Discussion: Large Lecture Sections

See a compilation of ideas for teaching large classes

Leaders: Steve Reynolds, Heather Macdonald

1. Timing and types of activities in a large lecture section

  • Suggested format: Observe & explore -> burst of lecture (10 minutes max) -> paired discussion of information/put info into notes -> concept sketch
  • Lecturing beyond 10 minute bursts results in losing students & information
  • Concept sketches can be done multiple times per lecture period
  • Concept sketches can be reviewed using overhead projector, PC Tablets, then can save sketches for posting on WebCT if desired
  • Students can use white-boards to draw their Concept Questions and instructor can find good sketches to share with the class
  • Think-Pair-Share (students asked a question to work on individually then in pairs, share their solutions, which in turn, can be shared with the whole class) (see many examples at the Think-Pair-Share Starting Point module)
  • The book, Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers by Angelo & Cross has ideas for a variety of methods of "best teaching practices" of assessing student learning, including Muddiest Point, Background Knowledge Probe, Student Generated Questions.

2. Conceptest (concept tests!)
  • A multiple choice question with discussion-worthy information (or a non-obvious answer)
  • Questions can be Convergent or Divergent
    • Convergent: everyone converges on a single correct answer, e.g. What is the age of the XYZ Formation?
    • Divergent: many possible answers (perhaps no single right answer), e.g. What do you see in this image of a landscape?
  • Wait Time: How long to wait for answers from the large group? Explain that they will be given time to suggest answers (e.g. 5-10 seconds) which may seem long, but often leads to student participation
  • >300 examples of concept tests from Starting Point

3. Use of "Clickers"

  • David Steer uses clickers with Conceptests (see link to questions above)
  • Able to use "on the fly" questions (not prepared in advance) but some find it difficult to do so
  • Good for asking questions about material from prior class period(s)
  • Include questions that are easy (to give students sense of success) as well as challenging questions that make them think
  • A challenge is to use the clickers to help students recognize that when they get a wrong answer, the follow up would be for them to take action to rectify their misconceptions/lack of knowledge
  • Clickers do not replace students raising their hands to ask questions, rather by answering a question and seeing the group responses, students are encouraged to ask more questions, so tend to raise their hands more.
  • Good questions to use with clickers take information from material covered and recast that information in a different format to gauge understanding rather than encourage regurgitation
  • Bookstores may not purchase enough clickers (e.g. they order enough for 80% of the enrolled students, meaning a delay in 100% use of clickers in the term.
  • Remember that the point of using clickers is to encourage student participation so even without 100% of students with clickers, can still use the questions and even those without the clickers will be engaged

4. First Day of Class: (see the SERC web page dedicated to the First Day of Class)

It is important to set the tone of class on the first day. Consider doing an activity (see below) that represents the style of the classes to come. Review the syllabus/schedule in a later class period or at the end of the first class

  • Bailey, 2000 describes bringing a beach ball, grapefruit & frisbee to class on the first day and asking students to determine which object best approximates the shape of the earth. See http://www.nagt.org/nagt/jge/sept_2000.html#v48p412
  • Simon Kattenhorn shows a cropped image and asks students to decide what the picture shows. The image is iteratively revealed by un-cropping to show more of the image, with the idea that some observations can be misleading. The image is shown to be a house, but one last reveal shows the house is one in Hawaii, surrounded by lava.
  • Pete Copeland brings an interesting rock to class and describes that he can reconstruct 2-3 true stories about the history of the rock, that include chemistry & physics in the story. This sets the stage for interdisciplinary nature of geology as well as that rocks can tell generations of "stories"
  • Dori Farthing shows a clip of "Finding Neverland" in which a character tells others that the dog is "only a dog" and another character chastises him for being short-sighted and for not believing the dog could be more. Dori tells her class that this is a lesson in not using the excuse that they are incapable of doing something because they are "just a non-science major" (e.g. "just an art major")
  • Show an image of the local landscape and have students make observations of the image. Those observations can be interpreted geologically, and also to introduce various concepts to be included in upcoming classes
  • Pete Copeland ask his student the city with the most working geologists (answer is Houston- opening discussion of Pete's local area but could also be used to personalize the need for geologists)
  • Toilet paper roll analogy- each square of toilet paper represents a fraction of time in earth's history (other analogies- a stack of mail after returning from vacation)
  • Images of scenes that can be used to describe relative ages (without use of terminology)

5. Use of TA's in lectures

  • Plant TAs in the back of the lecture hall to help detect issues (e.g. students distracting others with not-on-task laptops, talking, etc)
  • Plant incognito TAs in class and when the "fall asleep" or their "phone rings" or they "cheat on an exam" visibly (horrifically?) throw them out of class to make a point
  • TA's for grading lecture activities
  • TAs attend lectures, run discussion sessions, tutoring
  • Undergraduate TA's:
    • Require supervision, training, but are proud to help (it may be considered an honor for undergraduates to TA while grad students may see it as a "job")
    • Pre-service teachers as TAs

6. Other:

  • Explain to students that class will not be lecture-only but that the group will be stopping during class sessions to do activities. ** Follow through and do activities in class repeatedly so it becomes "the norm" and students expect activities (2-3 per class period)
  • Steve Reynolds has a colleague who shows a clip of the teacher in the Ferris Buehler's Day Off movie as an example of what not to expect class to be like
  • Radioactive decay demonstration- give everyone a penny and ask them to stand. Everyone flips their coin and sits down (on their tails) if their penny comes up tails. Each iteration will result in ~ ½ the students sitting down. Instructor graphs the number of people standing to see the "decay curve" See: ../../quantskills/activities/PennyDecay.html
  • Roam the room during lecture - don't get stuck behind a podium