A couple of people have mentioned to me (and have blogged about) the recent NY Times Magazine piece on "Building a Better Teacher" (by Elizabeth Green). While the article focuses on school teaching, rather than college and graduate school teaching, it did raise some interesting issues. One issue that comes up in the article is the idea that teachers might make a decision never to accept student volunteers to answer questions and that classes should be conducted solely with the teacher calling on the students, rather than accepting volunteers.
I guess I understand the theory here - same as traditional "Harvard socratic dialogue" I suppose. Make sure students are prepped, on their toes, able to think on their feet etc. And that the teacher develops the answers collaboratively with the students.
My question is whether there are particular variables that play into a given teacher's decision whether or not to focus on cold calling, or to utilize a combination of cold calling and student volunteers. (Full disclosure: I tend to use the combination approach, but there are reasons for this as I explain below.)
For example, I wonder if limiting class participation to cold calling makes sense in areas like "basic skills classes" ie skills students have to master to function appropriately in their chosen field. Thus, it would make sense to do this in a high school mathematics or English class as well as in compulsory first year law classes and skills courses (and perhaps clinics).
I also wonder if the size of the class is relevant. For example, teachers might be more inclined to restrict participation to cold calling in large classes where it's too easy for students to fly under the radar if teachers focus more on voluntary contributions.
As I teach predominantly upper level electives - at least in the last few years - I've tended to utilize the combination of cold calling and volunteers because I figure that students have chosen the classes for interest, many of my classes are overviews of a combination of fields (eg cyberlaw). So I tend to give the students more leeway as to how much they put into the course, making them individually responsible for how much they get out of it. I also generally teach relatively small classes where it's more difficult for students to fly under the radar.
But I'm interested in others' thoughts on the idea of eliminating calling on volunteers altogether and moving to a purely "cold calling" format.