Without question, the complex dynamics of the classroom, its tone, the interpersonal forces at play, and the nature and structure of communication patterns all combine to either support or inhibit students’ motivation to pursue a goal” (Ambrose, et al, 2010, p. 79).
In my previous article, I discussed five strategies to address student resistance to flipped classes and active learning environments. I explained how some students actually go through a grieving process in their journey towards acceptance of alternative models of instruction. One of our roles as instructors is to help students push through this resistance so they can succeed in active learning environments. We must also recognize that this process takes time, and students often need different levels of support as they encounter new challenges along the way.
If one of our goals as educators is to encourage our students to become self-directed learners, then we need to shift students’ perception the teacher is the source of all knowledge and create a sense of community among the learners in our classrooms. By design, the flipped classroom does this. The approach shifts the roles of teacher and student and puts the student in the center of the learning. Hopefully this creates an environment that empowers and encourages students throughout their journey towards becoming more self-directed in their approach to learning. Barkley (2010) explains, “Empowering students to be active partners in their learning requires a subtle but thorough shift in focus away from what the teacher is teaching to what and how the student is learning” (p. 32).
But how do we do this? What specific strategies can we integrate into our classes to help support students as they move through this process?
I’ll start the conversation by proposing one strategy called the ‘C3B4Me’ policy. This policy encourages students to look in three places (“see three before me”) to find the answer to their question before they contact the instructor. I first heard of this policy from a colleague of mine who has used it in her online undergraduate writing courses, and she saw immediate positive effects. Prior to implementing the policy, her inbox was constantly overloaded with emails from students asking questions about course policies, procedures, and deadlines. She found she was spending more time replying to these ‘housekeeping’ questions than providing instruction. Since implementing this policy more than nine years ago, she has seen a significant decline in these ‘housekeeping’ emails. Now when students send her an email, they ask questions about the course material or they are looking for more guidance on their individual assignments. The shift was dramatic.
I decided to try in my graduate level course on College Teaching. I figured it would provide an excellent source of reflection for these future faculty members. In the classroom management section of the syllabus, here’s how I explained the policy:
The C3B4Me Policy:
Before contacting me for assistance, go to three sources to determine if you can find the answer to your question on your own. You might ask one of your classmates, check the syllabus, and review the web site to find the answer to your question. Or you might ask three of your classmates to see if they have the answer. Or you might post the question to our class forum to see if one of your classmates responds with the answer. If you do not get the answer you need, then contact me. Most likely, at that point, it’s a question we need to address with the whole class, and we’ll determine the best way to share the information with everyone.
On the surface, the policy might appear simple, or it might be off-putting to some. But let’s look a little closer. This one policy allows students to build skills necessary for becoming self-directed learners in active learning classroom environments. What other skills do students learn through this policy?
1. Community building skills:
Students are encouraged to connect with their peers, ask questions, and search for answers. In my course, students followed the policy, and they even made reference to it in their emails to me which usually started like this, “Hi Dr. Honeycutt, I asked Sarah and John this question, and we all checked the web site, but we couldn’t find the answer to…”
2. Analysis, evaluation, and problem-solving skills:
Since students have to search in three places to find the answer, they must identify which sources are credible, compare the three responses, and determine the correct answer. I become one – not the only – source of knowledge in the course.
3. Communication skills:
Students are encouraged to ask questions in different ways. They can verbally ask another student, post it to a message board, or compose it in an email. By the time the instructor sees an email, the question has been vetted at least three times and the student’s thoughts are more organized.
4. Taking initiative:
It takes courage to ask a question. It’s a risk to show someone that you don’t know the answer. But that’s exactly what we want to encourage in our classes. By having a policy in place, students who are uneasy asking questions can now use the policy as a way to ‘break the ice’ and make asking questions a normal part of the learning experience. And, on the flip side, students who know the answer and help other students build their own self-confidence and self-assurance.
5. Time management skills:
If students wait until the last minute to ask a question, they may not have time to go three places to find the answer. They have to plan and prepare more carefully now that they know they shouldn’t send a quick email to the instructor before taking time to properly research the question.
From the instructor’s view, this policy helps clarify instructions and directions. If students come to you with a question related to ‘housekeeping’ details, then it probably means most of the students in class are also confused. But what I found most interesting about the policy is that it has changed the nature of the questions students ask me. Very rarely do students ask me questions about deadlines, formatting, or instructions. They now ask about the course content.
Of course, it’s important to be accessible and available to students. This policy does not replace the interactions we should have with our students. It’s important to remember students need to be both challenged and supported in any learning environment. This policy allows for both. Students are challenged to find their own answers, and they are learning the skills they need to take ownership of their learning experience. And as they follow the course policy, they are also learning the skills they need to become self-directed learners which can increase motivation and help them achieve success in active learning environments.
The C3B4Me is one strategy to teach students to become self-directed learners. What other strategies or classroom management policies have you added to your courses?
- Ambrose, S., Bridges, M., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M., & Norman, M. (2010). How learning works: 7 research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
- Barkley, E. (2010). Student engagement techniques. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Dr. Barbi Honeycutt is the Founder of Flip It Consulting in Raleigh, NC. She facilitates workshops, designs resources, and develops professional development programs to teach educators, trainers and instructors how to create effective participant-centered learning environments using the FLIP. The FLIP means to “Focus on your Learners by Involving them in the Process.”