A question to start
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
- University of Queensland – Face-to-Face Engagement
- University of Waterloo – Active learning activities
- California State University (Los Angeles) – Active learning for the college classroom
- University of Michigan – Engaging students in large classes (video)
- Iowa State University – Implementing activities in a large class to build community (video)
- Hong Kong Polytechnic – Active learning in large class (video)
- Phillip Dawson (2015). “Will the University of Adelaide’s lecture phase-out be a flop?” The Conversation. 3 July 2015. https://theconversation.com/will-the-university-of-adelaides-lecture-phase-out-be-a-flop-44074
- Sarah French & Gregor Kennedy (2017). Reassessing the value of university lectures, Teaching in Higher Education, 22:6, 639-654, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2016.1273213
- David Jacques and Gilly Salmon (2007). Learning in Groups: A Handbook for face-to-face and online environments. 4th edition. New York: Routledge.
- Juraj Petrović & Predrag Pale (2015). “Students’ perception of live lectures’ inherent disadvantages”, Teaching in Higher Education, 20:2, 143-157, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2014.962505
- Vicki Trowler (2010). “Student engagement literature review”, Higher Education Academy. Available: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/resources/detail/evidencenet/Student_engagement_literature_review
- 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.