Technologies for Large Enrollment Courses

Initial Publication Date: September 22, 2011

Clicker and laptop

Over the past decade there has been a significant amount of advance in pedagogical technologies that instructors can use to enhance large enrollment courses. Adapting some of these technologies can enhance interactive learning inside the classroom, improve the quality of traditional lecture segments, and facilitate learning outside of the classroom.

In Class

Most universities equip large classrooms with an amplification system and some sort of projection system (even if just a simple overhead projector). Beyond these basics, there are several technological tools that can be used in the classroom to enhance interaction and make lectures more engaging.

  • Using presentation software like PowerPoint or Prezi makes it more likely that all students will be able to see the notes clearly from anywhere in the room. Although there can be large start-up costs (because you must prepare the presentation ahead of class), there are advantages in that once created, the files can be used repeatedly and can be easily amended to create skeleton notes for students.
  • Combining presentation software with a wireless microphone and wireless mouse or presentation controller will allow the instructor to move freely around the room, rather than be tied to a central podium or blackboard. This can be particularly useful during think-pair-share activities, so the instructor can listen in on student conversations.
  • Having a computer with an internet connection will increase instructor options for engagement triggers, allowing the instructor to access videos and music on YouTube or other sites. See the module on using media (link) for many ideas and examples.
  • A document camera can be used to show visual images, draw graphs on the fly or record notes from classroom discussion and activities.
  • Some instructors use tablet computers in place of a regular computer and document camera. For example, with a tablet computer, the instructor can draw graphs freehand within a prepared PowerPoint slide. Some classroom computers allow a similar experience if they have interactive whiteboard technology installed, which allows the instructor to write freehand on top of other computer files.
  • Personal response devices ("clickers") can be used to quickly and easily collect information from students. Student responses to conceptests can be recorded with clickers, as well as in-class simulations. See the module on classroom response systems for more information.

Outside of class

One of the challenges of making classes more interactive is the time required for class activities, time that would traditionally be used to "cover" more material. Moving some content delivery outside of the classroom can free up class time without necessarily reducing the amount of material covered. There are also tools that instructors can use to reduce the time needed to grade and assess students outside of class.

  • Podcasts can provide students with basic introductions to new concepts, or review of previously covered material, so that class time can then be spent exploring the concepts more deeply. Podcasts are pre-recorded 'mini-lectures' (commonly in the audio mp3 file format but they might also incorporate video or screencasts) that students can download and listen to anywhere. The mobility of podcasts is a big advantage over readings; they also give instructors additional flexibility to discuss material that is not in the readings or that they want to cover differently than the textbook.
  • Lecture capture is a way to make material available to students who miss class or who want additional review. In the broadest sense, lecture capture refers to any recording (audio and/or visual) of what happens in the classroom (Educause, 2008). Many students already engage in a simple version of lecture capture when they bring their own recorders to class; a more formal version is for the instructor to record the lecture and make the recording available to all students, such as through a course management system or a specific educational site like iTunesU. The recordings might be audio alone or could include 'screencasts' that capture the slides and other material presented on the computer screen. Lecture capture can be particularly useful for large enrollment courses, given how easily students may be distracted, and the recordings give them a way to review material. Although some instructors may be concerned that students will simply view the recording and skip class, there is little evidence that this is the case (see [Zhu and Bergom, 2010). 
  • Web-based assignment programs, such as Aplia and MyEconLab, can provide interactive exercises for students in economics (depending on the service, students may need to pay an additional fee). With these sites, assignments are graded automatically and students receive feedback about their responses. In addition to multiple-choice and numeric questions, these programs typically allow students to manipulate graphs and may be able to accommodate simple free-response questions as well. Some programs also provide other resources, such as on-line experiments, tutorials, and electronic versions of the textbook. CSU (2009) has an extensive discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of these programs, as well as a detailed comparison of Aplia and MyEconLab specifically. Aplia is also used in disciplines other than economics and there are other similar packages available for almost all disciplines. Webassign is a non-displine specific , web-based assignment program that many instructors find useful. There is a fee for using this cite,
  • Course management software (such as Blackboard, Moodle, WebCT, etc.) can be invaluable for organizing and distributing course materials to large classes, and making announcements for students who might have missed class. These systems generally allow instructors to post student grades securely; most also have modules to administer online quizzes. In addition, many textbook publishers have test bank software that can be easily integrated with these systems (see module on Just-In-Time teaching).