Dr. Rucker must manage classroom dynamics when a student dominates the discussion.
Dr. Craig Rucker is having difficulty managing one particular student in a graduate level class he's teaching. He's frustrated that this student dominates the class discussion with her professional experiences. Craig speaks with a friend to figure out how to maintain a positive learning environment for all.
Dr. Craig Rucker is annoyed with one of his older graduate students. Dr. Rucker, an industrial engineering professor, teaches a graduate level class in statistical quality control. One student, Natalie, has worked in the quality engineering department of a local manufacturer for 12 years and monopolizes most class discussions with her industry experiences.
Natalie's excessive enthusiasm drives her to cut people off, even though some comments and questions are thought-provoking. Craig is worried that her behavior is negatively impacting the other 23 students.
Craig has successfully taught students with different levels of engagement, but Natalie really irks him. He must figure out how to better manage the situation to make the course a positive experience for everyone.
Craig disclosed his frustrations to a friend in the department. His friend, who had a similar experience with a vocal returning student, offered suggestions for managing the class and explained factors that could underlie Natalie's disruptive behavior:
- Recognize that you are working with an adult learner and consider best practice strategies for teaching these non-traditional students. Older, returning students such as Natalie have different expectations than traditional students, such as expecting that class material can be related to her specific work experience.
- Focus on discussion management techniques that engage as many students as possible. Natalie's active voice in class may stem from wanting to self-direct her learning rather than being fed information from an instructor, but other students may need encouragement to speak up in class. Consider using small group discussions or activities that more easily allow students to contribute. You might also need to privately explain to Natalie that though you appreciate her quick mind, other students may need more time to think.
- Provide opportunities for her to share her experience and include her in the teaching. For example she could give presentations on topics relevant to her. The act of preparing a presentation or teaching others increases learning.
- If after trying these suggestions Natalie continues to disrupt students, you may need to talk to her directly. For example, you could discuss with her privately that she is affecting the learning of other students. Her interruptions may be due to poor social skills rather than her position as a returning student, and she likely will oblige if tactfully brought to her attention.
Although it took effort on his part, Craig realized some logical reasons why Natalie was disrupting the class. He tried a few of these suggestions and obtained more balanced participation in the class discussions.