What are the elements of the “best college class”? Surely, each student might give a different answer to that question, depending on their own preferences, as well as their chosen fields of study. But, more than likely, you could observe some trends in their answers.

Through our recent “Today’s Student” project (conducted with the Work Institute), we set out to learn more about students’ college experiences, exploring how they define their “best” and “worst” classes. Indeed, we did notice some commonalities among their responses. In the white paper “The Not-So-Powerful PowerPoint®: Students Weigh the ‘Best’ Classes against the ‘Worst,'” we share the findings.

Student comments, such as the following, largely spoke to the importance of active learning in the college classroom:

  • “I will never forget the first thing she said: ‘You are all adults here, so I am not going to be reading the text to you; the same with PowerPoint. Our class time will be spent working on real life cases and audits.’ She came in expecting our best and she received our best in return.”
  • “The professor was engaging and genuinely cared about students and was encouraging and supportive. The class was interactive and more than just opening a book or watching PowerPoint.”

Along these same lines, we observed that interaction in the classroom spurs student interest. Of the students, 22% said that a discussion-based course was their “best college class,” reinforcing the notion that they enjoy interacting with fellow students—as well as their instructors.

Insights from Today's Student - Discussion-Based Courses Among Students Best Classes
Chances are, you already include some element of discussion in your course; but, if you’re looking for ideas that will stimulate greater engagement during those discussions, you might consider using technology tools to facilitate the experience.

Tips for using technology to spark discussions

Want some ideas for using technology to create lively discussions in your classroom? Review our tips for some ideas:

  • Begin class with an interactive simulation, an exploration of an area using Google Earth, or a demonstration of an innovative technology, such as a 3D printer; then, ask students for their reactions. You might also create an activity that requires students to locate and try out an app related to your course topic; they can then share their findings and their experiences during class.
  • Use clickers, or voting via apps like Poll Everywhere, to quickly gauge students’ thoughts and opinions on the topic you’re covering in class that day.  You can use the polling results as a springboard for additional conversation.
  • Add a social media component to the class. For example, you might use Twitter to share news stories, blog posts, and videos that can be used as discussion starters at the next class meeting.
  • Increase the amount of actual discussion on your course’s online discussion board! Instead of asking one question and requiring one answer from each student, structure your discussion-board assignments in a way that requires students to interact with one another. You could ask students to respond to at least one other person’s post per week; or, you could use the discussion board as a meeting space for collaborative work. Also consider breaking students into smaller online discussion groups; the smaller size may encourage more students to engage in the conversation. Don’t forget: your own active participation in those discussions can also prompt students to respond in kind!

No one thing will make a class the “best class.” However, by getting students actively involved in conversations about important class topics, you can create an engaging classroom environment that promotes learning and success.

Learn more about the factors that students say make for the “best college classes”!

» Download the whitepaper: “The Not-So-Powerful PowerPoint®: Students Weigh the ‘Best’ Classes against the ‘Worst’”


What are your tips for sparking engaging discussions in your course? Share your ideas in the comments.