participation points

May 29, 2020

I hated participating in class. If I felt like I had something important to say, I would spend at least fifteen minutes marinating on it before speaking up. By the time I deemed my comment interesting and important enough, I either couldn’t insert myself into the conversation, or we had run out of time. It was easier for me to blend into the quiet Asian girl stereotype.

yes! these are some of my animal crossing villagers discussing something together in a circle

I didn’t like the idea of speaking up just for some participation points. I was scared of making an obvious observation. I rolled my eyes 🙄 at how half the class would repeat what other people said in different words. (Honestly, I still do this today.) Looking back, I realize that these classrooms were structured to crowd out people like me. Why did I feel the need to make sure my thoughts were “good enough” to share?

When I started teaching at Lambda, I knew I wanted to create a space for every student to feel comfortable asking questions and voicing 🎤 their ideas. I wanted every student to feel safe speaking up even if they weren’t sure of their response. In a Zoom call, it becomes even more difficult for students to find the space to speak up. In creating learning communities, I talked about how we create a sense of community in the Lambda design program. After creating community, we still have to be intentional about how we build participation in the classroom. Today, I want to focus on how we encourage students to participate in lectures.

🧐 Questions in the classroom

I teach lessons on visual design for both design and engineering students. These classes can range from 10 to 100 students. When I introduce students to the elements of shape and color, I ask a series of questions about their perception of elementary forms. Some of these might seem trivial, but the purpose is to have students think critically about the foundations of visual design. For each of them, I ask the students to think about the reason 🤔 why they picked a specific side.

which one is more trustworthy? the square or the circle?

which one is louder? the filled circle or outline only circle?

which one feels safer? the blue or red circle?

which one feels safer the blue square or red circle?

why does this feel weird? there's a red check and green x

With anything more than ten students, the classroom can get unwieldy, with students unmuting themselves to respond to questions. Instead of letting students unmute themselves, we use Slack threads to respond. This way, every student gets the opportunity to respond to each prompt! I also find writing less stressful because I can organize my thoughts more easily.

After a few minutes, I’ll call out exemplary responses, showcase themes, and address misconceptions. Here are some sample responses for Which one feels safer, and why? The circle or the square?

which one is friendlier? the circle or the square?

an example of a students responding to the question in slack. most students say circle because it's softer

This is the discussion thread for Which one feels safer, and why? The blue or green circle? I like to ask this question because there is no clear right answer.

which one feels safer? the blue or green circle?

an example of a students responding to the question in slack. students were split on green and blue.

We use the Slack thread format in many of our lessons. In a Slack thread, there’s less pressure because not all eyes are on you. Sometimes, I also have students write a short reflection on what they learned in class. It’s a great way to get every student to participate without feeling like they need to get a word in.

👩🏻‍🏫 Student as the teacher

As students advance in their visual design skills, we want to train them to become mentors for each other! In a recent class, I flipped the role of student and teacher. I pretended to be a student and showed this 🤢 design to the students. (I had a lot of fun making an ugly design 😈.)

a really bad design of an art gallery searching app with clashing colors

The goal was for the students to coach me to improve the design while teaching me why I should try certain things! Again, we used Slack threads for discussions. Since this was a smaller class, I called on students based upon their ideas in the Slack thread 🧵.

students giving suggestions for how i can fix the app in slack

Here is a time-lapse ⌛ of the design’s evolution during the lecture. Developing visual intuition comes with practice. The best way to assess for visual design understanding is being able to explain it to someone else.

This exercise challenged the students to explain everything to me as if I were a beginner! It also pushed them to be intentional with their own design decisions.

🖌 Design together

One of my favorite lectures is on slide design. I start the lecture with a blank Figma file, and we create the slide deck for the class together. During this lesson, I have students help me select different design directions with star voting in Figma. I let the students suggest…

  • typefaces
  • colors
  • images

With each suggestion, I create multiple iterations, and they vote for their favorites in Figma! I let the students decide where we go with the presentation.

a bunch of slides with stars voting on the favorite iterations

It’s really fun because every cohort comes up with a different presentation! It also encourages students to stay engaged and participate in my creation process.

four versions of the same slide about keeping the visuals simple

🤔 How do we ensure every student has the opportunity to voice their opinion?

These are just some strategies I use to ensure that students feel engaged during lectures. I would love to hear if you all have other strategies on how you encourage participation.

  • What strategies do you use to facilitate remote discussions?
  • How do you engage students in lectures?
  • How do these ideas translate to the workplace?

Join the discussion in this Figma File!