My colleagues and I like coffee a lot and spend a good deal of time consulting with faculty who teach large classes. Thus, we developed the caffeine-o-meter to demystify the process of improving a large course.Part of it is below and the entire thing is on our department website. In all seriousness, it was important to us to provide faculty a continuum of options with fairly accurate portrayals of what each option would “cost.” It is very easy, in my opinion, to push interventions that not only overwhelm, but alienate faculty from a process that should involve iteration and continual improvement. The best improvements generally start small and grow as their validity is proved and entry cost is reduced.
And a final note is needed to thank all of those we’ve linked to and referenced. Your willingness to share you work and resources is what makes me so proud to be a part of this profession.
Large Classes FAQ
There are a range of responses and tactics for addressing this issue and much of it comes down to instructor preference. On one end of the scale, instructors can clearly stipulate that using digital devices of any kind (cell/smart phone, tablet, laptop) is prohibited during class or at least during lecture. With that said, this is becoming increasingly impractical in large classes since devices continue to shrink and students’ ability to use them covertly has only improved. Instructors can instead capitalize on the fact that the majority of students own and and are proficient in using digital devices. A few options are listed below:
- Facilitate real-time, backchannel discussions [see this FAQ on leading substantive discussions] using Polleverywhere, Harvard’s Live Question Tool, Today’s Meet, or Twitter.
- Facilitate collaborative group projects with technologies such as Google Docs (see example), Prezi (see example), or Mindomo (see example) that gives students a co-editable web space within which to interact and co-create.
- Allow students to curate and create mashups of web resources related to lecture and course activities with tools such as Storify, Pinterest, Scoopit, Delicious, Diigo, Google Reader (and other RSS aggregators such as YahooPipes), or Evernote. See this resource on how to integrate curation activities in your course.
- Use a flipped class approach and/or implement active learning activities to minimize down time.
End-of-course evaluations are helpful in making improvements for subsequent semesters, but they are inadequate for being responsive to students needs and perspectives while a course is running. This is where formative assessment comes in. Formative assessment techniques allow you to quickly and periodically evaluate students’ understanding of course concepts so that small improvements can be made to on-going instruction.
- Implement lightweight classroom assessment techniques (see e.g., a list from Iowa State and Vanderbilt)
- Use Google Forms or Qualtrics to develop short, online surveys to get both quantitative and qualitative feedback from students.
- Developing feedback dashboards (analogue or digital) that give you (and potentially your students) near real-time feedback on students are progressing through your course (see this example from an award-winning hybrid course).
Research suggests that only 20-30% of students do assigned reading before coming to class (Burchfield & Sappington, 2000). Thus, in most cases, students need motivation for completing work if you expect most of them to do it prior to coming to class. Motivation (or rewards) can broadly come in two forms: social and formal credit related to overall grade. Social credit involves giving students opportunities (see e.g., base groups) to share their understanding (or seek clarification) of pre-class readings and activities with their peers. Formal credit involves giving students course points for completing pre-class activities (e.g., one-minute paper or D2L quiz).
Latte-level: Macchiato-level: Double Espresso-level:
Macchiato-level: Double Espresso-level:
The lecture isn’t dead and still can be the most effective way to convey basic knowledge, communicate a professors’ intrinsic interest in a subject, and quickly clarify common misconceptions. With that said, students’ expectations for what happens within the four walls of the classroom and best teaching practices for developing deep, meaningful learning what are evolving. It is commonly cited that students’ attention span during lecture ranges between 10 and 20 minutes (Johnstone & Percival, 1978; for review see Wilson & Korn, 2007) with the trend likely moving toward the shorter end of that spectrum (Svinicki & McKeachie, 2011). In addition, research suggests students retain 70% of what is said in the first 10 minutes of a lecture, but only 20% in the last 10 minutes (Meyers & Jones, 1993). While these numbers are not deterministic, there are two approaches faculty can take to engage students more readily in large lecture course:
1) Improve lecturing skills and course organization.
- Read the following short papers on lecturing:
- IDEA Paper #46 – Effective Lecturing
- IDEA Paper #24 – Improving Instructor’s Speaking Skills
- Explore the University of Minnesota’s self-paced, online training in “Smart Lecturing”
- Read “Understanding by Design” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005) and use backward design to reorganize your entire course around big, meaningful ideas. TLCs can assist you in full course redesigns.
- Implement quick interactive techniques such as think/pair/share or iClicker questions.
- Investigate and implement simple “Change Up” strategies.
- Implement collaborative learning activities and peer instruction activities such as jigsaw, base groups (also here), and constructive controversy.
- Implement problem-based learning activities.
- Watch faculty videos on engagement techniques.
- Offload some of your lectures for viewing online outside of class and implement more active learning techniques during in-class time (popularly called “flipping” your class).
- See one CU professors’ foray into “flipping” her class.
- Review some of the pitfalls associated with the flipped approach.
- Implement backchannel discussions (see Derek Bruff’s backchannel resources) using technologies such as Twitter, Polleverywhere, and TodaysMeet.
- “Gamify” your course.
Burchfield, C. M., & Sappington, J. (2000). Compliance with required reading assignments. Teaching of Psychology, 27(1), 58–60.
Johnstone, A. H., & Percival, F. (1976). Attention Breaks in Lectures. Education in chemistry, 13(2), 49–50.
Meyers, C., & Jones, T. B. (1993). Promoting Active Learning. Strategies for the College Classroom. ERIC. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/recordDetail?accno=ED358757
Svinicki, M. D., & McKeachie, W. J. (2011). McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. Cengage Learning.
Wiggins, G. P., & Mctighe, J. A. (2005). Understanding by Design Expanded 2nd Edition. ASCD.
Wilson, K., & Korn, J. H. (2007). Attention During Lectures: Beyond Ten Minutes. Teaching of Psychology, 34(2), 85–89. doi:10.1080/00986280701291291
[Image attributes – Full image is original, Latte (http://www.iconarchive.com/artist/kzzu.html), Espresso (http://www.flickr.com/photos/markfive/), Macchiato (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jgarn/)]