Engaging Students in Large Lecture Courses

Last week I facilitated a workshop titled “Engaging Students in Large Lecture Courses” for the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University.  Since many of those interested in teaching with clickers teach large lecture courses, I thought my blog readers might be interested in some of the resources from the workshop.

First, here’s a PowerPoint presentation on the basics of good lecturing I shared with the workshop participants ahead of time via Slideshare:

Next, here are the visuals I used during the workshop itself:

This was my first time using Prezi, and I found it to be an interesting alternative to PowerPoint.  The ability to arrange content spatially and at different resolutions was particularly helpful as I planned the workshop.  During the workshop, I mostly followed a planned path through the presentation–the one you can follow by clicking repeatedly on the “next” arrow above.  However, on a couple of occasions, questions were asked that prompted me to go off-path and zoom around the Prezi.  That ability is particularly valuable for responding to one’s audience.

My other experiment during the workshop was the use of Google Moderator as a backchannel tool.  Moderator allows users to submit questions to a presenter, but also to view other users’ questions and vote them up or down.  Prior to the workshop, I emailed the registered participants and invited them to submit questions about the workshop topic via Moderator.    During the last 15 minutes of the workshop, I asked the participants to open their laptops (or turn on their smart phones), log in to Moderator, submit additional questions, and vote on their peers’ questions.  This very quickly generated a nice list of questions, ranked in order of importance by the voting mechanism.  I then spent the remaining time in the workshop addressing the most important questions.

Having a room full of participants quietly tapping away on their mobile devices was a little too disconcerting for me, so, following Monica Rankin’s lead, I had the participants brainstorm questions in pairs, then submit them via Moderator.  This led to a nice buzz of discussion during the backchannel time and allowed me to wander the room and eavesdrop on the conversations, as I like to do during small group work.

I’ve blogged about other ways to implement backchannel in the classroom, so it was great to get some firsthand experience using Google Moderator for backchannel.  Moderator isn’t the most flexible tool available (there’s no way for a student to comment on another student’s question and the sorting algorithm isn’t entirely intuitive), but it’s simple and easy to use.  I also like that Moderator allows the presenter to comment on questions that have been submitted, which would allow me to address some of less popular questions not addressed during the workshop.  I find that many faculty (and students for that matter) are wary of Twitter, so Moderator might offer an accessible way for instructors to get started with backchannel.

Finally, I posted links to resources relevant to the engagement techniques I highlighted in the workshop (and in the Prezi above).   So if you’re interested in improving your physical presence in the classroom, using better visuals to complement your verbal presentation, or exploring ways to add interactive elements to your lectures, visit the online “home base” for the workshop.

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