As thoughts turn to planning for the new semester one question regularly appearing is how to engage and personalise learning when teaching large groups. There is no shortage of very usable, practical advice from expert voices in learning and teaching. What interested me as well was hearing from the often unsung experts – those informed individuals at the ‘sharp end’ – our students.
Their views add insight to the other experts like Graham Gibbs, Phil Race and others whose work is invaluable. I talked to 40 students from different programmes at different levels in two different institutions to discover what they liked and would improve in large class teaching and learning.
1. Don’t throw students in at the deep end… Please introduce yourself – demonstrate respect. Say who you are and outline your area of expertise. This can be in a pre-sessional email or blog post linking to a webpage/blog/profile or research. Share a relevant piece of your research and one from someone else, perhaps an opposing viewpoint for students to read before you meet them. Ask students to consider set questions when reading these so you are seen as there to advance their knowledge – not to intimidate. Give them the background the Internet cannot – how you approached writing that paper, how you researched it, discovered your findings and how all of this connected to the work you did as a student of their level.
2. Make pre-reading accessible (physically and cognitively).. (a) link it to a quiz or poll early in the next taught session (b) relate the reading to the session it precedes (c) relate the reading to assignments (d) provide good reading notes – how to read, what to look for, questions to answer (e) make the reading manageable – start small and build but be aware that students have a life so do check the time these things take (f) consider offering some material and getting students to use a discussion board/online forum to share what they find of opposing viewpoints, relevant media clips etc. Each person can be told what type of material they need to contribute. (g) if few have done the reading one week don’t go over it – that undermines the work of those who did it and sets the expectation that it isn’t necessary to do preparation.
3. Make content and questions relevant to students’ lives, expectations, futures and the real world.
4. Be incomplete – incomplete slides (gapped slides) incomplete lecture notes or diagrams mean something to engage with – missing axes/ unlabelled/ missing data in tables/ list points for completion/ partially complete calculations.Leave gaps in pre-work which can only be completed by independent work or reading.
5. Encourage questions – put questions on the pre work, on handouts.
In the final 10 minutes of a session ask students in five minutes to review their notes, highlight
question areas whilst you move around looking for common areas of confusion. Answer these in the last 5 minutes by a pair-and-share or formed-four response together with a group chosen at random to give the final answer.
The one thing all of these tips have in common? Engagement, participation and a sense that students need to be there to participate in their learning. Not being there means they can miss out.
Attitude is something students talked about too – lecturers’ attitudes to their students. Those who respect them as partners in learning, setting clear but high expectations with structured support to achieve them are those most appreciated. All images are the author’s own.