Implementation of 'Discussion Question Breakout Sessions' in a Large Geoscience Lecture Course

Tuesday 4:30pm-5:30pm Red Gym
Poster Session


Robert Graziano, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

As education research suggests, the traditional model of only-lecturing in a large lecture class has given way to active learning strategies, even with class sizes greater than 100. Implementing discussion as an active learning strategy may be difficult in large lectures, however allowing students the opportunity to break from lecture to discuss a question or activity enhances the engagement and peer-to peer interaction that is essential for improving learning outcomes.

A four-year review of educational strategies and learning outcomes in a large (100-200) lecture-only environmental geology course was completed to assess the impact of incorporating 'discussion question breaks' as an active learning strategy. The discussion question procedures involve a timed activity among quickly-assembled groups, and immediate interactive discussion of findings. The procedures have been modified within the four-year period to provide more 'checks and balances' to increase engagement, improve learning outcomes, and reduce student's ability to circumvent the discussion procedures. Assessment of this strategy has been completed through direct observations, responses to student survey data and comparisons of exam and/or course grades. Review of this strategy and its outcomes has proven its usefulness for student-student connections, student-instructor interaction, attendance-assessment correlations, learning outcomes and overall student satisfaction.

The strategy of implementing 'discussion question breakout sessions' has been used in a large environmental geology lecture course. The enrollment of this course is typically 150+ non-science majors of all levels. This activity is targeted to the diverse background that is represented by this diverse set of students, but it can certainly be focused for smaller class sizes or majors courses.

The strategy is particularly effective to: break up a longer (e. g., >1 hour) lecture-class; allow students to talk and interact with peers in a controlled setting; welcome the distraction of electronic devices; improve student-instructor interaction to decrease the 'intimidation factor'; enhance engagement and student-student connections; and increase resourcefulness and critical thinking skills.