Trends and Issues in Higher Ed

March 8, 2016

What to Know When Using Random Calling

Ben Wiggins, faculty coordinator for instruction and lecturer in biology, shares his top tips on incorporating random calling for a more inclusive and equitable classroom experience.

  • Prepare a randomized list of student names: Don’t rely on yourself to randomly choose a name; instead, develop a system. Wiggins says it can be as simple as using two dice and a numbered list.
    Rolling the dice

    Rolling dice is one low-tech way to use random calling in your class.

  • Frame it as a safe environment: Make it safe for students to speak up when they are called on. “Everybody is on point every day,” says Wiggins. Randomly calling on students helps push those who avoid talking to gain the ability to speak with confidence.
  • Lessen anxiety: “For a small percentage of students, the heightened anxiety may go beyond helpful into something that deters their learning,” says Wiggins. Provide an easy option for students to voluntarily remove (and also re-add) themselves to the list, such as emailing the professor.
  • Remind students of the benefits: From practicing public speaking and persuasive skills to making mental models transparent, help students connect the dots about the ways this learning method benefits them. “Their initial discomfort is often balanced out by the benefits,” he says. “Keep it relevant for students, if only through your own comments about process throughout class.”
  • Make it OK to be wrong: “Passing” on a question should always be an option, but instructors who can create a courageous atmosphere find that this happens relatively rarely. “Did you convince the student, and the rest of the class, that being wrong is a useful part of the process?” queries Wiggins. “If you do that, you’ll feel the class come around with you and they’ll be more engaged on more levels.”

These tips are related to the Innovators Among Us article, “What is your class telling you? detailing research on gender gaps in the classroom.


Eddy, Sarah L., Sara E. Brownell, and Mary Pat Wenderoth. “Gender gaps in achievement and participation in multiple introductory biology classrooms.” CBE-Life Sciences Education 13.3 (2014): 478-492.

Grunspan, Daniel Z., Sarah L. Eddy, Sara E. Brownell, Benjamin L. Wiggins, Alison J. Crowe and Steven M. Goodreau. “Males Under-Estimate Academic Performance of Their Female Peers in Undergraduate Biology Classrooms” PLOS ONE February 10, 2016, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0148405