Engagement

Day 2: Discussion and activity strategies

A question to start

Activity:

What was the best lecture experience you ever had, as an audience member? It may have been a course you took in your own studies, a public lecture, a presentation by a colleague, or a conference keynote. What aspects of the presenter’s technique, speech, or style made it so memorable?

Bearing that in mind, let’s look at our own teaching practices and share some ideas.

Limitations of the traditional lecture format

A teacher addresses a lecture theatre.

In the literature we discussed yesterday, several of the authors (French & Kennedy 2016, Petrovic & Pale, 2015) shared specific issues that can be common within the lecture format, including:

  • Cognitive load (content can be overwhelming for students)
  • Larger classes can contribute to poorer student outcomes
  • Little time for formative feedback
  • Range of prior knowledge of students
  • Can be passive experience for students
  • Seating is fixed in tiers

Today, we will share some simple strategies for student engagement that you can use in your large-group teaching.

Managing the pace and volume of content

As Dawson (2015) points out, very few contemporary lectures are uninterrupted 60 minute monologues. A common strategy to avoid cognitive overload in students, and to provide opportunities for formative feedback, are to break the content into discreet “chunks”, and vary the pace of the class. “Researchers call this ‘learner pacing’ and it has been found to help students manage the cognitive demands of their studies.” (Dawson 2015) Having a well-timed activity can give students a chance to review and remember what they have just seen in the presentation, ask questions, or get some feedback before moving on to a new topic. For example, you can present a specific concept, do an activity related to that concept to check student understanding, and then move on to the next concept.

In tomorrow’s post we will explore some technologies which can be used to collect student feedback in large groups, but here are a few quick activities you can try which are designed to bring critical thinking skills and active learning approaches.

Creating community in your class

Students value class time as an opportunity to learn from and socialise with peers as part of their informal learning (Petrovic & Pale, 2015). As we discussed in detail in our previous course on the topic, active and collaborative learning is a vital component of student engagement, as well as the social and participatory aspects of learning (Trowler 2010). For these reasons, most active learning strategies involve student discussions and peer instruction.

Discussion and activity ideas

Here are a few suggestions of activities you could do in order to vary the pace and get students discussing the topics.

Think-Pair-Share

This technique allows students to take a moment to reflect on challenging content, and consider how well they understand it. It also gets students talking to each other. The lecturer poses a challenging question, and gets students to take just a minute or two to write down some responses to that question on their own. Then, they share with another person (or two) what they came up with and discuss their responses. After a few minutes of discussion, the lecturer opens it up to a whole class discussion.

Benefits of this strategy

  • It’s quick – only takes a few minutes and no technologies.
  • Students get to know each other through a short conversation
  • It helps gives students a chance to come up with answers to a question, and check their answers with a peer, before the whole class discussion.

Snowball

A chart showing the snowball activity building from 2 to 4 to 8 people.
Example of a snowball group activity (Jacques and Salmon 2007).

This is a slightly more structured version of the Think-Pair-Share, where students first think on their own, then in pairs, then pairs combine to groups of 4, then groups of 4 combine to groups of 8, and so on. This is perfect for breaking up a complex concept into something more manageable, as the questions for each increasing size of group are more and more sophisticated.

Line-ups

This option gets students up and out of their seats for a minute, and discussing things with peers. It helps students determine their position on an issue and gets them to share their opinions or ideas with peers. Students are asked to stand in a line or move to one side of the room based on their perspective on an issue. They will need to negotiate with their peers to establish where in the spectrum they should place themselves.

For example:

An example of how a line-up activity might work.

Benefits of this strategy

  • A short break and some physical activity
  • Informal negotiation and discussion between students
  • Visible representation of opinions and perspectives in the class

Minute Paper

We will cover student response activities in detail tomorrow, but one quick strategy you can use that doesn’t require technology is the minute paper. It is particularly useful for the end of class, where you ask students to take 1 minute to write down on a piece of paper their responses to one or two quick questions which ask them to reflect on how they found the material. It could be content-specific (ie: “What was Bourdieu’s theory of habitus?” or “What is the activation energy for a chemical reaction?”) or a more broad question (“What is the main thing you learned today?” or “What is the most confusing or difficult thing from today’s class?”).

Benefits of this strategy

  • Very quick to do
  • Students can reflect and share on how they are going
  • Minute papers are easily handed in at the end of class for teaching staff to review
  • Gives teaching staff an understanding of how the class is going, informs review or future classes

There are many, many, many more strategies out there!

Here are several resources with great ideas you can try.

References

Discussion questions

  • Have you used strategies like this before? What was your experience?
  • Which of these activities do you think might work for your teaching? Tell us about how you might apply one of these techniques and in what way.
  • What are some of the possible issues you might encounter from using these techniques? How might you address them?

We’d love for you to comment on each other’s posts and share ideas on what works in your discipline and provide advice.

 

 

58 thoughts on “Day 2: Discussion and activity strategies

  1. I’ve used all of these methods before and they are all quite useful. However when lecture rooms and numbers get beyond the 150 mark some of them become less effective (like the think-pair part works, not so much the share across a big lecture room). Sometimes a simple show of hands for questions is also effective. So is walking up and down the lecture theatre as you talk and discuss things with students.

    I’d like to know what others have found useful – especially in the big lecture theatre context

    1. I have used my “trivial pursuit technique” (see post below) in larger lecture theatres David. However, I find the traditional lecture theatre with its row-seating isn’t ideal for activities such as this: students can’t move their seats, it is difficult for students to engage with students in other rows and the space around the seats is cramped and stepped, so moving students around is cumbersome. Thus, I try to book alternative venues, although I am lucky that my classes are typically <60 so this is feasible for me, and perhaps not for you (although some of the new large science labs would be great alternative venues for lectures regardless of discipline).

  2. I haven’t used all of these techniques, so this is helpful advice. Occasionally my whole lecture is run like trivial pursuit: I ask students to form small groups, I then pose a question, they record an answer and then I discuss the question and reveal the “correct” answer at the end of a five-minute explanation. I repeat this for about 10 questions through the lecture. SELT feedback suggests many students like this. It engages them in the topic since they have an investment in my answer (which is frequently disputed which is something I don’t get as much in “normal” lecture mode and suggests good engagement). I offer a prize to the winning group which promotes a bit of friendly rivalry. This exercise can be done with, or without technology. However, there are always those students who don’t engage well in a group situation, so I am aware that I need to mix-up activities so there are opportunities for individual engagement.

    1. Hi Phil, great idea about mixing up activities to give different types of learners the best chance to engage at some point. But I do like the sound of the trivial pursuit!

  3. I typically don’t have big classes, only 80-100 in my bigger courses. In my 15 years or so teaching experience I found one thing constant: the variety of student cohorts. While a technique works well in one year, it does not in another. I also noted, that sometimes it only depends on 1 or a few students who can influence the cohort’s attitude towards changes. If I’m able to identify those ‘leaders’ and can convince them about my intentions, I usually can successfully engage the whole class. However, if I can’t, it is much harder (and more painful) experience, as students do not get as much out of our teaching as we have hoped for. In view of our ever increasing work load, I’m afraid, we don’t always have the time or luxury to take this ‘extra mile’, as it does take quite a bit of extra time and energy. In this case, the only thing we can do is, to do our best and do it enthusiastically and with a smile. I found that that is often contagious. (And then again, we always have students full of negativity who are not willing to be taken on an exciting journey, and won’t engage. I believe, we need to cater for those who are eager and willing to learn, and not trying to please everyone, which is impossible anyway).

  4. Phil, I love that Trivial Pursuit idea!

    And I’m also very taken by your comment about the variety in the student cohorts, Krisztina.

    Just building on that, I wonder to what extent you build into your lecture plans a number of different options that you can use depending on how a particular lecture is progressing? Do you find yourself trying to adapt to these things in-lecture or progressively, over a semester (or a bit of both, perhaps?)

    Thanks,
    Ben.

    1. it is a bit of both. I do have a lecture plan that includes certain activities/approaches (say colouring in an naming structures). However, as I go I can see if the students’ eyes are getting glazed over or they just simply copy directly what I’m doing. this is when I stop and give questions or start a discussion to lead them to the relevance of the knowledge of that particular concept. Getting the students know better over the semester also helps, to come up with good approaches, though that is not always possible when I teach into a bigger program and my subject is randomly distributed within the curriculum.

  5. I like the ideas to break up the lecture into ‘chunks’ using active learning techniques. I must confess that I have been breaking my lectures into 20 min chunks by have a 5 min break to chat to the student next to you. It makes sense I could use that time more constructively. As we go about restructuring our lectures we will need to consider the Echo360 audience. I suspect the answer is we pause the video while these activities occur so we dont have ‘dead air’ as the radio announcers call it.

    1. Hi David, great point about the Echo360 audience. I once saw a colleague do a really great lecture where she addressed the Echo audience during the class, and gave them an alternative activity or suggested ways they coudl participate after the class. She explained the activity to the people in the room, then said “If you are watching this as a recording, take this time to consider the question to yourself and write a response in the forum.” Such a great idea!

      1. Many of my students are forced to use the Echo360 recordings because of timetable clashes. However, it does not record any class interactions very well. Often I am limited to the lectern mic (because the radio mic is not charged) . The recording does not capture the comments or questions coming from the audience, and it does not capture my voice if I move away from the mic. It is good to have ideas about how to work around this. Better ability to post-edit the Ech360 recording would help… e.g. cut it and add in some voice comments to direct the online class. Similar to how Katie says it above, but that relies on me remembering to say it during the activity.

  6. My favourite strategy is often called a “Jigsaw”. I have the students break up into small groups, give each group a different question or short assignment, give them time to come up with a response, and then have one person from each group present the group’s result. I found that they key for this to work is to reward all of the students by collating the results and then giving each individual person access to the summary. This strategy works well for covering lots of definitions or reviewing topics before an exam or quiz. I also like this strategy because more reserved students can contribute to the answer in the small group but don’t have to feel like they have to be in the limelight and talk to the entire class.

    1. Hi Rebecca,
      Thanks for that suggestion – I am also a big fan of the jigsaw! It worked wonders in my tutorial groups when I was teaching, and I agree it is a good one for students who are more shy. Have you ever tried it in a very large class? I was wondering if it can work with bigger numbers of students and would like to hear how it went for you.

      1. I did try this with a class of ~100. It worked well, but the key was that our lectures were held in the COS lecture theatre (the ‘red building’). Students are positioned around individual tables and they can naturally work together. The best thing about it was that while we did not have a chance to hear from every group because of limitation of time, they all worked hard as we could randomly choose the group from the lecture console to show the group’s work on the main screen. Unfortunately, later we had to abandon these activities as we were not allocated the COS theatre any more (despite requesting it). But it was great while it lasted…

        1. I’ve used the jigsaw approach (didn’t realise this technique had a name!) in a few end-of-semester review lectures for 40-50 students (as well as regularly in tutes). The approach generally worked well in terms of student engagement with the specific theme assigned to a group for reflection, and the student responses were then incorporated into the slides as a record of class discussion for those unable to attend. Like Krisztina, my main challenge when using this technique in lectures is time management – it’s always a hard decision to curtail solid discussion in order to get across each group.

        2. Krisztina, this shows how important the physical design of learning spaces can be. It looks as though the Union Court development will result in a few large, flexible learning spaces, so watching that development with interest!

    2. What a great technique. Has anyone used a more automated method to collate the groups’ responses, ie, have students type their group’s results into a google doc or a course-page forum designated for that purpose?

  7. Krisztina’s comment that each year is different is salutory – thanks.
    I have tried a break around a central table to physically engage with a concept. However, there are other challenging aspects which I struggle to think of alternative ways of getting the message across, so I use repetition.
    I can see activities favouring those attending the lecture and those listening to recordings having to fast forward and missing out.

  8. I like the line-up method, especially when introducing different techniques solving similar questions. The whole topic can be started with a simple but interesting question, and introduce a simple solution to this question. Then, when more knowns are given or some assumptions are released, tell students why the original method is now wrong or not that effective and give them a better tool.
    For the snowball method, though, I wonder if it would be useful given there are around 600 students enrolled in some introductory post-grad courses last semester. It would be a mess if we let them discuss on their own, but they provide little feedback in the lecture. I would prefer this technique in tutorials. With around 20 students in the class, they will have a chance to talk about their ideas, feedbacks or questions; and when facing a small audience, they will be more confident and know that their ‘stupid questions’ are only known by 20, not 600, classmates.

    1. HI Tony, thanks for your contribution. When there are as large numbers as 600 it is quite difficult to think of easy techniques to engage the students. This is where I think you will find tomorrow’s session useful, as with large numbers, sometimes using technology for things like polling and “back channels” for chat can make interaction more of a realistic possibility.

    2. I did try this with a class of ~100. It worked well, but the key was that our lectures were held in the COS lecture theatre (the ‘red building’). Students are positioned around individual tables and they can naturally work together. The best thing about it was that while we did not have a chance to hear from every group because of limitation of time, they all worked hard as we could randomly choose the group from the lecture console to show the group’s work on the main screen. Unfortunately, later we had to abandon these activities as we were not allocated the COS theatre any more (despite requesting it). But it was great while it lasted…
      Tony’s comment on ‘stupid question’ reminded me that when I first try to engage students in discussions during a lecture or tutorial and they are all very shy to start, I tell them that I’m actually looking forward of hearing a wrong answer as that will give me an idea of what is not clear in my explanation and allow me to correct that. I guess by turning it around and saying that them not knowing the right answer is ‘my fault’ makes it easier for them to open up, because usually students start to relax afterwards and become more engaged.

      1. My only concern with any of these methods is timing. The activity would need to be relevant as well as engaging to justify the time spent. Though short, quick spurts of activity would be enough to check learning, further consolidate ideas and get the students moving. Thank you Krisztina.

  9. Thinking about my own best lecture experience is not necessarily helpful. One of the biggest challenges for lecturers is the changing nature of the student cohort and the diversity they are faced with in the lecture room. The audience are no longer clones of our academic selves 20 years ago. What worked best for me is not going to work best for the majority of my current students. I quite like a 60 minute monologue, as long as I am motivated about the topic!

    In my current lectures, I think I do a good job of throwing material at the students… I carefully manage the pace and amount of content; using signposting and chunking of sections. I also add videos or online demonstration to vary the delivery. It is still mostly a passive learning experience for the students though. The lectures get good SELT scores, but I would still like to add more active components to better stimulate engagement in a wider section of the class.

    One comment in the material stood out to me… Dr Brooke (Iowa State) mentioned the importance of starting active engagement from day one. She said that if you don’t do it on the first day, it sets the tone for the students to be passive throughout the semester. I think the students’ expectation of passive learning makes them harder to interact with in lectures. This semester I teach lectures to students who are in the final two weeks of their 3 years of courses. If every other lecture in the course (or even in the whole degree program) has been the traditional passive monologue, it is hard to change the students’ mind set quickly. Maybe classes should not always be advertised as “lectures”. Changing the title might change students’ expectations and promote more interaction.

    1. Hi Brian, I really like your point about the use of language. The word “lecture” certainly does imply a certain passivity or one way deliver even though we know it is not always so. “Workshop” or “Active Class” or “Practical Class” probably sound more promising in terms of engagement. At the same time I am well aware that students who have many outside pressures such as holding down jobs to survive probably welcome the “down” time offered by passively sitting in on a lecture.

    2. My experience has also been that it is important to start active engagement in the first lecture of the semester, otherwise students get into a habit of sitting passively. Next time I teach I’m going to make more effort to break the ice in the Week 1 lecture.

  10. * Have you used strategies like this before? What was your experience?

    I have tried using these strategies, but found the physical constraints of a lecture room and students expectations of a “lecture” too constraining for it to be workable.

    * What are some of the possible issues you might encounter from using these techniques?

    It is unsafe to have people move about in a lecture theater with a stepped floor. It is very difficult for them to work in groups when the seating is fixed to point to the front of the room. A student going to a “lecture theater” for a “lecture” expects to sit passively and be lectured at. As only 30% turn up this can’t be a key part of their education.
    I have also tried an active computer assisted approach with specialized sessions in the ANU’s computer labs, which have flat floors. But the bulky desktop workstations got in the way of people-to-people communication: they could not easily talk to each other, or see me.

    * How might you address them?

    I suggested ANU build new teaching spaces with flat floors and I retreated to on-line learning in the interim. I asked for rooms with flat floors, movable walls, furniture on wheels and white-board walls. Also I asked for some rooms which would convert to stepped seating at the touch of a button, for conventional lectures. These features are being provided in the new ANU Union Court development, in about eighteen months time.

  11. Hi All

    I convened my first full course last year and I was very keen to include exercises and class discussion. In practice, I found it much harder than I expected to engage the students in thinking deeply about the material – which was why I was interested in taking this course. This year I would like to be more strategic: I think that having more prescriptive activities during the first few weeks of lectures will help encourage engagement. In later weeks I can then try to move towards more open ended questions and discussions.

    Of the techniques mentioned, or linked to in this blog, I particularly like:
    – Peer Instruction: posing questions and polling answers,
    – Think, pair, share for quick calculations and conceptual questions
    – The CalState Question and Answers section and the Uni Waterloo Question Strategies

    I also really like Phil’s trivial pursuits concept!

    Thanks for all the thought provoking suggestions!
    Fiona

    1. Hi Fiona, great idea to build up to more open-ended activities over time. Hopefully once the students know each other a bit better and are used to engaging in interactive discussions, they will feel more comfortable working independently. Scaffolding the skill!

  12. Hi all
    I think all of the strategies would be fine in appropriate situations, and I think that we need to choose among them based on the materials that we want to teach. For instance, the first and second strategies would be appropriate for theoretical subjects like philosophy and the third one would be work well for computational courses like math, physics and so on

  13. David, to address the problem of those in the room versus remote students, I have proposed adding a live recording function to webinar software. The idea would be that a remote student could watch live and take part in interactive activities using the text chat and polling functions already built into webinar systems. The clever bit is they could also pause the session and watch later, but still take part in the interactive activities as if in real time. This is technically possible, but I am yet to convince anyone to build it.

  14. I try to base my lectures on the style of two of the best teachers I have hair in my life. One of them was my teacher when I was in year 11 and 12 and the other was in my postagraduate university life here at ANU. The two styles are mostly complementary but still quite different from each other. They have both had a great impact on my life in general. The lectures were traditonal in one sense but did not follow exactly the mould of a standard lecture. Here I believe the inherent personalities and characteristics of the 2 teachers had a great impact on their teaching style. Through the delivery of the content they were able to mesmerise the students and brought about true appreciation and understanding of the subject material.

    On the topic of the various ideas discussed in today’s blog I have not used many of the approaches mentioned here. I teach very technical subjects which do not naturally allow for these approaches to be used effectively. I have used tools like poll everywhere in my courses but to varying degree of success. But I should say that my natural way of lecturing is to divide my material into smaller chunks. And after teaching each chunk of material I typically follow it up with an example of its application or use. I am planning to introduce some video lectures starting from next semester but these are aimed at supplementing the content covered in the lectures rather than replacing them.

    1. Abhinav, great idea about using video lectures to supplement your lectures! Students always appreciate these extra support materials.

  15. My best lecture experiences have been where the presenter has managed a balance of theory and anecdotes and has shown genuine interest in the topic they are discussing. For me, this makes an engaging experience. But as others have noted this may not work for everyone. The discussion activities would not work in the lecture format that I have experience with, sometimes due to physical limitations of the lecture theatre and distribution of students, and sometimes due to the content. I also think the tutorials are the opportunity to reflect on lecture content and discuss more freely. But I do like the idea of managing and being mindful of pace and content. I think short breaks give students the opportunity to elect what works best for them – whether it’s talking to a peer, getting a coffee, having a stretch, googling queries that have arisen during the presentation, or just making comprehensive notes.

  16. Sorry, I cannot comment on lecture strategies for classes as large as 150 or many more. My own experience has been that of feeling quite isolated, remote and not addressed as a person there to learn and have a shared learning experience. But that is the difficulty when you sit in an auditorium with another 200-300 fellow students. As David pointed out the suggested strategies to create more interaction. What I do believe could make a positive difference is to vary lecture pace and style. A I really like and think it is a great strategy what Kryzstina said about abandoning the powerpoint stream when it seemed to become ineffective.

    My current experience are small classes. I find it quite effective what some of my colleague do. First they are very clear about what they want students to take away from their lecture. Secondly, they time it so that there is room for question and discussion. Who can digest a 50 min firework of information anyways? Third they present the material often as simple graphics., illustrated with “case” studies. Where possible they “lighten up” their lecture by going into tangents that are funny or socially relevant or just tell something that relates to the subject but brings them in as a human, e.g. something that happened to them that entertains. Fourth, they talk to the students… They walk around often amidst the first tables and don’t hide behind a lectern. They ask questions and encourage students to interrupt whenever something comes to mind, a question, a comment anything relevant (from the students’ perspective).

    The particular course structure create a sense of belonging together, since each larger topic is dealt with in lecture followed by 2 discussion session where students lead critical discussion of recent research publications in small groups. The close face to face interaction between students and with the staff facilitators seems to generate a very supportive atmosphere. Usually, the more outspoken students try to involved the more shy in reserved ones, and I found it amazing how involved and innovative student discussion leader can become to take charge and do their best to get the discussion up and running in a productive manner. Again, this is not so easy in really large classrooms.

    Looking forward to hear some ideas along those lines.

    1. Hi Britta, thanks for sharing these valuable strategies of your colleagues, they all sound great methods to offer students the most effective and engaging learning in a lecture situation.

  17. I know that this sounds like “a dog ate my homework” excuse but after much time and thought crafting my lengthy reply, my post was not captured and thus deleted since the CAPTCHA code I submitted was not recognised or accepted. Arghh! (You can use Turnitin to confirm that I did not plagiarise the preceding excuse/comment.)

    If this is okay, I’d rather not have to spend the time recreating my earlier comments. Next time I’ll make a copy of my submission as backup.

    My apologies.

    1. Hi Paul, how frustrating, I don’t think we, the facilitators are aware that Captcha is behaving in such an unforgiving way! So far I have been lucky when commenting via the Captcha authentication. We should look into this problem.

      1. HI Paul, Oh no!! I’m really sorry that happened. I will see if I can change the CAPTCHA requirements for the blog so it doesn’t happen again. Don’t worry — we believe you!

  18. I haven’t used all of these techniques. I break my lecture into small sections. At the end of each 15-20 minutes section, I ask students to break up into small groups and ask them a question on the readings I shared with them a day before to discuss among themselves. At times, I break them into pairs, at other times I break them into groups of 4-6. Bu as Krisztina said, every cohort is different and different techniques work for different people. My classes are also not very large, normally 20-40 students which are quite manageable.
    I found lectures with anecdotes and small activities very useful for myself. Lectures where teachers only looks at the board or gives a planned talk without a break were always painful for me and I am sure they are for the other students as well.

  19. As well as the jigsaw and think-pair-share techniques, I’ve used a variation on the Minute paper at the end of lectures. Borrowing the technique from a colleague of mine, I introduce an overarching question near the beginning of the lecture as a way of providing a focus for the material to come, and then ideally have time at the end to listen to/discuss student responses and add their comments to a final slide, by way of a second conclusion. This has generally received positive feedback as a way of engaging students in the lecture. However, ensuring that the students are given a half-minute or so to reflect on the lecture in light of the question along the lines of the Minute paper would probably stimulate more considered responses – time management is a constant challenge for me in overseeing interaction/activities so this needs some work on my part. I also really liked Krisztina’s strategy of turning the onus onto the lecturer for the nature of the students’ responses as a way to encourage interaction. Thanks!

  20. The physical design of lecture rooms at UPNG restrict how we conduct classes, but I do use the ‘think-pair-share’ method. I will try the ‘minute paper’ and ‘line-ups’ in the tutorials which are smaller in student number. Possible issue could be males dominating process due to cultural reasons, so could split the group into male and female and work within these groups.

    My ‘best’ lectures are memorable due to the combination of content and how the lecturer delivered the content – with enthusiasm and natural confidence.
    Thank you

  21. I’ve used a variation of the think-pair-share. I was teaching a course in the School of Art & Design about colour and composition and for the first lecture I wanted the students to think deeply about colour, identify students that struggled to mix coloured paints and build a sense of community. After the introduction lecture on the course I gave students an extended coffee break in which time I asked them to spend about 15 minutes writing down descriptions of as many colours as they could see as accurately described as they could in words. When we returned from the coffee break I introduced the students to the materials available and asked them to swap their list of colour descriptions with another person and then mix that person’s list of colours as well as closely as they could. We then followed this with a class discussion of colour descriptions and the colours that the students generated from these.

    It got students to see how colour was both subjective and intersubjective but also revealed colour connotation across different generations. Different interpretations of ‘teal’ for example pointed to discussions of students having worked in the textile industry and how different time periods have anchored coloured labels differently over time. It also helped to build community in the subject. It would be interesting to see this adapted for the Snowball to see what would result with a greater build up of engagement through others. I’m getting ideas for an intermediary step where two pairs have a discussion together about the colour and then the group discussion becomes about their observations rather than a group discussion about the results of the colour mixing.

  22. Some of the comments from others have really resonated with me. The first is the idea of ‘setting the tone’ on the first day. Upfront in that first lecture I like to give the message that discussing ideas together (participation) is a big part of our course (we largely focus on conceptual ideas and applied research, rather than rote learning or practical tasks in our course). As it is a Masters level course, I also like to convey that the lecturers are approachable and here to not only guide and teach the students, but also to learn and develop ideas with them. I’ve also found scaffolding useful, and usually make the interactive tasks gentle and relatively easy in the first few weeks, building up to some more challenging interactions as the course goes on. I also really like the idea of a few ‘trivia’ breaks within the lecture – thanks, I think I’ll use that one!

  23. I also liked the idea of setting the right tone on the first day. If you start off the wrong way, students will remember and it is much harder to get back into their “good books”. On the other hand, if you start off with a firework it will also be hard to keep up to the expectations.
    I also agree, that lecture theatres, as we have them at ANU, do not work well for activities needing students to move around and the recording does make it hard for lecturers to move around. I have had the feedback as well that my voice might be of good quality (I am told I have a teacher’s voice so project quite well even without microphone close by) any student answers or feedback was lost on the recording.
    I think there are a lot of different issues to be considered and in the end we have to make the best of what we have.
    Breaking up the content and making students reflect and discuss is certainly a good way to get them actively engaged. My feedback was generally good when students had the opportunity to voice their ideas and opinions.

  24. I’m convening a course this coming semester that I tutored in last year and am keen to substantially improve its outcomes. It’s interesting the different barriers that people find to making group work well within lectures. We actually had a very flexible space, a flat room with no fixed furniture that students could easily move around in. However, the three years before last year, the class had had around 45 students, who were broken up into repeat lectures which were then run as essentially lecture/tutorials with lots of interactive activities etc, basically more like a workshop. However on the first day of class we realised we had 110 students! Perhaps this is also a function of not being allocated more tutorial support as well, but we found trying to do group activities with so many groups led to quite superficial outcomes, and superficial interactions with the students because if you needed to get around to check 8-10 groups were doing ok and understood the question in a 10 minute session then you only had a minute or so with each group, which isnt going to lead to super complex discussions. This was also compounded when when we tried to fit in lots of groups feeding back, but when there was limited group feedback the students felt like they had wasted their time a bit (not that learning is actually ever wasted but you get the idea!) Large student numbers in lectures obviously doesnt mean you cant take this approach in lectures, but I think it shows that your activities or expectation management does need to change given how many students you have. Not all approaches will work for all numbers.
    I dont think we will have as many students this year so it probably isn’t a continuing issue us, but it has meant that we have decided to seperately allocate tutorial time in order to ensure we ge a chance to have deeper discussions with the students.

  25. I have found that not all students will engage in the paired or greater number discussions, usually using it to just chat.
    Getting all students to stand up and then sit down according to their view on something rather than a show of hands gets them moving and interacting a bit more and can wake them up.

  26. I tried most of the strategies mentioned above and am always on the look out for innovative ideas that can help students to learn through reflection, interaction, and discussion. So it has been great to read about the many methods other lecturers use.

    I always find Think-Pair-Share works well, especially in the kind of classroom settings we are confined with. This is also a great way to get international students more actively involved in the lectures.

    An issue I am confronted with at the moment is how to balance the needs between undergraduate and postgraduate students in the same lecture.

  27. I’ve tried most of the strategies mentioned above, but nothing beyond a tutorial/lecture class size of 40 and in one of those CBE lecture theatres with a horseshoe configuration. This really helped to facilitate class discussion as well as discussion within groups and pairs. These activities helped to break the monotony and fostered a sense of belonging among students, as they got to know each other better and felt more comfortable speaking up in class. The greatest improvement through these group activities came from international students who speak English as a second language, as they let their guards down and interact with their peers. Interestingly, with such activities, I also found that it could be potentially disadvantageous if students were placed in the same group with their good friends, as proper discussion often became another informal chit-chat session.

  28. Hi,
    My sincere apologies I am very late to sitting down with my cup of coffee to participate in this series. I am due to submit my thesis at the end of the year, I have just finished marking for a course, caught a cold, and have an 11 month old baby to chase after during the days. Time has just slipped away from me, but I am catching up on all the posts and comments now. I just want to say how fantastic these blog posts and subsequent discussions are! I think there is still so much potentiality in lectures. The activities suggested in this post are really useful. Some I have used in tutorials, but hadn’t thought to use them in relation to a lecture. Thinking to some of my favourite lectures and the style or presentation approach used, I think that there is no one way of delivering a lecture. Instead I think about the content of a particular lecture and what approach, and activities might be most useful to communicate and engage that material to/and with students. Similarly, depending on if it is a first year course or a later year course and the content I might then adjust the style. I teach in the social sciences. I have tutored and given guest lectures, but looking to convene a course in the near future. What I think I lack most is confidence, and my nervousness makes me a bit forgetful in front of an audience. Having a detailed script as well as these activities to support me should really make me feel more confident. Looking forward to catching up on the rest of the posts.

    1. Hi Briony, no worries at all! You are welcome to participate at any time, so thanks for taking the time to join us! It sounds like you have so much on at work and at home! I’m glad the activities in the course are useful for you – are you planning to try any of them in particular? Thanks!

  29. I’ve just realised that most of my own education was predominantly through a “flipped classroom”.
    A favourite undergrad lecturer always made a point of explaining that “this kind of education needs to be a two way relationship between teacher and student… the more you bring to the table the more you will take away”. I once asked this lecturer why she decided to teach, her answer was “there is no point me having this passionate interest if I cannot share and instigate that passion within others”.

    Much of my own 17 years of teaching has approached a flipped classroom in a similar way, but not a two way relationship, but through responsive group relationships, where all students learn from each other within frameworks lead by me.

    Through visiting other art schools worldwide over the last decade, it seem to be the common approach to teaching within creative practice.

    Most of my classes are based around directing of students through the development of their own creative portfolio of works. First task in week one, they are set some basic parameters for their own independent research into artists who are exploring ideas they feel they could develop further within their own project; they are identifying their problem to solve. The next week they bring that research, which becomes the foundation for class discussion involving many forms of active learning to formulate/articulate a directive for their idea development and material explorations within class time, and further critical feedback. Thankfully in class sizes of no more than 20, this can be intense and exhausting but also builds.

    Students always seem more engaged if their own ideas and interests can be directly related to the course content, this also gives them a greater personal sense of benefit and responsibility to become further engaged.

    Yet at the same time, if students do not do the required research for the following week, this can be a precarious model, where “flipped” turns to “flop” very easily.

  30. My best lecture experience is still easy to recall and it is the reason I ended up doing an MSc (and therefore, continuing in academia). It was a very engaging lecture all about the lecturer’s research in Antarctica. It was filled with engaging anecdotes and amazing photos and I was so enthralled that I went and spoke to him afterwards (which I’d never done)!

    Have you used strategies like this before? What was your experience?
    I have used minute papers this year, and I found them to be a really useful way to get feedback from the students wrt what they understood well and what they struggled with. I then set aside a 5-10 min period at the beginning of the next class to go over common areas of difficulty and I got really good feedback from the students about this approach. Not least of which, I think they really appreciated that I cared about their learning.

    Which of these activities do you think might work for your teaching? Tell us about how you might apply one of these techniques and in what way.
    This year, I ended up having to fit 3 lectures into one lecture slot plus two practical days due to my own travel constraints. So, next year, when I have the full 3 lecture slots plus the two practical days, I want to spend some more time on methods such as Think-Pair-Share. I have used this method as a student before and I think it really helps with retention of material as well as development/discussion beyond the raw material.

    What are some of the possible issues you might encounter from using these techniques? How might you address them?
    I think students could be not overly keen to get up and move around. They might be shy, or might have other factors that would inhibit them from talking amongst each other and/or in front of the rest of the class. I think you can help to address this by doing anonymous polls (e.g. Socrative) to get things started so that you can get a feel for opinions without having to put anyone on the spot.

  31. I would agree with Angela above that the lectures I enjoyed the most were the ones that were not strictly ‘content-focused’, but reflected the lecturer’s personality and (research) experiences.
    I have used most of these techniques, and I think that breaking up the lecture into shorter chunks is useful for both students and the lecturer. Students get to catch up and clarify things, while the lecturer can evaluate the uptake of material and adapt and restructure the rest of the lecture on the go if need be.

  32. Personally, I am not a fan of the line-up idea. I think it’s difficult to get students moving and it would take up a lot of time in the lecture. On the other hand, it does depend on the topic of the lecture, I could see this being very useful when the topic is opinion-based and there is no right answer, but not when there’s a right or a wrong.

    I have used the minute paper a few times in my teaching, and I really like the way it gets students reflecting on their learning straight away. I have also had feedback from students who have said that they really like having the collection of minute papers at the end of the semester so they can look back on their learning.

    I do think though that these activities are low-stress ways to get students interacting with one another, which is a useful outcome beyond their learning. They are all very suitable to a range of personality and learning types, but also give everyone a chance to engage.

  33. One of the best lectures I’ve attended used storytelling. I like to listen to stories that I can relate to. And because it can happen to me, I listen. And I remember. The lecturer was so skillfull in weaving the important concepts thru the story. The audience also played a part in the story and there was a small group discussion and sharing to the class. It was amazing how the small group discussion and sharing to the class took just about 10 minutes. But it elicited a lot of questions and brought up a lot of unclear concepts which the lecturer enthusiastically answered during the session.

    As to my own lectures, I have used the minute paper a couple of times though it usually ends up to be a 10 minute paper. I love how students look like they’ve been struck by lightning the first time I let them do it. I often ask a simple question like – What is the main thing you learned today? or What was not clear? But apparently it’s not a simple question.

    I love how the minute paper allows the students to quickly reflect and articulate that reflection. If I get the chance, I’d try out the other strategies mentioned in this module.

  34. Some of the ideas in this post and in everyone’s comments sound great. I’m going to keep this page bookmarked for future reference! I’ve heard of think-pair-share and minute papers before but I haven’t tried them. I think that I might use these to break up two-hour lectures. A strategy I might use is to deliver three mini-lectures over the two hours and between each one, set a think-pair-share or minute paper break to get the students to review the content of the mini-lecture and then have a short discussion before moving on to the next mini-lecture.
    I looked at the link above to the Uni of Waterloo. Some of the activity ideas were great. One that I thought I might use they call “crowd sourcing”, where you get everyone to call out everything they think they know about a topic, and you write these up on a whiteboard. The students then help you organise the different comments into categories, and the last stage is to comment on or correct the different pieces of information. They suggest using this on the first day of a course to get started on the topic. I think I’ll use this in the first lecture of my course next semester, because in that particular course my first aim is to pull apart the students’ preconceptions about the topic. I think it would also a good way to get to know what the students do know so you understand the base they’re starting from.
    It was interesting that one of the commenters here said that you need to start these activities from the start to get the students into the right mindset for active learning for the rest of the semester. This crowd sourcing exercise would be the perfect way to kick off, I think.

  35. This model of a more interactive lecture really resonates with me. I like to ask students questions during my lectures. I frequently also use think-pair-share in my lectures to try and break up the material and check students’ comprehension. I haven’t used Line-ups before but I am interested in giving them a go. One problem with Line-ups, however, is that they may not be practical depending on the size of the class or the classroom. I cannot imagine them working particularly well in a tiered lecture theatre, but they might be effective in a smaller seminar environment.

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