Disco Ball in the Sun

Disco Ball in the Sun; Image courtesy of majikcamera on Flickr.com

Normally, the ITDC building (that’s the official name of the building where CTLT is located)  is a hopping place with faculty coming in and out for meetings, consultations, workshops, getting their exams scored, and, often, just hanging out because we’re such a fun group of people to be around.  However, it was pretty quiet here on Wednesday when the high temperature for the day wasn’t even worth mentioning.

We started joking that if we had a disco ball hanging in the Resource Commons, faculty would have an inexplicable urge to brave the frigid wind and come over here.  We laughed harder and harder as our disco ball scheme became even more elaborate and at the thought of highly educated people being drawn here because of a shiny object.

(For the record, no disco ball has been placed in the Resource Commons as of this writing)

So what does a disco ball have to do with the teaching-learning process?  Simple.  It is an attention grabber.  And one of the basic tenets of the teaching-learning process is that we have to get our students’ attention, first, before anything else can happen.

The shiny-object-attention-grabber can take many forms.  Here are a few examples:

  • On Tuesday, H. Tak Cheung, professor emeritus from Biological Sciences, was one of the panelists for a workshop on flipping the classroom.  When it was his turn to speak, he stood up and said, “I want to tell you a story.”  As he wove his story, we all sat around the table mesmerized and were eager to learn from him.
  • A neuro-psychology professor I was working on a research project with at another institution would begin his lectures with a demonstration using odds and ends to demonstrate how the brain worked.  The students’ favorite shiny-object-attention-grabber was when he would demonstrate brain injury using a watermelon.
  • For an advanced educational psychology seminar class, I often would ask students to write their responses to a question to get their mental juices flowing in preparation for discussion.
  • I was speaking to a faculty member this morning who frequently asks students to watch thought provoking Ted Talk videos the night before class.  They then come to class with a lot of questions and she helps them find the answers.

You probably won’t ever need to use an actual disco ball but I can guarantee that you will need to get their attention to begin the teaching-learning process.

What do you use as a “shiny-object-attention-grabber” to get your students’ attention?

For further exploration:

Upcoming all-day workshop:   Not Your Old-school Lecture: Media-rich Story-based Teaching

CTLT Coordinator, Faculty Development, Julie-Ann McFann, Ph.D.