June 10, 2013

I recently had a discussion with a colleague who wanted to explore ways to keep his students engaged (and attending) his large lecture class. We started talking about adapted forms of discussion that could work in a relatively large lecture class, when he pointed out that the students do discussion in their section with the GSI’s (TA’s as they are called at many other universities), so that would not be fitting in the large lecture. I have mixed feelings on the generalization that one pedagogical technique can only be used in one teaching setting in a class, however I understand and appreciate the reasoning behind the generalization.

Assuming what’s done in section should not be replicated in lecture, then what kinds of active learning can/should be used in the large class to engage students in learning and meaning making of the subject matter—keeping in mind a certain amount of material needs to be covered and lecture is the most efficient way to do this? We came up with a simple idea that began not with his desire for more students to engage in class, but what he thought was being missed by not engaging in class. Identifying the ways student engagement could enhance the class and improve student learning, shined a light on exactly what needed to be done. What the instructor wanted from his students was to understand the ways they were making sense of the material so he could speak directly to that in his lecture. Student feedback echoed this, as they roundly expressed a disconnect between their expectations of the course and approach to the material versus that of the instructor. Simply put, the students and the professor were not on the same page. So, we talked through some quick, easily facilitated activities (minute paper, muddiest point paper, think-pair-share) he could use to chunk out his lectures and gather immediate feedback from students about their conceptual understanding of the subject matter. This allowed him to infuse short active learning opportunities for students, break up the lecture to increase student attention, and adjust his lecture accordingly to correct student misunderstandings on the spot – while also including their voices in the lecture without ever going off into a time intensive discussion.

What are some ways you integrate active learning into a lecture portion of class that may include very active discussion sections? How do you strike that balance and keep students engaged, while not duplicating the lecture and section experience?