In Search of Meaningful Exchanges in the Classroom

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Students are experts at seeing through assignments that waste their time. And thank goodness. We are at our best when we live up to students’ expectations for meaningful engagement on topics that matter.

This recent social media exchange between two graduate students captures all that goes wrong when we require students to go through the motions of scholarly conversations.


A long stream of commiserating comments followed, including this pitch-perfect parody of an online discussion post. This response racked up the most “likes” and made me laugh out loud:


Whether or not you teach online, I’ll bet you recognize the requirement behind this performative exchange. The instructor gives points for students to respond to one another, and students perform, right to the word count, even if there’s not much to say. Sometimes, students give us exactly what we deserve.

There are plenty of analogous exercises inside the classroom that deserve skewering in this manner, too. For example, sometimes, we ask questions that are thinly veiled checks on whether students have done the reading rather than asking what they think about what they have read. I have gleaned many insights about meaningful exchanges in the classroom from linguistic anthropologist Dr. Susan D. Blum, author of I Love Learning; I Hate School: An Anthropology of College (Cornell University Press, 2016). Following Blum on Twitter (@SusanDebraBlum) is a daily pedagogical delight, as in this recent exchange Blum shared between Danica Savonic and Cathy Davison on what happens when we ask students to set the conversational agenda in the classroom:



Now, those questions are worthy of our students’ time and attention, and they promise to deepen the instructor’s understanding, too. We can invite students to participate in rote facsimiles of academic conversations or we can welcome them into the deeper world of significant meaning-making. Both approaches take energy and time. One approach fosters a skill that can last a lifetime.

As Stuart Greene and I finalize the details for the 5th edition of From Inquiry to Academic Writing, I am grateful we are including Susan D. Blum’s wise, student-centered writing to inspire students and instructors alike.

Who are you following on social media for pedagogical inspiration? What are your favorite insights for meaningful student engagement in class or online?

About the Author
April Lidinsky (PhD, Literatures in English, Rutgers) is Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Indiana University South Bend. She has published and delivered numerous conference papers on writing pedagogy, women's autobiography, and creative nonfiction, and has contributed to several textbooks on writing. She has served as acting director of the University Writing Program at Notre Dame and has won several awards for her teaching and research including the 2015 Indiana University South Bend Distinguished Teaching Award, the 2017 Indiana University South Bend Eldon F. Lundquist Award for excellence in teaching and scholarly achievement, and the All-Indiana University 2017 Frederic Bachman Lieber Memorial Award for Teaching Excellence.