Educational Skits Performed by College Students in a Large Technical Writing Class: Can Less Structured Group Assignments Positively Influence the Learning Experience?

Article excerpt

This study compared the attitudes of over 160 undergraduate students toward participating in educational skits when highly structured and less structured skits were used as an interest approach. When students were given fewer instructions and greater creative flexibility, more positive attitudes toward the assignment and technical writing in general resulted.

Regardless of class size, beginning a class period reviewing material covered in a previous session is a teaching technique supported by educators across many disciplines (Bean, 1996; Nilson, 2003). The use of an interest approach is one way to review previously covered course content and increase student interest in studying a particular topic (Myers, 2004). For large (> 75 students) university required courses of limited student appeal, increasing student attendance, gaining student attention at the start of each class, and generating student enthusiasm can be accomplished using various interest approaches. Harcum (1991) used rap singing in large (> 300 students), introductory psychology courses as an icebreaker during the first class period and found the instructor composed and performed rap songs helpful in reducing student anxiety and establishing rapport between the instructor and students. Popular, competitive games such as Jeopardy and Pictionary were used as an interest approach in an introductory soil science course and enhanced student enthusiasm for course subject matter and helped students apply soils knowledge in an atypical fashion (Sulzman, 2004). More recently, Donnermeyer et al. (2005) found that distributing candy at the start of large (> 100 students) introductory rural sociology classes and using candy as an interest approach helped encourage student participation and discourage tardiness.

Many educational and communication theorists advocate that an interest approach should be relevant to both the topic of presentation and authence (Cheek, Arlington, Rudd, & McGhee, 2000; Osborn & Osborn, 1994). Others suggest that an interest approach should stimulate creativity, arouse curiosity, and connect to other student interests (Myers, 2004). For large, university required technical writing courses, short educational skits on technical writing topics performed by students at the start of each class are the ideal interest approach. Educational skits can make technical writing more relevant to student lives and academic majors, stimulate creativity in those performing the skits, arouse curiosity in those watching the skits, and can help connect class topics to other disciplines. Because students become the teachers, the use of educational skits as an interest approach allows students performing the skits to take personal ownership of course content and helps students watching the skits to review material discussed in a previous class. Educational skits on previously covered course material can be used as a mini-review session and a way to get everyone thinking about course content at the start of class. Particularly for large class settings, witnessing and participating in educational skits performed at the beginning of a class period gives students an incentive for arriving early to class and a reason not to arrive late, thereby interrupting a group performance already in progress. While educational skits allow students to practice course content, instructors also benefit as they are provided opportunities to assess learning and offer feedback.

Following the work of Piaget, many students learn best from other students who are able to convey information using language that is less academic and more understandable (Cooper & Robinson, 2000). Educational skits allow students to revisit as a group the information discussed in a previous class and devise a way to creatively review such information so that it is understandable and relevant to their classmates. Although sometimes logistically challenging for students, meeting outside of the classroom to prepare a skit can build new and strengthen existing student relationships. …