Contributed By: Antonia Cartwright & Marc Pollack
Active learning can constitute a valuable part of the student experience. However, to gain maximal benefit from these classroom strategies, learners require a strong foundation of interpersonal skills. Communicating well with peers and teachers can help students to thrive in diverse environments. For example, in teamwork, expressing oneself, understanding others, and utilizing the diverse skill sets and experiences individuals bring to a group, can lead to comprehension, creativity, and solutions, surpassing outcomes that could be achieved alone. Antonia Cartwright and Marc Pollack presented the graduate teaching group with questions and activities designed to explore the importance of interpersonal communication, and how to develop these skills in a classroom setting. The activities and discussion were based on a number of journal papers and media articles about these issues.
Ice-breakers can be a useful precursor to working with others in class. The group discussed prior experience with icebreakers, and distinctions between icebreakers that elicit either shallow (e.g., what sandwich are you) or meaningful content, as well as those ranging from personal (e.g., hobbies) to those specific to class content. The group was encouraged to try an icebreaker called "Familiar and Unique," which encouraged them to find both common and individual traits in their small groups, serving as a rapid yet meaningful introduction to others that facilitated connections between members. Thinking about activities along these spectrums allows activities to be tailored to student needs. The group evaluated a number of toolbox items for using active learning to cross barriers. These included: managing learner expectations; considerations for different nationalities in group work; and the role of metacognitive awareness (i.e., teacher and student awareness of one's role in these learning processes). Key discussion points included communication preferences and the transferability of these skills. For example, cultural background or language differences may affect willingness to contribute, and expressing yourself clearly is not only useful in academia, but also in interviews and industry.
The group also discussed the role of setting clear guidelines for respectful interactions in overcoming potential barriers to effective communication. Awareness of interpersonal communication allows us to celebrate our differences, embrace our similarities, and continually develop our understanding of our subject knowledge, other people, and ourselves.
Toolbox Articles and Links:
Nationalities in Group Work:
Taras & Rowney (2007). Effects of cultural diversity on in-class communication and studnt project team dynamics: Creating synergy in the diverse classroom.
Developing Interpersonal Skills:
Fostering Growth Mindset and Metacognitive Awareness:
Pelly (2014). Making active learning effective
Drake (2012). A critical analysis of active learning and an alternative pedagogical framework for introductory information systems.