I need to shut up!

A follow-up to Rob McEntarffer's recent article

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I’ve been teaching for more than 20 years in university, with 20 years of training experience in the commercial sector before that.  I’ve completed 2 postgrad diplomas in teaching & learning in the past few years, and regularly read around teaching techniques in order to try to stay on top of what will provide a good experience for my students.

And yet, I continue to talk too much.  I know I do.  I am conscious that I need to stop, but it’s been difficult to really redesign my delivery around smaller, bite-sized chunks of delivery with far more student engagement.  Until earlier today...

Which is when I read a fabulous article from Rob McEntarffer - we’ll come to the title in a bit...  In the article, Rob - teaching half a world away from me - gotta love the Internet for this connectivity! -  identified an issue he faces when converting materials prepared for co-located teaching into ones suitable for use in the online space.  The issue is building in time for what typically happens naturally in the “normal” classroom - comment, banter, chat, short discussion.

This doesn’t really happen in the same way on a Zoom or Teams call, because there’s a blocker - the mute button!  Even if we’ve said to everyone “unmute if you want to say something”, that simple action of having to unmute is a real blocker to the ad-hoc, instant chat which goes on in a co-located teaching environment.

And this facilitates and exacerbates my own issue, as the instant feedback and chat which naturally goes on in the classroom, but which doesn’t happen so naturally in an online session means that I can just ramble on and on, even though I know I shouldn’t!

So to the title of Rob’s piece, and the brilliant yet so obvious advice (obvious now I’ve heard it!):

Just add blank slides: a simple remote teaching idea

This small, easy to implement change can be applied to any deck in a minute or two with minimal effort.  Whether between every slide, or after a few slides covering a point, inserting a blank slide, or one formatted in a specific way to signal “time for you to talk” to your class, and also to signal to me “shut up!”.

A few weeks after Covid took hold and we’d transitioned into fully online classes, I asked some colleagues in the graduate school  I lecture in to audit one of my sessions, and then to give me comment, critique and feedback on my delivery, & how the class was set up.  A very wise piece of feedback, very gently delivered by my colleague Alessio, was that oftentimes, as teachers, we beat a subject to death, spending far too long describing it and expounding on it, when the students “got” the idea in the first 2 minutes.

This really made an impression on me, and is one which, combined with Rob’s nugget of inspiration, is moving me towards a far more granular design for my sessions approaching in the coming semester.  1-3 slides max, then a blank slide, and class discussion.

The discussion can take place in many different ways.  I love the Zoom breakout rooms, and particularly the randomise option where I can throw 3 or 4 students into a breakout for 5 or 10 minutes so they interact with different members of class each time.  This is great for breaking down cliques, those who always sat together in class, and exposing every student to others they might otherwise not engage with and learn from.  Most of my classes are highly diverse, internationally, age profile, gender, backgrounds, so the more I can mix them all up and enable co-learning and synergy, the better as far as I can see.

So thanks Rob, and Alessio!  As I, along with the rest of the teaching world, try to figure out my way forward, your collegial insights are helping me to create what hopefully will be more engaging and dynamic learning experiences for my students, be these in college, or in-company training courses.

If you have lasted this long in the article, and have any other nuggets or ideas to contribute, please do - continue the conversation and we’ll all benefit from the sharing!

Cheers from a sunny Dublin, Ireland!

Joe Houghton

Asst. Professor & Director, MSc Project Management programmes, UCD Smurfit Graduate School of Business

Management consultant

EPALE Ambassador


Dublin, Ireland

Email : joe.houghton@ucd.ie / joe.houghton@gmail.com 

Joe Houghton

Asst. Professor & Programme Director, UCD Smurfit Graduate School of Business, Dublin, Ireland


Go to the profile of Rob McEntarffer
Rob McEntarffer about 2 months ago

Hi Joe! I'm glad the "blank slides" idea is useful, and I love your application of the idea. Your idea makes me wonder about the "balance" between blank slides students use to reflect in writing and opportunities for students to discuss. I wonder if it's "better" if students write/reflect first, then discuss? Or the other way around? Or is it contextual - does it depend on the topic/objective/etc? Hmm. Thanks for the ideas!