Brown Bag Lunch Reflection

This year, we’ve implemented an event series called the Brown Bag Lunch. Once a month, the First-Year Writing office picks a topic related to teaching and we gather with other instructors to eat lunch and discuss various methods, challenges, or experiences in our teaching. September’s lunch discussed student engagement, October’s discussed how to incorporate games and competition into the classroom, and November’s will think about how to foster student community.  

What’s been interesting about these events is that they’re wildly well attended considering how busy everyone’s schedules are and that they take place in the middle of the day. I’ve been thinking about how much this speaks to everyone’s desire to simply talk to others about teaching. Teaching is naturally collaborative in that you are often feeding off your classroom dynamics and the individual needs of each community. And yet, it is also quite isolating in that we don’t get as many opportunities to talk about our teaching with other instructors. What is special about these Brown Bag lunches in particular is that they require very little effort or planning on the part of both the organizers and the attendees. We show up with a topic and things go in whatever direction the wind takes us. There is something so freeing about being able to engage with other instructors intellectually but also to limit that to one hour, once a month.  

At October’s Brown Bag lunch, people shared their experiences with including games in their classrooms. This topic grew out of an anecdote shared by one of our instructors at the September lunch, where they discussed a game to teach students about interview skills. Two students would practice together, one would be the interviewer and one would be the interviewee. The person being interviewed is given 10 bullet points and it is the task of the interviewer to ask enough follow-up questions during the interview, so each item is mentioned. Then, scores are tallied, and students see who did the best job in the quickest time.  

Being able to gamify learning objectives accomplishes a couple of things in the classroom. First, and I think, most importantly, it makes learning and being in the classroom fun! And the truth is, positive moments in the classroom can make a huge difference for students, both in terms of how they feel in educational spaces and also in how they are able to understand and process the things we are trying to teach them. Saying that the value of something is that it’s fun may seem or feel cheesy, but it actually holds enormous potential for learning. Further, games can create a sense of community amongst students, especially if there are teams or a sense of competition involved.  

Some of my favorite examples include an activity called Six Degrees of Wikipedia, where students have to race each other to connect two wildly different Wikipedia pages through their hyperlinks (brought to us by Marie Nour Nakhle and Luisana Duarte Armendáriz). Another involved a faculty member who teaches art and divided up one of the paintings into puzzle pieces so as students put together the artwork, allowing them to see the complex details that are a part of the work’s background (brought to us by Dwight Codr).  

Come back next semester as we explore more teaching topics in the Spring!  

-Mckenzie Bergan