Speak Geek and Engage Students

Every evening, around nine-thirty, I seem to break to get some words down in the text box. It’s probably a good thing I stopped now. I’m wearing a smooth patch into my right thumb for holding my pen for too long. Heck, I actually used up ALL THE INK in a gel ink pen that I bought at the start of the fall semester. And wouldn’t you know it, I found a certain shred of delight in knowing that I’d finally used up the ink in a pen and not lost the pen or broken it.

Silly little victories… I don’t know if it’s even a victory so much as a fun little fact that comes from so many months of working at these notes.

I had several talks with students about my class this semester – the one that I’m teaching, the academic and life strategies course that I run. A few years ago, I had the registrar’s office put an instructor hold on the course, meaning that every student wanting to take the course needed to come and see me for a signature. I started doing this because I would have students see my name next to the course and assume it was an easy A (I had a pushover reputation early on, and have since squashed that) but they would never show up to class… and of course, they would fail. They would come back to me and claim that they didn’t realize that they had to actually do work… and so on. So rather than endure more ignorance, I had the signature requirement put in place.

People coming to me for signatures about the class nearly always have to take the course because of academic probation issues. This often means that they don’t want to take the course, because they feel it’s a waste of their time, the instructor won’t understand, they have better things to do, it’s a stupid idea, and so forth.

Most of them have no idea that I’m the instructor. That’s where I get ’em. Students arrive in my office, and the conversation goes like this.

student: I need a signature from Veronica?

me: I’m Veronica! You’re taking Strategies this term?

student: … yeah?

me: I’m psychic.

student: … wait, are you —

me: No, that’s just the only reason people come see me for signatures this time of year. What’s your major?

student: (says major; usually engineering, physics, or computer science)

me: Oooh, nice! What do you want to do with it?

student: *blinks and starts to realize that I’m interested* Well, I kinda want to (insert dream job, or admission that they’re not sure but they know they enjoy the field, or admission that this is just something to do to support their passion).

At this point, the conversation diverges… but we almost always get back to this:

me: What do you do for fun?

student: … fun? Uh… (mention of some hobbies, often video games, sometimes theatre, or writing, or surfing, and so forth)

me: Awesome. This is going to help.

student: What is?

me: Knowing what you enjoy doing. It’s going to help figure out how you study and learn and how to make your classes better to manage.

student: Because I like (hobby)? What do you mean?

… and this is where I go for the kill. Take, for example, the three students who told me they love surfing.

me: Well, surfers have excellent body-kinesthetic knowledge, and they adjust their techniques and perspectives quickly. I would bet that you could get more out of your studying if you added gross motor movement, like standing up and writing on a whiteboard or a huge sheet of paper.

student: … really?

me: Yeah! Don’t worry, we’ll talk about it in class this week.

student: This is what you teach?

And THAT is when the engagement clicks, when I get some buy-in from a student. I’ve had discussions about anime, Dr. Who, tabletop, M:tG, ponies, Fallout, Skyrim, Portal… the list goes on and on, and it sounds like the perfect panel at GeekNirvanaCon. And once I get them in the class and I start talking about Portal as it pertains to advance organizers and cueing behaviors…

… well, I speak geek. It’s my first language.

This entry was posted on Monday, January 6th, 2014 at 10:07 pm and is filed under academics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to “Speak Geek and Engage Students”

  1. Doc Coleman Says:

    OK, I want to hear how Doctor Who and Portal can help make me more productive. I will need the help if I’m going to get everything done in the next four and a half months that I need to.

    Doc