Blog Post

Time and the Exit Ticket: Questions and Responses from our Graduate Seminar

We ran out of time at our workshop yesterday!   That's a perfect opportunity to use the pedagogical device known as the "Exit Ticket" where you simply ask people to write down one question or follow up or issue or problem they had wished they had been able to ask.  In a class,you collect the tickets and build a follow-up class around those.   In a one-time seminar like the one we had, you can ask for email addresses and send responses.  


Instead, I'm going to build a Q and A here so that everyone in the Seminar can see the responses and, if they wish, comment.  And so can the rest of the world.  I will write this in our Group but I will make sure I mark it "Public" so anyone can participate and profit from our conversation.  I'll keep adding questions all day, ad I have time, but it should up to be a fascinating recap of a conversation we didn't have.

Think about all the ways this simple online device enhances the classroom experience.  (I really dislike tools for the sake of tools; I value them greatly when they create community, extend a conversation, and allow something the class constraints did not--including extending time.)


*****[Please note this is written quickly on a tiny screen and I will proofread and edit later]  DRAFT ONLY  ...Comments welcome

Q:  I would have liked to talk more about dealing with and pushing against prevalent power structures in the classroom.

A:   Everything we do in the classroom is the embodiment of power: class, gender, race, hereditary positioning, institutional, economic, etc.  Lani Guinier's the "tyranny of meritocracy" documents how early and how extensively academic selectivity maps onto income and therefore also, in this country because of de facto racial segregation, onto race.  We think we select for merit but we largely select for cultural advantages tied to income.  Everything we do in higher education is based on "selectivity" as if that is total value-neutral and natural.  It is not.

Selectivity happens by individuals, by groups, in every part of academe, and we sort and select for an extremely narrow group of human qualities.  Those also tend to be qualities that, as a society, we say we value or don't value.  For example, I do not believe it is coincidental that the major assault on the humanities happens after the humanities have made an intellectual and theoretical shift towards egalitarianism, anti-racism, and so forth.  The Culture Wars of the 1970s and 1980s are now waged as economic war.  This began with Governor Ronald Reagan in the US.   The cutback of all public education in all fields, but especially the human and social sciences, is part of this movement, continuous with it, in complex ways.    In the classroom, all of the student-centered methods we discussed are ways of thinking through democratic participation and knowledge-sharing beyond hierarchy.  It is  important not only to engage in these methods but to discuss what they mean, what they do as a practice, what new ways of thinking and reliance and networks and strengths they imply,and what it means to have an inventory of ALL the possibilities of learning in a classroom and not just that which one must master from the professor in order to pass the test.    Time again.  Once the time frame is "life" and not "the course," everything changes, including power.   But you cannot counter structural inequality with good will.  You must create a new structure with equality at the core.  And you must reflect on that changed structure and its impact on other life possibilities and potentialities.


Q.  How do we deal with the distraction issue in class when we use media technology?  If laptops are allowed, does it create a barrier for  personal communications?

Another great question.  Everything is distracting, everything is a barrier--the technology just makes it visible and even more tempting.  We have lots of studies of classroom attention and know that only a tiny amount is learned in the last 20 minutes of a 70 minute class, for example.  (This is why I've incorporated movement into the middle of a two-hour class.  It changes energy and insight and allows a shift of focus.)  But I have students lead my class and the students make a conscious decision:  today we will use the technology known as machine-made paper and machine-made pencils (index cards, usually) to do X; today we will use the technology of laptops to do Y; today we will use the the thinking brain in a crowded room with buzzing florescent lights to do Z.  In other words, we make conscious choices (meta-cognition again) about what we need and want or do not want.  If we use laptops, I will often ask students to do a task.  Perhaps work in a small group on a project, come up with different ways of addressing it and write a small blog or notes on a website and report back to the class in 10 minutes.   Then the laptop can allow different citational and linguistic and reference sources to be used to give perspectives on an issue we are discussing.  The point is:  purposive

If students are just using laptops for notes, then I find ways to constantly interrupt--such as with index cards--to  make them aware of their own attention.  Once a student group came up with  "Pass the Laptop."  They were running the class and wanted attention so they had class take notes on a Google Doc with only three people at a time with laptops open taking notes and everyone else taking notes with pen and pencil.  Every twenty minutes they'd say "Pass!" and students would read the Google Doc on the laptop and then add anything from their notes before discussion would begin again and the process would start over-- a fantastic learning practice in every way!

 I've also had laptops project a Google doc and collective note taking with requirements that everyone contribute and edit the notes during class.  It is a great way to learn and use laptops purposively.


Q.  What are some in-class initiatives for student-centered learning?  

A.  For me the class constitution and mission statements set the tone.  I also like to have them think in groups about a major public contribution to knowledge for a class final project--one that everyone does or many separate ones, individual or smaller groups.   In terms of tactics, the one in the Boyer essay visible to members of this Group are my "top ten" in-class initiatives.  

Here's an example of a class constitution:

Q.  What is a good way to respond to supervisors who are skeptical of our attempts to replace currentling existing power structures in the classroom with new ones that are more egalitarian?

A.  That depends on the supervisor and the structure.  Some of my graduate students who have TA'd for very authoritarian profs simply use these techniques and then the prof is just astounded at what a 'great section' the student was lucky enough to have, not realizing that student-centered learning practices the TA used in the discussion sections actually meant for better papers, exams, thinking, and participation.   In other cases, sharing some basic pedagogical practices and rationale are good.  In some cases, tell some--not everything.  Most classes, you alone are in the classroom.  The important thing is for your students to realize you are not just "getting out of work" but working very hard to enhance their learning for the classroom and, beyond, for their life.  They, too, think that hierarchical learning is "school" (even though, when left to learn anything important on their own--even something as simple as learning for a driver's license written exam--no one ever imitates the top-down lecture or seminar methods of a class:  when our life depends upon it, we reject the traditional methods of formal education.  Think about that!)

Q.  In trying to get away from reproducing hierarchies, are there ways of phrasing questions or of posing questions that are particularly good or should we focus on choreographing response?

Both are very important--thanks for asking this.   I will sometimes ask for the exact same content (index cards again) using a negative and a positive valence (we did that in our seminar:  If you had power to get rid of something, what would you get rid of first?   If you had the power to make a change and do something, what would you add or change?)  Often the answers are the same but it is surprising how differently people respond to the negative and positive framing.  Humans aren't smart enough on their own to know their own prejudices (I co-taught with Dan Ariely, the behavioral economist at Duke and have become quite convinced of how we're all "predictably irrational") so I often mix it up deliberately to see what different phrasing yields and make that a subject of meta-cognition.  Everyone learns from everyone learning together. 

Q.  I just read an article in CHE today about "doing less" class prep in terms of planning fewer in class activities and allowing the students to take the class where they want.  I love the idea but also worry about not "getting to" certain ideas (I tend to overplan).  I'd love som thoughts on this.

If you over plan, and have notes, put those notes on a Google Doc and project it in class and then let the class wander--with guidance for hierarchy (if they wander without a structure you will replicate the hierarchies and not have total participation).    But turn it into a kind of game to see how many of the in-class comments and "wanderings" actually touch on things in your Google Doc.Let students edit, comment, add material, add their own idea to the visible document that grows in the class.   And give yourself some time to then do a rehash, incorporating the comments.

My freewheeling classes always have a class agenda that I post to an editable Google Doc that the students add to before, after, and during class.  You can see these for my classes which all occur online with links.

Q.  Do you allow personal tech in the classroom at all times, and do you have issues with it if so?

I allow anything that helps and point out anything that distracts others--newspapers, books, noisy dominant behavior, overtalking, sleeping.  Cell phones and laptops too.   In a small class, attention is especially important.  Since most things I do involve total participation (that's what psychologists call structured inventories, Think-Pair-Share and other participatory methods), laptops are great if they are part of the participatory exercise.  As I said above, it's purposive.  Including not using anything--that too is purposive.


Q.  How can I create an engaging, empowering classroom within the bigger institutional organization of the department and Cornell?

I focus now on classroom methods because anyone can empower themselves and their students with those tomorrow.  It is important to see change happen because most of our lives we feel powerless.  I then like to build on empowerment to "tackle something."  I let my student decide what that is.  I don't think they could make a public contribution to knowledge if they were not learning, in every class, how to make a contribution to a classroom in which they must fight against a whole history of institutional power relations, most of them unarticulated and invisible and therefore (like racism or sexism or income inequality) easily overlooked by those with the power to overlook them.   I once had a class do an assignment where, in groups, they chose a building on campus and did a full ethnography of that building--from the workers there at night (their race? income? working conditions---my students had no idea that tiny closets--maybe 5 feet square at most--full of brooms and paint cans and toxic chemicals and one tiny stool, no windows, were the "break rooms" of most of our housekeeping staff.  I then had them do an ethnography of the fields in the building, the disciplines and apply socio-economic and ethnographic analyses there too.  They could never see the campus in the same way after that.  It was only one week in a class on (as I recall) "What is Class in America?" (pedagogy and economic class mostly in American literature),


Q.  I'm curious how you problematize the figure of the universal student who seeks to be empowered, especially your experience at CUNY.  What I'm thinking of is how not all students come to the classroom with the same rethinking of power--eg. white male students don't "need" to be "empowered" in the same way as students of color.

One reason I begin EVERY class in every topic with the inventory of skills and what one needs to learn--superpower and Kryptonite--is it shows that the students have color have superior skills to offer in some area and the white guys have deficiencies where they need to learn (and vice versa).  There is social power and there are individual circumstances and those map in different ways.  Everyone can be empowered differently but to learn that is itself a huge lesson, including for those who may be most privileged.   My most affluent Duke students who became lifelong activists had something as valuable to learn and to give as my student from CUNY (or Duke) from the most impoverished backgrounds.   Factoring empowerment differently is key.  HASTAC's motto is "collaboration by difference" and that "difference is not our deficiet but our operating system."  That is the lesson of the Web and it is the lesson we must fight for in the democratizing of knowledge as power. 



Q.  I've tried kindly cold-calling on students to encourage them to do the reading--I'm very intrigued by the "everyone raise your hand" technique and its equivalents that you discussed.  It seems to me that this technique is a modified form of cold calling that is kinder.  What makes the "everyone raise your hand" technique more effective--the face that every student can use his/her body?

Yes, the bodily is important.  But it is also meta-cognition.  It is essential to begin with the Samuel Delany and the "why" it is important for all of us to be present, not to be ashamed of not knowing.  The metaphor among educators is the person who has never had anyone to pack their back pack will never ask anyone to pack their back pack--the student who needs help most and hasn't received it, won't ask for it and will be ashamed rather than admit not knowing.  Making not knowing and finding out a form of empowerment is the key.  It is total participation.  Cold calling is hierarchy and shame and reinforcing the value of "you did something wrong and I'm calling you out."  Everybody raise your hand:  we all need to learn how now to "take it," how to ask for a raise, how to participate, how to organize, how to be present, and how to learn when we do not know:  that is what we are all (teacher included) hear for.


Q.  What's a Top Ten List of Pedagogy Research That Every Teacher Should Have?

Anyone who is a member of this group will be able to read some pdf's we've posted of articles and book chapters that do a superb job of summarizing research on pedagogy and including extensive blbliography.  These are very useful studies, available to HASTAC's Time and the Modern University Group members here:

I will see if I can make a link to our Zotero references public for you. We will also post some pdf's with practices for those who have joined this Group and visible only to Group members. 

Here are some great articles posted by students this term in my "American Learning course."  You can see the entire student-generated syllabus of readings here:

“Active Learning Techniques for the Classroom”


“A Sample of Formative Assessment Techniques”


Gallagher, Kristen. "Teaching Freire and CUNY Open Admissions." Radical Teacher 87.1 (2010): 55-67.



Lantz, Frank.  Zimmerman, Frank. 1999. Rules, Play, Culture: Towards an Aesthetics of Games approx. 4pgs.


"Using Active Learning Techniques in the Classroom", FSU Handbook Chapter 8

Here is a partial bibliography exceprted from this tremendously useful book:

Broad Overviews

Bonwell, C., Eison, J., & Bonwell, C. C. (2000).
learning: Creating excitement in the classroom.
ERIC Higher Education Report Series (AEHE)). Washngton, DC: George Washington University.

Frederick, P. J. (1987, Winter). Student involvement:
Active learning in large classes.
New Directions for
Teaching and Learning: Teaching Large Classes
, (32), 45-56.

Gibbs, I., & Harland, J. (1987). Approaches to teach
ing in colleges of higher education.
British Educational
Research Journal,
13 (2), 159- 173.

Heide, A., Henderson, D., & Neale, L. (2001).
Active learning in the digital age.
NH: Heinemann.

Meyer, C., & Jones, T. B. (1993).
Promoting active learn
ing: Strategies for the college classroom
. San Francisco:

Michael, J. A. & Modell, H. I. (2003).
Active learning in
secondary and college science classrooms: A working
model for helping the learner to learn
. Mahwah, NJ: L.
Erlbaum Associates.

Provitera-McGlynn, A. (2001).
Successful beginnings for
college teaching: Engaging your students from the first
Madison, WI: Atwood Publishing.

Schon, D. (1983).
The reflective practitioner: How pro
fessionals think in action.
NY: Basic Books.

Silberman, M. L. (1996).
Active learning: 101 strategies
to teach any subject.
Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Technology, Multimedia, and E-learn



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