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Structuring and Managing the Interactive Class Session

The fourth step to providing an interactive lecture is to determine how to structure and manage the interactive class period. There are as many ways to structure an interactive class session as there are interactive techniques. Instructors might add an occasional activity to a regular lecture class, or include several activities in every class period. Some interactive techniques, such as think-pair-share or ConcepTests, can be repeated several times within one class period while others, such as extended simulations, may be the focus of an entire period.

Many instructors use a combination of different activities; for example, one could use a few quick individual ConcepTests primarily for assessment, to see if the students understand and can apply the lecture material to simple problems, and then get them working in groups on a more complicated problem that has them synthesize the current material within the content of previous lessons.

Example of multiple interactive techniques used in one class session.

The class starts with a 5-minute think-pair-share activity: "Summarize the main points of the reading assigned for this class." The discussion will focus them on the material, a good thing to do before lecture starts. It may be helpful to have them turn in their summaries on index cards for a minor grade, to discourage tardiness (especially in students who are trying to avoid this activity).

Lecture for about 10-12 minutes, then ask a ConcepTest question to determine if they understand the topic and can apply the ideas in it to simple problems. Evaluate the responses. If the class adequately mastered the concept, repeat the process with a new topic. If not, continue your lecture by reinforcing the topics.

For the last part of the class, perform a simulation that asks the students to apply all the concepts that have been presented in the class period up to that point. Finish the class period with a one-minute-write activity to be turned in on an index card: "What are two questions that you still have on today's topic?" The instructor will review the most representative of these in the last lecture segment of the next class.

However the class session is structured, effective classroom management skills are essential for ensuring the session goes smoothly and the activities are effective. Instructors must establish a comfortable and safe classroom atmosphere and tone conducive to interactive learning must be established, be aware of their role as classroom managers as they consider all aspects of the course, and manage the class during activities in ways that foster interaction.

Create a Classroom Atmosphere Conducive to Interactive Learning

If the classroom atmosphere is comfortable and nonthreatening to students, they will be more inclined to participate in interactive lecture segments. Instructors can enhance the overall tone in the classroom by making themselves approachable to students, knowing their audience, and helping students feel comfortable working with each other.

  1. Instructors must help students feel that they are approachable so students are comfortable interacting with them. First, the instructor must actually BE approachable. Many instructors think they are, but upon careful self-reflection, may not come across to students as being approachable as they might like. Instructors should reveal enough about themselves so that they seem like real people to students -obviously without going overboard. Instructors can emphasize the different ways they are available to their students - office hours, phone, email, chatroom, etc. Instructors can come early to classto allow for time to mingle with students. Moving around the classroom during class and not just staying in one place toward the front of the room will also make the instructor more accessible to students. (And don't forget to smile!)

  2. Instructors must know their audience and demonstrate interest in their information set and experience. Instructors should learn student names to the extent that class size allows and use names frequently throughout the class period when asking questions, responding to answers, and offering examples. Learning about students' interest, backgrounds, majors, and hobbies allows the instructor to select examples relevant to the student information set and makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom as they feel that their experience and opinions are valued. Instructors might consider having students complete information questionnaires early in the semester to acquire some of this information. This sample information sheet is designed for an economics course, but can easily be adjusted for any discipline.

  3. Instructors must help students feel comfortable working with each other. One possibility is to conduct an ice breaking activity on the first day of class. Allowing students to tell about themselves and get to know each other helps students relax and initiates the process of them becoming acquainted with each other. On the first day of class instructors should discuss their expectations that students show respect for one another. A classroom climate of mutual respect is vital when incorparting interactive learning techniques.

Be an Effective Classroom Manager Generally

Instructors must carefully manage the classroom for effective interactive lectures. This includes laying out expectations, coping with physical space, maintaining control, and determine how to disseminate information.

  1. Lay out expectations for how students should behave and interact in the syllabus, on the first day of class, and when conducting activities. Instructors should emphasize good attendance, preparation, attentiveness, thoroughness and participation.

  2. Cope with physical space. Evaluate the seating and layout of the classroom. The ability of students to move around and work in groups will impact the effectiveness of interactive learning techniques. Instructors must take these constraints into account when designing segmented lectures.

  3. Maintain control of the classroom, but don't be a tyrant. This is a difficult balance to strike, but one the instructor should always keep in mind. If real interaction is taking place the room is likely to be abuzz. Instructors should expect the classroom to be noisy when students are discussing their work.

  4. Determine best ways to disseminate information. For providing guidelines to students for interactive segments the instructor might consider using handouts, power points slides, or verbal cues. Particular methods may be more appropriate for some techniques and tasks than others.

Be an Effective Classroom Manager During Interactive Segments

The instructor must manage the classroom during interactive segments. This includes providing clear instructions, definite time constraints, monitoring and responding to students, and monitoring activities.

  1. Provide very clear instructions for activities.

  2. Set definite time constraints on group activities.

  3. Visit a few groups and make sure that they are on track.

  4. Be sensitive when responding to student input. The ability to offer appropriate and productive feedback is a skill the instructor must develop.

  5. Monitor activities to make sure you have allotted an appropriate amount of time.

  6. Determine how to bring the class back together. Some instructors flick the lights on and off. Some raise their hand, after explaining that when students see a raised hand, they should raise their hand, finish their sentence, and stop talking.