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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:

  1. Promoting assessment that encourages deep learning and avoids surface learning;
  2. Providing high quality, individual feedback;
  3. Fairly assessing a diverse mix of students;
  4. Managing the volume of marking and coordinating the staff involved in marking;
  5. 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:

  • Student response systems;
  • Virtual laboratories.

Student Response Systems

Student Response Systems (SRSs) are educational technologies most often used for the purpose of making face-to-face lectures (specifically large-size classes) interactive by engaging students in real-time activities. Typically during class the lecturer would pose a question or poll which students would respond to instantly via their own device (i.e. a smartphone, tablet, laptop). The participation rate and the breakdown of the student responses are instantly available to the lecture and can be shared with students in various formats. Student Response Systems are also commonly referred to as ‘Clickers', Audience or Classroom Response Systems, Electronic Voting Systems.  For practical advice on the use of student response systems see TEL Quick Guide - Student Response Systems.  

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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