Large Group Teaching
Acknowledgement: Information in this section of the Toolkit has been adapted with permission from the Certificate in Learning and Teaching (CiLT).
The large group, lecture format is often synonymous with what most people think of university studies. Faced with a room of more than one hundred students, promoting active learning in large lecture theatres is a challenge most academics are likely to face. It is no surprise that this poses particular concern with research showing that student attention span can decline after 10 to 15 minutes.
Hints and tips
Building an effective lecture as a means of motivating and inspiring interest in your students, while transmitting key concepts and ideas, is one that requires planning and creativity.
In large groups, the size of class means that some students feel far away, less involved, less known by the lecturer and less engaged in the process. So how do you overcome these barriers to engagement to build confidence, attachment, and connections between students and staff?
When delivering in a large group, lecture format, some good practices include:
- deliberately plan for the social function of groups from the outset by including tasks that encourage students to work together either in pairs or small groups
- overcome difficulties of large group dialogue by summarising yourself, using non-verbal responses, prompting responses, and creating a positive environment
- consider students’ attention span and find ways to engage them immediately, e.g.use visual material, tell an interesting story or quote, pose a question/problem
- ask questions to assess knowledge, e.g. ‘show of hands’ response
- do something different to keep students’ attention, e.g. move into the body of the lecture theatre or change the pace of your lecture
- design your lecture from your audience’s perspective – not yours
- use accessible language to create an inclusive learning environment
How to build connections
One of the biggest challenges of large groups is how to build connections. Some ways of generating a sense of belonging to a part of a department follow:
- make use of groups in some form in all of your modules
- provide feedback which is personalised in some way, and where it is clear that it is personalised
- provide informal ways of enabling students to meet with academic members of staff, e.g. organise a ‘coffee hour’ about half way through each module to encourage informal contact
Student feedback on clickers:
“Clickers. I feel they really add something to the lectures and workshops, making them much more interactive. They allow you to check your understanding in a lecture. They are fun and breed healthy competition with classmates.”
Example: Connecting in the classroom with Clickers
The Faculty of Engineering, the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health and the Department of Economics are making extensive use of personal response sets or “clickers‟ for feedback, student engagement in lectures and attendance monitoring purposes. Clickers can help build a sense of connection between you and your students. With easy-to-use audience response software, you can apply clickers in a range of ways in lectures and workshops, allowing you to gauge student understanding in these sessions.
In the Department of Economics, for example, clickers have been issued to all level 1 students, providing valuable and immediate feedback. Students are asked to answer questions on the material just covered. Depending on the results of the feedback, you can then give a more detailed explanation if responses suggest poor understanding.
The advantage in the large classroom setting is to not only to allow you to make sure that your students understand but they can also generate discussion among classmates and ensure participation from all students.
Some key administrative steps to consider in implementing and using clickers:
- when do you intend to implement them?
- what support do you need from CICS and how will you train staff?
- how will you register and distribute the units?
- what departmental support do you need?
Clickers: Opportunities and Challenges - Click 10 to download
Presentation by Dr Trish Murray (Engineering), Dr Anthony Rossiter (Automatic Control and Systems Engineering - ACSE) and Dr George Panoutsos (ACSE) at the 6th Annual Learning and Teaching Conference 2012
VIDEO: Working with large groups and setting students minimally supervised group work tasks
Active learning in a large group setting
Based on historical precedence, the lecture format remains popular in universities today due to its aim of ensuring all students receive the basics, its economical mode of delivery, its conformity to a timetable and student expectations. There are however changes taking place. While Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning (1959) would show that lectures traditionally deliver learning at the lower levels of thinking skills, today’s focus on active learning means academic staff are looking for opportunities for students to engage with higher level learning activities...even in the lecture theatre.
Go to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning.
In delivering your modules, particularly in a large group setting:
- ask yourself what you want your students to learn and what is the best way for them to learn it
- plan your lectures and learning activities to achieve the learning outcomes
- outline what the lecture is going to cover: use a structure that will encourage you and your students to engage in active learning with clear aims and learning outcomes showing what students will know, understand or be able to do by the end of the session
- identify and repeat your key messages
- encourage and build in time for questions
- allow time for students to reflect on what they’ve learned
REFERENCES AND RESOURCES
Bloom, B.S. (Ed.) (1956), Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, the classification of educational goals Handbook 1: Cognitive Domain. New York: Longmans.
Anderson, L.W. (Ed.), Krathwohl, D.R. (Ed.) et al. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Complete edition). New York: Longman.
The University of Nottingham offers a series of video interviews with academic staff on different teaching issues, including teaching large groups. Go to Teaching Methods: Large Group Teaching.
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