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Large Group Teaching Strategies

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The most common pedagogical concerns in teaching large classes are engagement, assessment and technology.

Engagement

  •  Stimulating active learning and higher order thinking
  •  Maintaining interest and varying teaching strategies

Managing large classes in a lecture theatre is demanding. Large classes/lecture halls impose physical and logistical constraints on what a lecturer can physically do. Moore and Gilmartin (2010) describe teaching large classes in the traditional lecture format as ‘the intersection of entertainment and crowd control’. But there are tried and trusted techniques to keep students engaged during the course of a 1-hour lecture which include:

  • Interactive lectures
  • Active learning
  • Peer-assisted mentoring.

For some practical advice by a UCD senior lecturer who lectured a large First Engineering class for approximately 17 years see Purcell, PJ. (2011) Large Class Teaching: Tips from an Old Pro.

Mark Rogers (School of Biology and Environmental Science) has developed a core module for all first year science students to develop students’ independent study skills within a scientific framework. See ‘Five UCD Case Studies of First Year Assessment’.

 

 

Interactive lectures

Interactive lectures are lectures interspersed with brief in-class activities that require students to use information or concepts presented in the lecture. Students learn by doing, not by watching and listening. Felder (1997) lists in-class activities, out of class group exercises and other ideas for keeping students engaged in large classes. The following short video clip shows Richard Felder give an actual demonstration of an interactive lecture:  Active Learning with Dr. Richard Felder.

 

Active learning

Felder (1997) defines active learning as ‘anything course-related that all students in a class session are called upon to do other than watching, listening and taking notes’. 

Peer-assisted mentoring

One technique for managing large classes is to sub-divide the class into more manageable groups, using peer-assisted mentoring, i.e. the use of students more advanced (e.g. post-graduate students) to mentor undergraduate students. In peer-assisted learning, there is an educational gain for both the mentoring students and the mentees and both groups of students are given modular credit for their respective roles in the educational arrangement. An example of peer-assisted mentoring in the School of Architecture, Landscape and Civil Engineering is described at the link below. The undergraduate module in question is ‘Creativity in Design (CVEN10040) and the postgraduate module is ‘Innovation Leadership (CVEN40390). The ‘Creativity in Design’ module provides an active-learning engineering experience through which students develop their observation skills, problem solving skills and lateral thinking abilities.  Read about the "Creativity in Design" module in Five UCD Case Studies of First Year Assessment.

Assessment

• Developing valid and reliable assessment that is also manageable;

• Coordinating and managing assessment and feedback.

 

Challenges in assessing large classes include:

(a)        Promoting assessment that encourages deep learning and avoids surface learning;

(b)        Providing high quality, individual feedback;

(c)        Fairly assessing a diverse mix of students;

(d)        Managing the volume of marking and coordinating the staff involved in marking;

(e)        Minimising plagiarism.

 

For a range of practical strategies for assessing large groups, with particular emphasis on engaging first year students, see Brown, S. (2011) Assessing Large Groups: Engaging First Year Students. For further information, resources and case studies on assessment see the assessment section of this website.

Technology

  • Managing the demands of teaching large classes;
  • Enhancing engagement;
  • Delivering more effective assessment and providing timely feedback.

Two examples of the use of technology in large class settings to improve engagement and student assessment are:

  • Clickers;
  • Virtual laboratories.

Clickers

Clickers, also referred to as Student, Audience, or Personal Response Systems (SRS/ARS/PRS), are small handheld units the size of a mobile phone that students can use to respond to questions posed by the lecturer.  Questions are usually multiple choice in format and students respond by selecting the appropriate option on their clicker. The participation rate and the breakdown of student responses are instantly available in a graph via PowerPoint.  For practical advice on the use of clickers, including sample applications and further resources see Surgenor, P. (2011) Clickers 1: An Introduction and Surgenor, P. (2011)  Clickers 2:Using Clickers.

Virtual laboratories

The use of video technology combined with MCQ assessment can be used to supplement or even, in some instances, replace physical laboratories. The rationale for introducing virtual laboratories, where appropriate, is that, in a time of diminishing resources, virtual laboratories can go some way to bridging the gap between the demand and capacity to deliver laboratory-based practicals. For a case study of where a virtual laboratory has replaced a physical laboratory for a large second Agriculture class, see Jacquier, JC. (2011) Virtual Laboratories 1 andfor a case study of where video clips have been used to enhance the educational experience of veterinary students, see Cashman, D. (2011) Virtual Laboratories 2.

References
  • Felder, R. (1997) ‘Beating the numbers game: Effective teaching in large classes’, ASEE Annual Conference, Milwaukee, WI. June 1997.
    http://www4.ncsu.edu/unity/lockers/users/f/felder/public/Papers/Largeclasses.htm
  • Moore, N. & Gilmartin, M. (2010) ‘Teaching for better learning: A blended learning pilot project with first-year geography undergraduates’, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, vol. 34: 3, 327-344

 

 

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