Are your students distracted and bored during lecture? Engaging a lecture class can be significantly harder than engaging a smaller discussion-style class! In the ninth workshop of the GTCs “Multidisciplinary Teaching” series, Amanda Schrager and Mallorie Taylor shared techniques and ideas that can be employed in a classroom of any size to keep students interested and actively learning.
Graduate students often TA smaller discussion sections and never have the opportunity to think about how to keep a large lecture class awake, off their cell phones, and engaged. For this workshop Amanda and Mallorie wanted to discuss tricks and techniques to use in the across all classes and disciplines to keep students involved in actively learning.
Here were some of the group’s favorite strategies:
____ of the day. The idea behind this is to give students something to look forward to while presenting current events or research related to a class topic. This can also be a good moment to invite student participation. For example, you could have a question of the day in which students would we asked a question relating back to or expanding on a topic from the lecture. Students who come up to the front of the class to answer the questions could receive an incentive like candy or bonus points. Alternatively, you could introduce a related topic such as "composer/scientist/historical figure of the day" or even "challenge of the day" to invite students to go after class and do something related to lecture such as listen to a certain composer or find a specific species of plant or animal around campus.
Group activities. Just because you have a large lecture group, doesn't mean there isn't time for hands-on learning. This can mean giving students time to work in pairs or small groups to solve a problem and then report back to the class. Hands-on demonstrations such a precipitating DNA in biology class can be done so that every student in the class gets to perform their own mini experiment. If your lecture schedule is too full for in-class activities, have students do group work outside of class to prepare a podcast, video, debate, play, etc. demonstrating a concept related to the class. Even if students are sick of listening to you, they might pay attention to their classmates!
Old reliable. Don't overlook common techniques already used by many professors around campus. Clickers, powerpoint presentations with lots of visuals, handouts, and even quizzes or free writing can get students to be more engaged. Don't forget to ask lots of questions. Walking around the lecture hall to interact with the students in the back of the room can also keep those back-row students off their laptops and cell phones. On the topic of cell phones and laptops- try to find ways to use technology to your advantage. Have a student that is always on their computer? Have them google a topic for you and report back to the class, or give them bonus points for tweeting about class or that hot new paper that just got published in your field.
The GTC cohort has definitely seen some of these strategies in action, and students are usually grateful for anything that makes learning more active and engaging! At the end of the workshop, Amanda and Mallorie had everyone think/pair/share about how to use these strategies in their own teaching. Have you used any of these strategies in your classroom? How would you incorporate these strategies into your own teaching? Please keep the conversation going and share your stories below!
(Posted by Amanda Schrager and Mallorie Taylor)