Deep and Interactive Learning in Lectures
Written by Glen O’Grady and Frederick Chew, The Australian National University
The idea that lectures can foster deep learning through interactivity challenges the misnomer that lectures are, or should be, essentially didactic in nature.
A series of studies led by the renown Physicist and Nobel award winner Carl Wieman (Wieman, 2017; Deslauriers et.al, 2011), found that students engaged in active learning did twice as well on knowledge tests than those undertaking a traditional lecture and were more likely to attend a lecture that was interactive.
These studies were intended to explore the effects of active learning, but they have also been used to dismiss lectures and criticize them for being outdated and ineffective in learning. This can create an unfortunate binary way of thinking about modes of teaching – with certain modes being described as inherently active and fostering deep learning and others that are essentially didactic resulting in student passivity.
Indeed, some would contend that a “good lecture” need not be interactive; suggesting that lectures are the time for lecturers to speak to their students (ideally in an inspirational and informative manner) and that it’s tutorials where interactivity can occur:
…if lectures are to be supplemented by other teaching methods that focus on active learning, higher-order thinking and applying theory to practice to solve problems, then it seems odd that lectures become that which has to supplement them (Matheson, 2008).
However, when we consider studies about lectures that have shown a sharp decline in attention after 15 – 20 minutes, leading to a poor recall – with one study showing a 5% retention rate in lectures against 10% for reading and 50% for group discussion (Petty, 2004) – it is hard to support this way of thinking.
Perhaps it is more productive to ask – given what we know about interactivity and the positive impact it has upon the quality of learning (Huxham, 2005) – shouldn’t all learning and teaching events have elements of interactivity? (Notwithstanding factors like the objective of the lesson, the nature of the content, the number of students, the layout of the classroom and the availability of technologies that might shape the nature of the interaction).
Donald Bligh’s (1998) seminal work on teaching and learning through lectures, has argued that a fundamental principle of good lecturing is that students have the opportunity to use/apply new information as soon as possible –ideally with this happening in the lecture.
A number of concerns can arise when thinking of making lectures more interactive such as:
- the loss of “teaching time” (Lammers & Murphy, 2002),
- reduction in factual content (Murray & Brightman, 1996),
- the accuracy of transmission,
- and the loss of control by lecturers over the class (Huxham, 2005).
These concerns can reflect broader theoretical positions and beliefs about teaching. On Day 3, we will explore how our beliefs about teaching and learning shape how we might regard and organize interactivity in our lectures.
When you attend a lecture what’s your experience of it? For instance:
- Is the lecturer asking students questions?
- Are students asking the lecturer questions?
- Are students discussing with each other ideas raised in the lecture?
Would you regard this as a “lecture” or something else?
What constitutes interactivity in a lecture?
This is a question we will look at in more detail on Day 2. However, we will preface this discussion by sharing what Murphy & Sharma (2010) have said about interactions in lectures:
The question of what could possibly make a lecture ‘interactive’ is clearly quite a complex one, because individuals passively listening to a lecture, which they find fascinating, might in all sorts of ways be interacting with the lecturer’s ideas in ways which stimulate all sorts of thought patterns, new ideas, and deep learning. Generally, that type of interaction is not what people have in mind when they talk about ‘interactive lecturing’. The more normal understanding of ‘interactive lecturing’ is where some form of communication occurs in both directions between the lecturer and their audience.
One way to categorise interactivity is:
- the activities between the lecturer and the students,
- between students,
- and between the students and the content (Brown & Manogue 2001).
But before we jump headlong into looking at interactive activities in lectures, it is worth pausing and critically reflecting on interactivity (Bucy, 2004). We believe it’s not sufficient to simply insert interactive activities into any class even when the evidence for doing so may seem compelling. To teach effectively in higher education it is necessary to understand why interaction can affect learning.
From our experiences interactivity in a lecture does not guarantee learning. Whilst empirical studies have found positive outcomes when they are interactive, every teaching and learning event is unique and deeply contextual. It is understanding how interactivity influences learning so we can adjust the processes to suit the specific needs of the students and contexts we teach in. Edith Ackermann once coined the term “hands-on” won’t do without “heads-in” – and clearly students need to be more than busy, they need to be cognitively engaged for deep learning to occur.
Dillenbourg (1999), suggests learning from “collaborative” settings just doesn’t happen because you put two people together, rather it occurs when specific cognitive learning mechanisms are triggered.
These cognitive learning mechanisms include:
- What do you imagine would have to happen in an interaction for these cognitive learning mechanisms to be triggered?
- Consider the interaction between students in these two videos:
3. What makes the interaction work or not work? Can you see the presence or absence of the cognitive learning mechanisms?
- Ackermann, E. (1993). Tools for Constructive Learning: Rethinking Interactivity. Epistemology and Learning Group, MIT Media Laboratory.
- Bligh, D. A. (1998). What’s the Use of Lectures? Intellect books.
- Brown, G., & Manogue, M. (2001). AMEE Medical Education Guide No. 22: Refreshing lecturing: a guide for lecturers, Medical Teacher, 23(3), 231-244.
- Bucy E. P. (2004). Interactivity in Society: Locating an Elusive Concept, The Information Society, 20:5, 373-383. DOI: 10.1080/01972240490508063.
- Deslauriers, L., Schelew, E., & Wieman, C. (2011). Improved learning in a large-enrollment physics class, Science, 332(6031), 862-864. DOI: 10.1126/science.1201783.
- Dillenbourg, P. (1999). What do you mean by collaborative learning? P. Dillenbourg. Collaborative Learning: Cognitive and Computational Approaches, Oxford: Elsevier, pp.1-19.
- Huxham, M. (2005). Learning in lectures: Do ‘interactive windows’ help? Active Learning in Higher Education, 6(1), 17-31. DOI: 10.1177/1469787405049943.
- Lammers , W. J. & Murphy, J. J. (2002). A Profile of Teaching Techniques Used in the University Classroom, Active Learning in Higher Education 3: 54–67. DOI: 10.1177/1469787402003001005.
- Matheson, C. (2008). The educational value and effectiveness of lectures, The Clinical Teacher, 5(4), 218-221. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1743-498X.2008.00238.x
- Murray, R. & Brightman, J. R. (1996). Interactive Teaching, European Journal of Engineering Education, 21: 295–308. https://doi.org/10.1080/03043799608923415.
- Murphy, R., & Sharma, N. (2010, March). What don’t we know about interactive lectures? International Journal of Media, Technology and Lifelong Learning, 6(1), 111-119.
- Petty, G. (2004). Teaching today: A practical guide. Nelson Thornes.
- Wieman, C. (2017). Improving how universities teach science: lessons from the science education initiative. Harvard University Press.
I’m in the process of writing up an EFS application. May I ask for a suggestion of citation of the post please? Is it going to be on a permanent web page? The theories of teaching are new to me. I need more time to digest and reflect. So a package of the blog posts comes very handy to me along the journey of teaching. Thank you very much!
Hi Hua, great question! Yes we are keeping all the blog posts up and available indefinitely. I would suggest citing it based on the author of the blog post. For this specific post, perhaps something like this:
O’Grady, G and Chew, F 2018, ‘Day 1 – Interactivity in Lectures’, ANU Online Coffee Courses, viewed 26 March 2018, http://anuonline.weblogs.anu.edu.au/2018/03/26/day-1-interactivity-in-lectures/
Hope that helps!
Definitely helpful! Very much appreciate it.
Students indeed like to attend the more interactive tutorials instead of lectures.
So why not make lectures more interactive?
I’d like to comment on the question of “When you attend a lecture what’s your experience of it? Would you regard this as a lecture”.
Lecturing has changed in numerous ways since the days I started my first degree in finance almost 20 years ago. The most noticeable change is the class size. I did most of my finance courses in a small group setting (relative to what we have now) in which group discussion and the lecturer’s participation into group discussion were feasible and effective in learning. The interactions in any forms (discussion, consultation, Q & A in lectures, etc) were excellent. Some of my lecturers still remembered my name even a few years after I finished my PhD. Now we lecture in large theatres with hundreds of enrolled students. For example, the two courses I teach got enrollment of close to 400 and 120 respectively every semester. We do have tutorials that facilitate the interaction between students and tutors. But in lectures, an interactive learning experience for students is mostly conducted in the form of students’ interaction with the contents (Brown & Manogue 2001). The physical environment of lecturing is not very encouraging for students to have interactions with the lecturer too. It is human nature to feel unsafe in a large theatre (some theatres are really too big, e.g. Llewellyn Hall) and being judged in front of peers. I do get more questions in a more comfortable and smaller theatres in the lectures and after lectures teaching the same course. So given these challenges in lecturing, I have to “imagine” students questions/ confusions before the lecture and in delivering the lecture I try to ask these questions and guide students to the answer, so that I can provide a deep learning experience for students.
Hua, I have also noticed the change from smaller to larger classes, but that doesn’t make it a change for the worse. My worst educational experience was as a part-time night-school student in small lectures. There were only twenty in the class, but the lecturer never bothered with interaction. They rushed through and then pushed us out into a dark cold Canberra night. I only lasted a few weeks in that program.
In contrast, ANU’s TechLauncher program has more than three hundred students in a room. But as well as conventional lectures, there are large scale group activities in a flat floor classroom, with a lead instructor and assistant, plus a tutor for every dozen students (I am one of the tutors). Short presentations of less than ten minutes, alternate with group activities. This is more engaging for students, but very complex to organize and an intensive use of resources. The apparent chaos can be confronting for those used to sedate lectures. There are also “tutorials” with two tutors and four teams of six students. These can also be confusing for tutors, as the students set the agenda and assess each other.
For cognitive learning mechanisms to be triggered, the lecture would have to be used in conjunction with some interactive exercises. It is not possible (or safe) to do these things within the lecture format in a lecture theater.
I can see some cognitive learning mechanisms in the video of the three students. The second video is depressingly familiar from my recent experience of being a student doing a group projects. 😉
But I don’t understand what these videos have to do with the topic of the course, as they are about student group work, not lectures.
ps: According to the Wikipedia, “Didactic” (διδακτικός) originally “… signified learning in a fascinating and intriguing manner …”. Perhaps we need to return to that aim.
I searched the word “didactic” in online dictionary too:)
I think the reason that the videos are shown here is that they show a form of collaboration. Lecture is a form of collaboration between the lecturer and the students, in which obviously the lecturer is outnumbered by students.
Hua Deng is correct the videos are there to signify aspects of collaborative nature of learning that relate to deep learning. The argument I wish to make is this and other types of collaboration can happen in lectures as much (or as little) as other T&L settings. Ultimately it is not the learning space and or size of class that dictates the quality of learning rather it is what lecturer and students choose to do.
To trigger one of the cognitive learning mechanisms, there must be engagement from the participants. As it is shown in the videos, the functional team members were well prepared, actively engaged in discussion when they identified a problem and tried to solve the problem before seeking for help. The dysfunctional team were poorly committed in the task, as they were not well prepared, not interested in learning but getting it done, tried to get help without any efforts of solving the problems themselves
My experience of lectures as a student has varied greatly depending on which degree/department I am in. Law followed the traditional lecture style, with interaction limited to a few minutes of questions from students per lecture. However, with 400+ students per course, this was as much a matter of logistics as pedagogy. Languages were run almost like tutorials. There was constant interaction between students, and to/from the lecturers. More recently, a social science department runs their courses as a mix. The first half runs as a traditional lecture. This is followed by a tea break where students interact with each other and with the lecturer. Upon resuming class, the rest of the period takes on a Q&A format, where students’ questions often generate further questions from the lecturer or discussion from other students.
As a tutor, I work with a Course Coordinator who prefers to call classes “seminars” rather than “lectures”. These seminars are technology-free, and require students to lead the class through responding to previously assigned questions. The lecturer fills in gaps and poses/answers questions throughout the seminar, and spends the final portion of the class tying up loose ends.
I believe that all of these formats constitute lectures, with varying strengths and weaknesses. The key factor in determining which format to use, or which works better, seems to lie largely in logistics. For example, the seminars and languages tend to work better in flat rooms rather than traditional lecture theatres. In this sense, the layout may be important in triggering cognitive learning mechanisms. Explanation, conflict/disagreement, teamwork, and appropriation appear to flow more readily when students can physically interact with their peers. However, I believe pedagogy also plays a large role. For example, the use of TELT doesn’t necessarily enhance interactivity. As the seminars have evidenced, the lack of TELT can lead to high levels of interactivity.
Thanks Bhavani for sharing your experiences as a student and as a tutor – it’s great to hear about these different ways of teaching!
That’s also a really interesting point about layout and logistics and how they may influence interactivity, depending too on what activities the lecturer decides to run.
This is quite an interesting topic as these days there seems to be a lot of focus in student retention numbers and student performance (which can actually be translated in a measure of how good/useful) the subject is. My teaching is related to spatial sciences and have been trying to work out the best flipped classroom model to help students understand the basics of spatial thinking. The first attempts I did to change my teaching were based on the Problem-based approach which does imply a level of interactivity. I agree that there should be a good “mix” of traditional lectures and class activities to cater all students needs (I found out that not all the students like to be engaged in group work or like to be asked questions). I suppose the challenge is the creation of engaging class activities, i.e., how to do it “hands-on” and “heads-in”. Hopefully I will get some answers with this Coffee Course.
For a more nuanced definition of didactic in the specific context of teaching can I refer you to: http://newlearningonline.com/learning-by-design/glossary/didactic
If I tell you in a lecture cows don’t fly… then they don’t fly!
see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dyK9QIt510s (you can fast forward to 1.47)
When I attend a lecture my experience of it depends in the first instance on my interest on the subject and then on how good the lecturer is delivering information. If I am fascinated with the theme or if the lecturer is amazing, I do not feel the need to interact to be able to remember what was told during the lecture. I can be a passive listener and be learning a lot (at least this is my personal experience).
However, if I know that there is the possibility that the lecturer will ask questions, I will be even more attentive, as I would be concerned that the lecturer would ask me something that I may not be able to answer if I do not pay full attention during the lecture, since the first minute.
It is also important that students can ask the lecture questions, although this annoys me sometimes, as some students are quite long and take too much time asking a question, which may not interest others.
It is also good to have the possibility to discuss ideas with other students, but this should take no more than 10 or 5 min of the lecture, in my opinion. Students can always meet up after the lecture to discuss over coffee.
For cognitive learning mechanisms such as induction, cognitive load or appropriation to be triggered, I imagine that a few questions should be posed by the lecturer, and perhaps the students be divided in small groups or individually answer those questions, expressing their points of view or results, debating and being creative.
For interaction to be effective, participants must be interested in what is going on and proactive. In a functional team, members prepare themselves and have a more autonomous approach to problem-solving . In a dysfunctional team, interest in the problem is low. Motivation is weak and there is little preparation and effort in finding an original solution.
My experience in giving lectures comes from many semesters of undergraduate Statistics, and more recently postgraduate Biostatistics. I think Helena’s point about attending a lecture is a good one – that if the lecturer is amazing and I’m interested in the topic then I won’t miss a lower degree of interactivity. The definition of a lecture seems to be undergoing rapid growth at the moment, so that a much wider range of lecturer-student-content interactions are included. Does anyone still use the word “lectorial” to capture some of this?
Hua commented that the size of the space has an effect on the experience of a lecture. Glen suggested on the other hand that it’s what students and lecturers choose to do in there that has an effect. I think there’s a middle ground where it’s the relative fullness of a room that has an effect on what students choose to do e.g. how far back they sit and what lecturers choose to do too e.g. invite students to move closer.
I like the sound of the TechLauncher classes that Tom describes, because I am a frm believer in the idea that learning in quantitative subjects like first year Maths or Stats can be a team sport, not an individual silent effort. But I am also aware of the resources and preparation that such an experience consumes!
I’m looking forward to reading on through these posts over the next couple of days.
What is a lecture? Over time the image of what is a lecture is or ought to be has changed. When I started to study as an undergraduate the majority of lectures consisted of a lecturer talking at length about the topic. The lecturer might ask questions during the lecture, but these were mostly rhetorical questions. Time permitting, the lecturer might open up for questions from the students at the end, which would usually result in the same one or two students asking a question while the rest of them waited, longing to leave the room. Today, most people I discuss this topic with would agree that a lecture has room for much more interaction between lecturer and students, and between students, and when I give lectured I try to encourage more interaction.
Some of the earlier commentators have noted that there might be difficulties doing this because of class-size or the layout of the room/lecture theatre. Some students will resist attempts to make lectures more interactive because it demands more of them, they might not be prepared, some are afraid of speaking in large groups, and so on.
What stayed with me the most after reading this post was the ‘warning’ that interactivity in a lecture by itself does not guarantee learning. It is not enough for the students to be ‘busy,’ and inserting short interactive activities in the lecture may not be enough. As teachers we need to think about what we would like the students to learn and how we can best facilitate this. I hope the next two days can offer some advice on how we can improve such ‘interactive breaks’ to use them in a way that facilitates deep learning.
So true that interactivity in a lecture by itself does not guarantee learning. There’s my (our!) challenge – to develop interactions that facilitate learning and engagement by triggering cognitive mechanisms!
Thank you very much for Glen, Frederick, and Karlene for conducting this valuable coffee course. I think such a course help us early career academics to understand what and how we should conduct our lectures well so that students can take most from us.
The experience that I am having in lecturing in somewhat mixed. As we are moving towards and depending mostly on technology, it is always a good question to ask why do we need our students inside the classrooms or lecture theaters. What I believe is interaction does not need to occur face to face, it can always happen through other media, such as emails, forum questions etc. I would say students are tending to ask more questions through emails or forums than inside the classroom where they can spend more time on the lecture materials.
Nevertheless, getting your students to interact with you is always a challenge. I would say as lectures we must incorporate a more active method of delivering our lectures. I think including small quiz type questions time to time among the lecture slides is a good way of keeping your students awake. I have seen sometimes students are more encouraged to ask questions and answer your questions when you value their opinions. I also agree with Ellen saying we should be creative in our lectures as well.
However, I am not sure whether students age is also a factor contributing to a lecture. I have seen many undergraduate students do not ask questions from their lecturers, but they raise so many questions with tutors. However, recently I involved in a course for more mature students (most of them are government officers) where the majority of the students are always interactive with the lecturer. I think being mature allow them to be more interactive. Even so, I think whatever content we present in our lecture it is totally up to us to think how we can make our lectures more active than passive.
I have to say that the quotation from (Matheson, 2008) shocked me! I didn’t think that there are still scholars that not only believe but also champion the old school style of one-way lecturing. I don’t agree with their reasoning either. Matheson essentially says that if you have a problematic context (lectures), but concurrently you also have an instrument (tutorials) to alleviate the problem, why bother?
For me, lectures are where concepts are introduced to learners for the *first time*, be it via transmission, interactive teacher-students discussions, flipped classroom, or group work. Following teaching and learning activities (tutorial/lab) are mainly to reinforce these concepts and provide different-angle perspectives to the students, while challenging them.
I always liked attending interactive lectures and try as much as possible to make mine interactive. However, as Thilina Ranbaduge mentioned above, activating the students during a class can be a challenge sometimes. In my opinion, this has several aspects to it. In some disciplines, more introvert students attend than extroverts. Also, some cultures are very conservative and consider it rude to talk to a teacher during a class, thus discouraging interactions. On the other hand, the students sometimes enrol in a class because they have to, while the level of their personal interest is low. From my experience, I also found that the class timing is crucial, in that early morning and later afternoon classes are the hardest to activate students in.
Finally, I was recently introduced to the three-part video series entitled “Teaching Teaching & Understanding Understanding” (https://goo.gl/G1gbhF), which is based on the well-known “Constructive Alignment” theory by the Australian Prof. John Biggs. The theorem argues that learning optimally occurs when the planned learning activities and the learning outcomes are aligned. It also depends not only on what the lectures do in class but also on what the students do after the lectures.
Thanks for this course -day one contains thought provoking material.
I’m very interested in the idea that for learning to happen, several cognitive learning mechanisms need to be engaged . We can see these mechanisms ‘engaging’ in the video of the group that works well together. The students understood the exercise they were required to complete [ this is an important first step] and there is they are challenged/engaged by the exercise. The exercise enables them to bring inductive reasoning to the problem/question because they can run the exercise as many times as they like. Their cognitive load is reduced because they have physical objects to experiment with – not just written or spoken explanation of the problem. They come up with explanations themselves and then test them. There is some conflict between the different possible explanations ( not between the people). In repeating the experiment and trying to work out why the cart does what it does, they are internalising the questions/theories – making them their own, and ‘appropriating’ the behaviour of physicists doing experiments . That is, they are learning ( and doing) the scientific method.
So – how do I relate this to law lectures? 🙂 One thing that stands out is reducing cognitive load – not introducing too many new concepts at once and relating new ones back to students’ own life experiences. I’m still musing on the other elements. Not sure how ‘induction’ fits, but the others would seem to follow from getting students emotions engaged in their learning.
Hi everyone, I’m looking forward to this course. Thanks Glen and Fred for facilitating our learning!
My experiences of lectures vary depending on the context and content of the lecture. The best lectures are ones with two way sharing and questioning – a much more interactive and organic way to learn. To me questions are the indicator or the ‘prod’ for an idea to be rearticulated in greater depth, for clarity or for repetition. Questions are a lecturer’s dream – someone is engaged with what I am saying (phew!) – and provide immediate feedback on, for example, what is unclear or the link a student is making between a concept and its application. Lectures that provide opportunities for discussion with peers in small groups as this enables me to reflect on the concepts raised and refine my perspectives by ‘thinking out loud’ with another person. This of course says something about how I like to learn However, when a lecturer poses a rhetorical question for individual consideration, that can an effective catalyst for an idea to tick over in my mind after the lecture.
The videos’ problem-based learning/groups dynamics scenario uses polar opposite interactions to illustrate triggers/lack of triggers of cognitive learning mechanisms.
In the first video, socialisation triggers a commitment to learning together in order to solve the problem. The interactions – questions for clarification, affirmative and suggestive responses, the discussion about what is known and unknown, and identification of resources available – assist the team to come to a consensus regarding the changing velocity. The second video demonstrates how factors external to the learning experience weigh down the cognitive load – the phone call, focusing on the short timeframe, availability of the TA. Also demonstrated, is poor handling of conflict and different views on the importance of learning vs getting the job done. In the end, distractions and conflict sabotage the potential cognitive learning mechanisms required for problem solving.
I am neither a student nor an academic, but I do know how poor my attention span is! There has been a lot of research around attention span and claims that technology is shortening attention spans. I found this article interesting https://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/30-tricks-for-capturing-students-attention/ in that it says that some students recorded attention spans of just 30 seconds (probably similar to myself).
Although not an academic, I was a teacher (high school) and I always tried to plan my ‘chalk and talk’ lessons into 15 minute chunks, with a couple of activities in between to break the chunk, reactivate the brain and bring the focus back. If the activity allowed the students to interact, question, review, clarify or use the information they had just learned, then that was the best as it gave purpose and helped students to identify what they weren’t understanding.
Although, ideally, the interaction would have purpose, sometimes even just getting students to stand up and stimulate the blood flow around their body immediately helps them to focus and retain information.
In order to improve my own teaching, I attended several lectures from SFHEA members and teaching award recipients this semester. I was deeply impressed that they all have the magic to make difficult contents, not easier, but much more attractive. They still appear to be “lecturers” talking through slides. But their lecture slides are highly logical and are presented in accordance with the students’ cognitive mechanism. They provide a lot of (fresh or unusual) real world examples. Real-time polling tools and “one-minute quiz” are used to check the students’ understanding. I think those are the methods to engage the interactivity between students and the content, which is usually omitted in normal understanding of “interactivity”.
Two thoughts I had in response to this theme, one from ‘behind the scenes’ – as a designer of course curriculum- and one from ‘being in the spotlight’ – as a frontline teacher. First, reflecting on how cognitive mechanisms are triggered, and noting that the question posed referred to ‘interaction’, I feel like that first step of interactive learning is in fact an interaction between one’s own synapses, similar to internalisation. Namely, something fires up within each student to prompt a cognitive ‘spark’. I would contend that any manner of teaching approaches are required, and hardly ever just one will do, for students to be able to grasp the foundational blocks required to map out the terrain of a topic. Pre-reading + links to journals + YouTube snippets + 15 minute explainers… even covering all of these, students didn’t always ‘get’ what was going on. With the sneakiness of Wattle which allows us to see who did what and when in terms of engaging with pre-reading materials, I observed in the last course that I convened that there was no pattern to who read the most, strong students and weak students alike seemed to engage at random points in time. For example, highly engaged students tended to read everything I had posted, as did those struggling with the topic (or with language proficiency). I guess my point is that to be able to reach ‘interaction’ stage in group discussions, ‘self-synaptical-interaction’ within each student’s cognition was a crucial step one. Onto my second point, the looking-glass model posed resonated strongly with me, because the 3-step ‘perceptive boomerang’ is something that I also can identify with when I am teaching, namely, to gauge whether or not a topic or issue has been absorbed by groups of students, I tend to talk a bit, scan for a reaction, plug away if I see smiles, or circle back if frowns appear (or eyes are drooping). So often, I get it wrong though – looking over blog posts from students, I am surprised mainly in the positive with how much students are internalising and absorbing and reacting to… ‘resting bored face’ bears little correlation to what may be going in internal cavities!
So many interesting facts and thoughts in this piece! I like to think my course is very interactive and hands-on but today has me questioning how I can get more interactivity in my lectures, particularly in more subtle way that are possible in a tiered lecture theatre. I am a normally a big believer in the importance and capacity for people to give amazing lectures in a traditional style, and don’t believe the lecture is dead at all, and as some of the commenters above noted, if someone is a fabulous lecturer then you don’t need interactivity to be engaged. However. I think the stats mentioned above about the poor recall you get just from listening to a lecture are correct. And I think what actually happens is if I am inspired by a great orator then I will write copious notes down, but I know from looking back through old notebooks and being surprised at the fascinating information jotted down in my own handwriting that my enthusiasm and attention in the moment doesn’t automatically lead to great long term recall. Instead, I am only likely to remember the general gist or few major points of a lecture. So perhaps even the greatest of lecturers do still need interactivity to increase retention as well as keep interest and engagement levels up.
But I did like the link Jules posted and the very first trick for keeping students engaged – giving them motivation. Its an interesting point that the promoted interactivity isn’t just going to be external, it can also be provoking internal interaction with the lecturer or content.
For the majority of the lectures I attended in my undergrad classes it was typically traditional lecture style with the same 1 or 2 students asking questions after being prompted by the lecturer’s “does everyone understand? Any questions?”. Not great interactivity, and not great for long term recall. Occasionally in my art courses after a topic was covered in the class we would be given 10 minutes to discuss a point the lecturer made in small groups and then asked to share our thoughts with the class. I feel that this was a good way to get students to interact with each other in smaller settings and run their ideas past a small number of people to build confidence and then they are more likely to share with the class with the backing of their peers. In maths and physics classes the lecturer often questioned us on the material that was covered and we would submit our answers by a multiple choice online polling system, so while we were interacting with the course material there was not much student-student or lecturer-student interaction. On the other hand, in my postgrad classes, they were smaller and the lecturer knew our names by the second or third class so they would often call on us by name to answer questions putting us on the spot, needing to actively listen so you were ready when your turn was up!
I used to see the tutorials as the place for the majority of interaction in learning. We would be set a task or question to answer by the tutor and would work in groups discussing the problems, interacting with each other and the material. Based on my experiences, I have previously assumed that there was a greater correlation between deep and interactive learning and class size; however, reading peoples responses here I can see that it is more how you organize your lectures that makes the difference. I think maybe some combination of lecture style to get the bulk of the information across and the tutorials greater interactivity to actively apply the concepts discussed in lectures is the best way to go. I most enjoyed the lectures which were broken up by short interactive discussion sections, as you were not idly sitting in a lecture hall for hours at a time.
I have definitely experienced both functional and dysfunctional situations, particularly in lab work before. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how much control we can have over situations like these as it depends on the people in the group whether they choose to interact positively with each other or not.
This lesson has given me lots of food for thought. Some of the links that previous commenters have provided are really helpful. The mini-documentary “Teaching Teaching & Understanding Understanding” (https://youtu.be/iMZA80XpP6Y) suggested above is really good.
Reflecting on good lecture experiences of mine, I was very lucky to study Classical Greek and Latin at ANU as an undergraduate, where instead of lectures we had three seminar-type classes per week. We would be translating a different text each semester, so every class consisted of students and lecturer sitting in a circle, with each student taking turns to translate a sentence or two. You had to have prepared the allocated text for the class beforehand, or wing it if you were good enough. This was such a fantastic way to learn. The lecturer provided guidance and could explain tricky vocabulary or grammar as required. It was entirely interactive and a very rich educational experience. By contrast, my history lectures were traditional format, with two lectures and one tutorial per week. I tried very hard and was an attentive student but found many lectures excruciatingly boring and tutorials intimidating. In lectures, a few brave (usually mature-age) students would ask questions, but it was mostly a one-way communication.
Now I teach art history, and I think back to those differences and wonder how I can bring the level of interactivity I enjoyed in the language courses to what I teach now. There are obvious and necessary differences between teaching languages and teaching history which require different approaches, but I think that perhaps the students investing in the success of the class is a good motivator for being engaged. Perhaps there needs to be some intellectual reward to look forward to, promoted with challenging questions and in-class exercises. This is my 10th Coffee Course, so I’ve now read about many strategies for in-class activities etc. (thanks guys!). Now I think I need to go and impose them on students for a semester and see what works!