence on stage led to something else and as he started to understand that himself, he developed it into a great art form. He understood the pause. And one night he decided to take it as far as it would go. He walked out on stage and looked at the audience [pause] and looked at the audience [pause] and looked at the audience [pause]. The silence went on; the tension built until someone in the crowd snickered. And when that happened, the cascades of laughter came and he knew that the audience was his.” —Ron Powers, writer

Is the “audience” yours?

And we now know that the real value of the pause is the opportunity it gives students to think, digest and reflect.

Posted in Classroom Management | 4 Comments

Breaking the Ice

Did you meet Mel Silberman, Temple University’s guru of active classroom participation, when he spoke at Baruch in 2006 or 2008? I recently came across a four-page paper (here) that Silberman wrote on the subject of classroom icebreakers. Who would have known that you can promote social interaction while simultaneously engaging students in the course content?

Posted in Classroom Management, Student Participation | 1 Comment