Opening Lines of Communication to Get Students to Take Responsibility for Their Actions


By Megan Wagaman
Math Department
Delaware Technical Community College
George Campus

Recently, the research discussion group of the Stanton/George Instructional Innovation Committee met to discuss an article by Scott Gaier titled Understanding Why Students Do What They Do: Using Attribution Theory to Help Students Succeed Academically. In this post, I wanted to share some highlights from the article as well as a the fruits of our group discussion.

One of the greatest challenges in helping students learn is identifying why they do what they do.

Scott Gaier, 2015

Attribution theory, developed by Bernard Weiner, was extensively investigated throughout the 1970s, and is still used today, partly in an attempt to meet this challenge.

The main idea behind attribution theory is that we naturally attribute causes to behaviors we observe; these “attributions” we make about students affect how we handle issues. Attributions made by students (their explanations for their own failure or success) affect how they handle these same issues. Attributions can be a factor in motivation and willingness to expend effort.

The article emphasized that to best help students, teachers need to understand to what a student attributes his or her success or failure, so that the teacher can guide a student to perhaps a better understanding of the situation, and appropriate interventions. As Gaier notes, “ … the more a teacher understands the cause for a student’s behavior, the more likely and able the teacher is to influence the student’s future behavior and decision making.”

For example, if a student thinks he fails all the tests in a class because the class meets at 8:30 and he is not a morning person, the teacher could help the student understand that, morning person or not, the student needs to study, do homework, and thoughtfully review class material — maybe at a time of day when he can better process it.

Essentially, we can push students towards success by helping them get past faulty attributions and take responsibility.

The article emphasized communication and caring as the keys to help students and teachers understand actual reasons underlying observed results.

Our discussion centered on the implications of this idea. How can we help students take responsibility for their learning? How can we find out what students think are underlying causes of lack of success (what students are attributing low achievement to)? How can we help students make the right sort of effort for success?

We did not arrive at one fail-safe method, but we kept coming back to the importance of keeping communication lines open, and how to best do this. It may be by stopping class 5 or 10 minutes early every session so that students know that is an easy time that they can talk to a teacher.

It could be by collecting an “exit ticket” at the end of each class that students hand to you personally, so you have at least a brief personal interaction with each and every one of them.

It could be sending check-in emails to students who have missed class or fallen behind — maybe with a “hope everything is OK” or something that could open the door for them to say more, without opening the door for excuses.

It could be though a quick Google Form survey to see how the each member of the class is doing with course content and expectations.

It could be just finding those casual moments to say hi or have a brief conversation with students, and being sure they realize that coming for help is not a sign of weakness. I

Or, it could simply be remaining ready and aware to not let those teachable, communication-opening moments pass by. Once communication begins, we can help students focus on the factors they can control, help them understand what constitutes effort, and let them know we care.

Gaier concludes with three key take-aways. First, he stresses that “Just having an awareness of attribution theory … is important for teaching and learning.” Second, once we have developed this awareness, “… it is very important to have student-teacher interactions that encourage and foster good communication… teachers need to genuinely care about students and the students’ learning.” Finally, during these interactions, “we need to be willing to be wrong,” and change our beliefs about the reasons for students’ behavior.

Students are ultimately the ones who set their own goals and priorities, and establish their study methods, but by keeping our minds open to their attributions for events, we can help students learn to better manage their situations to find success.


Gaier, S. E. (2015). Understanding why students do what they do: Using Attribution Theory to help students succeed academically. Research and Teaching in Developmental Education, 31(2), 6 – 19.

Communication Skills for Nurses: Engaging Activities to Use in Your Classroom

Communication Skills for Nurses: Engaging Activities to Use in Your Classroom

By Kimberly Hopkins MSN, RN
Nursing Instructor
Delaware Technical Community College
Owens Campus

One of the many foundational skills that I strive to pass on to future nursing students in one of my pre-nursing courses is effective communication. In this post, I want to share a few activities that I use to make the topic of communication skills for nurses as interactive as possible. How else can communication be taught if not interactively? The goal of these activities is to show students that there are many ways to communicate in nursing.

The first activity involves the following picture. Take a look at it and note what you think the drawing depicts.


Kimberly Hopkins 1

Do you see a mouse or an old man? When I display this optical illusion to students, I ask them to explain what they see and then debate over why the picture shows one image over the other. The goal is to help them understand that perception isn’t always objective, and that communicating a difference of perceptions isn’t always easy.

In the second activity, I divide the class into pairs, with one student acting as the patient and the other as the nursing assistant. The patients leave the room for a little while while the nursing assistants study the following image:

Kimberly Hopkins 2

When the patient returns, the nursing assistant’s job is to describe to the patient how to draw the picture without ever having seen it. The catch is that the patient isn’t allowed to ask any questions. Once everyone has had a chance to give it a try, I show them the correct image and let them discuss their results.

We then do variations of the same activity with different images. In one method, the patient is allowed to ask questions – but no hand gestures are allowed. In another, the nursing assistant is not allowed to give verbal directions, and must instead write the directions down while the patient is still outside of the room.

These activities provide students with a chance to realize that communication comes in many forms, and that these different forms can lead to different misunderstandings. The variation in which students are forced to use written directions, for example, often reveals that not everyone has the same understanding on how many sides to an octagon!

All in all, these activities to reinforce communication skills for nurses are great fun. They prepare future nurses for the workplace by helping them realize that communicating with their patients isn’t always as easy as as they might expect.

I wish my teacher knew…

I wish my teacher knew

By Jennifer Adams
Nursing Department
Delaware Technical Community College
Owens Campus

You may have seen news reports and tweets about third grade teacher Kyle Schwartz who gave her students the writing prompt, “I wish my teacher knew…Continue reading

Avatars Aren’t Just for Video Games Anymore

By Delora McQueen
Business Department
Delaware Technical Community College
Terry Campus

I really enjoy teaching online courses and I am always looking for ways to make them more personable and engaging. I was developing a lesson plan for my online Training and Development course that focused on technology based training methods as the main objective for the week. I recalled learning about a free app called Tellagami in one of my IDT courses that is used to easily create avatars. Continue reading

Julian Treasure: How to Talk So That People Want to Listen

By Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

We vote for politicians with lower voices.

This is just one of many interesting facts that Julian Treasure offers in this 10-minute TED Talk about effective communication. His ideas are useful to so many aspects of education beyond just lecturing. Effective communication skills can help when advising students, preparing students for presentation, working in committees, selling ideas to colleagues, and more.


Mission Impossible: Can Public Speaking Be Taught Online?


PossibleBy Radhika Prout
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Wilmington Campus

Professional and business communication is a critical skill in the workplace, and any college or university would do a great disservice to its students if it didn’t prepare them for effective communication. As more classes move to an online environment, the chance for students to practice public speaking seems to disappear. It’s important to realize, though, that it’s not just academia that is moving online. More and more companies are offering telecommuting options, thus online meetings and virtual presentations are becoming standard practice. Therefore, a vital part of preparing students to transition into a professional career is by making sure they are exposed to opportunities to practice functioning in a virtual environment. Whether communicating synchronously or asynchronously, students must be well-equipped to understand proper etiquette on the web, or netiquette.

So when developing an online course, it is important to provide students with multiple opportunities to create experiences that will enable them to refine their virtual communication skills. Here are a few ideas for activities to help foster these skills, as well as suggestions for technology that can assist in the process.

Activity Applicable Technology
Students deliver presentation in real-time to an audience utilizing a web conferencing solution. Fuze
Big Blue Button
Students deliver a speech in real-time to an audience utilizing a phone conferencing system.
Students record themselves delivering a speech utilizing a video recording device. Webcam
Students create and record an audio narrated presentation. PowerPoint

Each activity lends itself to creating a variety of experiences for students to communicate professionally in the virtual world. As technology continues to permeate the global workspace, students familiar with presenting in a variety of formats are better prepared to deliver on-demand.

Have you had successes or struggles getting students to communicate in an online environment? Share your experiences in the comments.

Email is for Dinosaurs


By Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

We’ve all been there. It’s early in spring semester, and the first snow storm hits (because for some reason, February counts as spring in academia). You wake up to an automated phone call telling you that the college is closed, and the first thing that enters your mind after groaning at the thought of shoveling your driveway is the state of your lesson plans. How are you going to keep your students prepared for Thursday’s class if you don’t get to see them today? Continue reading

The Intersection of Digital Literacy and Social Media

By Bridget McCrea
Campus Technology

As educators look for new ways to teach digital literacy or the use of digital technology to find, organize, comprehend, evaluate, and create information, some are turning to social media to help advance the concept in the college classroom.

“Digital literacy and social media is an inseparable and powerful combination,” said William J. Ward, a social media professor at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. “Done correctly, this combination enhances the quality and efficiency of teaching, research, learning, communicating, collaborating, and creating.”

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