Part 9: Spring 2019 Labs

167 Tech for Soft Skills – 03.28.2019

Recent research on grades has shown that the majority of what grades measure is student engaged participation in the act of the schooling process (Bowers, 2016). Participation, along with other “soft” skills, like flexibility, leadership, productivity, collaboration, and communication, are important to learn in all disciplines, but they are rarely explicitly taught. In the March 28, 2019 Active Teaching Lab, eleven attendees discussed how technology might factor in to developing skills that are often cultivated and demonstrated through group interaction. 


  • Use tech to facilitate prep and research outside of class, then shift the focus to in-class processes that naturally lend themselves to group collaboration (e.g. brainstorming, problem solving, decision making).
  • Design activities that require students to 1) work in teams, 2) organize their thoughts, 3) communicate with team members, 4) solve a problem, 5) present their findings orally, and 6) evaluate their success through a written document. Activities that push students to work outside of their comfort zone stretch soft skill development (Harris & Rogers, 2008).
  • Take advantage of the vast array of communication examples available to students through technology to help them identify and shape their own communication strategies.
  • Try for resources on promoting active participation on teams. The Team-Based Learning Collaborative aims to support students (and teachers) in recognizing that the traditional, receptive way of being a student is over, and the new expectation of problem-solving skill building with real challenges is better. 
  • Let students lead the learning so they engage in course content based on their own personality and learner needs. For instance, student-curated content with memes can effectively engage learners.
  • Set expectations for group work and refer to them throughout the semester. Making explicit that the team listens to and treats others with respect creates a safer environment for learners to interact.
  • Assign projects with the intention of building team skills, and then try a more challenging project in which students can apply their skills.
  • Build agency for learners and help them understand various opinions through role play. For developing clinical skills, technology provides opportunities for more realistic problem solving through case scenarios and simulations. 

For more information on using tech to build soft skills, visit the session’s activity sheet.


The Active Teaching Lab is a Faculty Engagement program with sessions held on Thursdays from 1:00-2:00pm and Fridays from 8:30-9:45am in the Middleton Building (1305 Linden Dr.), room 120. Check out upcoming Labs or read the recaps from past Labs. We build interdisciplinary conversations that are more emergent than a presenter and more dynamic than a panel — a conversation with colleagues sharing challenges, solutions, and experiments on topics selected by a variety of stakeholders.

Sign up for regular Lab announcements by sending an email to


Active Teaching Lab eJournal Copyright © 2016 by DoIT Academic Technology and the UW-Madison Teaching Academy; Jennifer Hornbaker; John Martin; Julie Johnson; Karin Spader; Margaret Merrill; Margaret Murphy; and Jeffrey Thomas. All Rights Reserved.

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