Agony aunt

January 15, 1999

Some of my first-year students are very reluctant to participate in tutorials. What is the best way of encouraging them without embarrassing them in the process?

You may find that students who feel embarrassed and exposed in a large group are much better one-to-one, so try getting them to work in pairs to begin with. Then you can get two pairs talking together and so on.

This is called snowballing and is a useful technique and can allow the shiest students to contribute ideas by making a large group feel smaller.

It does not take much time to set up and can be effective in a number of ways.

After all, the degree of confidence of any one individual is always related to the context and virtually anyone can feel intimidated from time to time.

Do not assume though that because someone is silent they are not listening or learning. In some cultures, observing and watching is the norm and it may be considered disrespectful to butt in.

You can always ask people directly if they have anything to contribute but do not push it if they feel uncomfortable.

There may also be a gender issue here. Some women, for instance, find it easier to contribute to "virtual'' online groups as they do not need to be so pushy to get onto it.

Others, on the other hand, feel it is much worse expressing a view in this way because you cannot remove your words once you have written them. It is almost like publishing them.

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