Listening, Improv, & Fostering Digital Literacy: Discussion in the Post-Election Classroom

[Note: Sources listed/linked at the end]

Last week I was asked to cover a class for a colleague. It was the first class meeting after the election and I was anxious but hopeful about opening up a discussion that would allow all students to voice their opinions and reactions in a calm and respectful way and in doing so, recognizing each student’s right to free speech.

Since I had heard students on campus bemoaning the continuous election conversations, at the beginning of the class I asked students if they wanted to talk about the election. They did. By asking the students whether or not they would like to discuss the election, students’ played an active role in constructing the class session. After they had made their decision, I reminded students that we would be engaging in an inclusive dialogue and would not allow hateful or violent language towards any person or group of people.

Drawing inspiration from an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, I  handed out post-its and asked students to write one word that described their feelings about the election. I asked students if they would like to read their word aloud or if they would prefer me to read the words to the class. They suggested that I read the words and they could claim the word if they wanted to say more. This negotiation process made the activity collaborative, allowing students to determine how the activity and subsequent discussion would be structured.

improvIn the  discussion that followed, students voiced varying opinions but remained respectful to one another. I tried to moderate the discussion by reading the words in an order that did not allow one student or perspective to dominate the conversation. I embraced improv techniques as useful teaching tools, sometimes drawing on the improv tactic “yes, and…”. The discussion was productive and ultimately positive, with almost every student joining in at one point or another.

Preliminary discussion about election emotions lead us to other, tangentially related topics such as the structure of the electoral college, the importance of mid-term elections, and the proliferation of fake news sources. Even though students voiced differing opinions, discussion of these topics was uplifting and hopeful. While I listened, I was reminded of John Dewey’s promotion of civic education and his focus on the importance of developing a community of informed citizens to participate in our ongoing democracy.

Creating spaces that foster open dialogue is the first step in developing an inclusive community where students can converse respectfully about issues that are important to them. Fostering these discussions also requires an increased focus on development of students’ digital literacy because “in the digital world, being able to not only find information online but also determine its quality and validity is crucial”. In a world where a fake news story can go viral, if we want students engaging in informed discussions, teaching them to evaluate information online and view several new sources to develop their opinion is crucial.

For more resources on information literacy at Baruch, User Experience Librarian Stephen Francoeur focuses on how students use references and find information and can assist professors with incorporating these skills into their course.

If you would like to learn more about discussion strategies for the post-election classroom or tactics for developing students digital literacy, please also feel free to contact me, Laurie Hurson, Hybrid Coordinator in Baruch’s Center for Teaching and Learning. (


Listening for Student Voices” by Chris Friend and Sean Michael Morris in Hybrid Pedagogy (2013)

One University Asks: How Do You Promote Free Speech Without Alienating Students?” by Beth McMurtrie in The Chronicle of Higher Education (2016)

Diversity and Inclusive Teaching Resources from Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching

Lesson Plans After the Shock: How Instructors Treated Trump’s Win in the Classroom” by Fernanda Zamudio-Suaréz  in The Chronicle of Higher Education (2016)

Gifts of the Moment: Learning to Listen and Respond Through Improvisation” by Chris Kreiser in Hybrid Pedagogy (2016)

How Improv Can Open Up the Mind to Learning in the Classroom and Beyond” by Linda Flanagan from KQED (2015) (Image source )

Civic Education” from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

From Written to the Digital: The New Literacy” by Phillip Ventimiglia and George Pullman
from Educause Review (2016)

How Fake News Goes Viral: A Case Study” by Sapna Maheshwari from The New York Times (November 20, 2016)

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