Transforming large lectures into active learning experiences

Transforming large lectures into active learning experiences

Large lecture courses aren’t for everyone. Efficient as they may be, there is no guarantee that students are engaged—or even coming to class. It’s easy to hide in the masses and tune out.

A new project sponsored by the Office of the Provost and coordinated by ITS aims to improve the large-lecture experience for University of Iowa students. Through technology and innovative teaching techniques, the goal is to provide students with a more active learning environment.

So how does it work? Different models are necessary for different courses, but here are some of the elements instructors can incorporate to transform their courses:

Establishing a baseline

Students may be asked to complete brief assessments, either online or live in class, to see what they already know about a topic. This establishes a starting point so the instructor can tailor course content to focus on new material or to review key concepts.

In-class interaction

Students use technologies like “clickers” (hand-held response systems) or smartphones to provide instant feedback during class. This helps the instructor gauge whether they understand the material, or whether more time should be used to clarify a concept.

Flipping the classroom

Rather than coming to class to hear the lecture content, students do that part in preparation for class, through readings or audio/video recordings. When they come to class, they are ready to apply the knowledge through problem solving activities, engage in deeper discussions, and ask more specific questions than they could if hearing the material for the very first time.

Lessening the intimidation

Raising your hand to ask a question in a room of 200 people can be scary. But if you’re feeling lost in the midst of a lecture, waiting until after class to ask the instructor isn’t a whole lot of help. “Lecturetools” will be incorporated into the classroom. This is a web-based platform that makes lecture slides accessible to students. They can ask questions during class and either the instructor or the TA may monitor and address questions.

Small-group discussions

Large lectures are frequently paired with smaller discussion sections, which are typically held weekly and led by graduate teaching assistants. New student-centered learning spaces called TILE (Transform, Interact, Learn, Engage) classrooms help to facilitate collaboration in these small-group settings. Furniture configurations encourage group discussion, and technologies such as large screens make it easy to share work and offer peer-to-peer feedback.

Putting techniques to the test

Three courses from two UI colleges will put these models to the test over the next year. The courses span a variety of fields, starting with with Introduction to Environmental Science and Media History and Culture in the spring, and adding Statistics for Strategy and Circuits for fall.

Over the next several semesters, staff in ITS-Instructional Services will monitor the success of these courses and conduct formal assessments to evaluate the experience for students and instructors. Eventually, more classes will be added to the list of transformed lectures.

The Large Lecture Transformation Project is one of several student success initiatives underway on campus. The overarching goal of this project is to create processes and tools for instructors to optimize time in the classroom and to provide a more engaging experience for students—after all, the more lively the lecture, the more incentive a student has to go to class.