Interaction in Action: The Perks of Participation and Engagement in Academia

Different classes are structured differently in terms of the how a professor chooses to teach their class. Often, English classes tend to be taught in a discussion-based setting, whereas a science or math course is likely to be lecture-based. English classes are centered on topics that do not have one correct answer, but are debatable, which allows for more discussion. In a math or science class, there is often only a single answer, so a professor will simply hold a lecture-style class explaining correct and incorrect answers and relay information that, more often than not, is set in stone. Regardless of the class’s department, every course should be interactive in order to foster a more successful and engaging learning environment.

Eric Mazur, a physics professor at Harvard, wrote about his experience of switching his class from being lecture-based to interactive after seven years of teaching. The Harvard Graduate School of Education wrote about Mazur’s experience. Mazur explained that he became incredibly disengaged in his own teaching. He noticed a disconnect between himself and his students, and he wanted to do something to change this problem. He explained there was a “lack of learning and retention” during lectures. After seven years of teaching in one style, he asked his students to discuss among themselves in class and posed a question to them, in contrast to just explaining the answer. After a few minutes, every student eagerly shared their thoughts, and Mazur realized he finally discovered a successful way to teach interactively.

Interactive teaching, then, can push the class to become much more engaging. During a long lecture, students are given the leisure to slack and let their minds wander away from the professor and towards a screen. While a teacher may argue that it is in a student’s best interest to pay attention, it is also a teacher’s responsibility to keep the attention of their students. By creating a classroom in which students are expected to answer questions, participate, and collaborate, a student is more likely to engage, as they know they will have to apply their knowledge during class. Furthermore, it becomes the case that students are not given opportunities to let their minds wander during class; instead, they go on to focus more intensely on the coursework in front of them.

Additionally, as a class becomes more interactive, students become “emotionally invested in the learning,” Mazur explains. When a student is expected to participate, they must form an opinion and answer and commit to reasoning behind their opinion. Which, in the long run, will encourage a student to ask more questions as they become more invested in their learning. Not only does interactive learning benefit the student, but it also allows the professor to see the level of understanding each student possesses. As a student participates and shares opinions, answers, and questions, a teacher can cater their lessons to better fit the needs of their students. Not only can interactive learning make a student a better learner, it can also serve to mold a teacher into a better instructor.

Interactive teaching creates a community within the classroom. I have taken classes in which I do not even recognize the other students in my class because we never speak. I have also taken classes in which I have spoken to every student and feel comfortable asking them questions about homework when I see them in public spaces. This allows me to grasp a greater understanding of my class and field of study as I receive answers, with no fear of asking for them. As an interactive class creates a community, it provides a student with a class that they are more likely to be successful in since collaboration outside of the classroom will be more likely to come about organically.

Unfortunately, I have indeed taken classes where I sink into my chair, have semi-open eyes, and fiddle with my pen as a teacher talks at me for three hours. While some math and science classes must take this format, any class can be adjusted to become more interactive. Simply having students discuss with one another to come to a mutual conclusion can completely change the dynamic of a classroom.

Caroline Williams

Caroline Williams

Caroline Williams

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