Guest Contributor: Melisa “Joey” Bryant, Forsyth Technical Community College.

In today’s post, Melisa “Joey” Bryant, program coordinator in the Thomas H. Davis iTEC Center at Forsyth Technical Community College, discusses how getting students involved with teaching your class can enable them to tackle challenging concepts and better understand tough material. How do you help your learners conquer difficult topics in your courses? Share your ideas and teaching tips in the comments section below.

One of the most frustrating experiences as a student is going into a class and feeling like you are the only one who doesn’t understand what the teacher is saying. This has happened to every student at some point in their educational career. These students shy away from asking questions and quietly try to study the material. In technology classes, you will have those who excel and those who are completely lost, or so they think. There are several reasons that students feel this way – age differences, life experiences, and job exposure, just to name a few.

One solution I have found that works with all subjects is group projects. These groups allow me to put students with differing backgrounds and experiences together. The projects are designed to utilize everyone’s skills, and all members must participate equally. For example, it could be researching topics with a short verbal report, class debates, or even creative presentations.

One of the favorite projects in my Introduction to Computers class is the debate. The class is separated into four groups, each with a different topic – such as competing operating systems. The groups are given time in class to research their topic, as well as the competition’s topic. We then have a full debate. Each group has ten minutes to state their case with no interruptions. After the groups have finished, the other groups can then ask questions to try and discredit their information or point out flaws in their argument. The class then decides which group made the best argument and who won the debate. I then “reward” the winning group with candy or possible extra credit points. The remaining groups also receive something as a reward.

I have found that this has increased participation and understanding of the material. These groups never have the same students in them. Having multiple projects throughout the semester allows the students to learn each other and share experiences. I have lots of feedback from the students stating that working with others not only helped them understand the material, but gave them more confidence in asking questions during class. I have noticed an increase in grades for those topics where groups were utilized.

Although my lecture is important, getting the students involved with teaching the class enables them to understand the material better. The goal is not just to reiterate what the book says, but for them to understand what it is saying. These groups seem to work well in my classes, and more students are asking for additional group activities.

Melisa “Joey” Bryant is a program coordinator in the Thomas H. Davis iTEC Center at Forsyth Technical Community College. She teaches Basic PC Literacy, Introduction to Computers, Excel and Systems Analysis, and Healthcare Business Informatics. Joey obtained her Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems and a Masters of Business Administration from High Point University. She also has a Post-Master Certification in Information Technology from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. In 2008 Joey was named the Outstanding Professional of the Year in IT from Cambridge Who’s Who for her work as a software design and project management consultant. She is also a member of Who’s Who Among Executives, Professionals and Entrepreneurs.