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University Large Group Instruction and Non-Majors

Printed Resource for the IUP's Reflective Practice Group, November 3, 2010
Dr. Richard Lamberski, Professor of Communications Media*
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
My appreciation to Sara Lamberson IUP'09, research associate while at IUP, for researching and compiling these six critical topic areas.

Classroom Management

From “Teaching Contexts”

  • Latecomers can be distracting to both the instructor’s train of thought and to student attentiveness. With large classes, it seems that someone is always arriving late or leaving early. You cannot eliminate this entirely, but you can minimize it. A punctual instructor who arrives a few minutes early to set up and who begins promptly sets a good example. Indicate from the outset that tardiness is unacceptable. Use a glance, a dramatic pause, or verbalize your concern early in the semester. Do not hope the problem will go away and then, eventually, respond angrily out of annoyance. The latter response will be ineffective in curing behavior that is better prevented.
  • Backpack zippers - The last few minutes of class is a common time for student attention to wander, and the zipping of backpacks interrupts the flow of class. A well-timed remark might be effective. Say, with a smile, “You have four more minutes for which you have paid, and I shall end promptly, so just wait to grab your back packs.”
  • Reading newspapers/non-class related material - If you find reading the newspaper or any other behavior distracting, it is best to say or do something at the first instance of the behavior.
  • Your professional image - Look at yourself in a mirror. Does your appearance reflect a relaxed or a formal attitude? It has been observed that if instructors project a more formal, professional appearance, students react in a more formal way in the classroom (i.e., less talking, less coming and going, etc.). On the other hand, if the instructor is more relaxed or informal in appearance, it is likely that the students will feel less inhibited about talking, leaving early, etc. While appearance makes the first impression, it can be counteracted or enhanced by preparation, confidence, interaction, enthusiasm, inclusiveness, and fairness.

From “Preparing to Teach a Large Lecture Course” (Davis, 1993)

  • Establish reasonable rules for student behavior. Instructors in large classes usually find it helpful to announce policies about latecomers, eating and talking during class, and other disruptive behavior. Explain your rules early on and stress the value of cooperation and consideration. For example, some faculty set limits on when students can pack up and leave: "You're mine until 2 P.M." or "When the cartoon appears on the overhead you can go or "After the class has posed three good questions about the material, students can leave" (Hilsen, 1988). Let students know that you expect them to arrive promptly but use the first couple of minutes to discuss a related issue, to take account of stragglers. For example, a geography faculty member discusses the nation's weather. Shea (1990) describes a faculty member in political science who begins class with discussion of a relevant news item.
  • Plan how to grade and return homework. If homework is an essential part of your course and you do not have a graduate student instructor, grade samples of homework assignments to save time. For the assignments you do not grade, distribute an answer sheet so students can assess their own performance. If you have graduate student instructors, have students turn in and receive their homework in section. Otherwise, collect homework in a locked box in the department office. Distribute homework in alphabetical folders in boxes on the side of the lecture hall. Call out one or two letters at a time and let the people whose last names begin with those letters go get their papers. Or label a set of manila envelopes with row numbers, and ask students to choose a row for the term and to sit in that row when taking exams, turning in homework, and picking up homework (Chism, 1989).
  • Stagger due dates for essay or research papers. One faculty member requires all three hundred of his students to write one paper during the semester, but students write on different topics and the papers are due on different dates. At the beginning of the term, he randomly divides the class into, say, ten groups of thirty students each. He announces the dates when the various groups are to turn in their papers. All students receive their paper topics two weeks before their due date. Using this approach, the instructor is able to read and respond to all three hundred papers but never reads more than thirty or so in any given week (Source: Erickson and Strommer, 1991).
  • Use multiple-choice tests, if possible. Machine-scored multiple-choice exams can save time and minimize grading errors, but students also need practice in writing and grappling with complex questions. If you can, then, include two or three questions that call for a few paragraphs of explanation or analysis.
  • Avoid giving makeup exams. Scheduling makeup exams is logistically difficult and time-consuming. Instead, try to give enough exams or quizzes so that students can drop their lowest score. Some faculty give shorter final exams and use the last hour for makeup tests. See "Allaying Students' Anxieties About Tests."
  • Consider forming a student exam review committee. The committee, made up of four or five elected members of the class, is charged with identifying specific test questions that may have been problematic for the class and with suggesting possible remedies. During the exam, students who so wish anonymously complete a brief comment sheet that they turn in with their exam. Members of the student exam review committee meet after the test has been administered to review the exam and look at students' comment sheets. They then meet with the professor to negotiate possible adjustments. For example, if over half the class felt question 3 was unfair, the committee may suggest tossing it out. The instructor makes the final decision after hearing from the committee. All students in the class are made aware of subsequent adjustments. (Source: Holmgren, 1992)
  • Consider using computerized record-keeping and communications systems. Software such as BIJOU (Wiseman, 1986) can facilitate the storage and retrieval of information related to enrolling students into sections, coordinating the preparation and delivery of materials with staff and office support, and maintaining rosters and grade records.

Grading

From “Beating the Numbers Game” (Felder, 2007)

  • Prepare spreadsheets for recording homework and test grades. If a TA maintains the grade spreadsheet, have him or her get you a copy each time additions or revisions are made. If you change a grade, send word of the change (both the old grade and the new grade) to the responsible TA, get a confirmation, and keep a record of all requests in case of a communication breakdown.
  • Publish your test dates at the beginning of the semester. Consider giving only one comprehensive make-up test near the end of the semester for students who miss any of the tests during the semester, rather than one for each test.

Professor/Teacher Evaluation

From “Teaching Large Groups” (Cantillon, 2008)

  • Ask a sample of the students if you can read their lecture notes; this exercise gives some insight into what students have learned and understood
  • Ask for verbal feedback from individual students
  • Ask the students to complete a one-minute paper
  • Ask the students to complete an evaluation questionnaire. If you want to evaluate your teaching style and delivery, peers can be a useful source of feedback:
  • Ask a colleague to observe part or all of a lecture and provide feedback afterwards. It is important to inform the observer what aspects of the lecturing process you want evaluated for example, clarity, logical flow, effectiveness of the media used.
  • Videotape the lecture for private viewing, and arrange a joint viewing with a colleague later.

Presentation Style/Tone Of Class

From “Preparing to Teaching a Large Lecture Course” (Davis, 1993)

  • Carefully prepare your lectures. Thorough preparation can prevent last-minute headaches. You need time to arrange your points, develop your examples, write out definitions, solve equations, and so on.
  • Avoid lecturing verbatim from a script. Reading prevents you from maintaining eye contact with students, and it casts your voice down toward your notes instead of up and out toward the lecture hall.
  • Experiment with different formats for your lecture notes. Some formats are more suited to certain subjects and disciplines than others.
    • An outline is especially useful in organizing a talk and providing an overview of the general structure of subordinate points and transitions.
    • A list of major points is closer to extemporaneous speech than a detailed outline; this format is appropriate for a speaker who knows the material well.
    • A tree diagram (such as a flowchart or network) provides a system of pathways through important points with optional stopovers, tangents, useful illustrations, or examples.
  • Prepare your notes to aid your delivery. If you are writing an outline of key words or phrases, 5" x 8" index cards are easier to use than smaller cards or sheets of paper. Color code your notes to highlight difficult points, distinctions between major examples, and important information. Include notations that indicate times to pause, ask questions, raise your voice, and so on. Write in the margin, "Put this on the board" or "Have students jot down a response at their seats" or "If less than ten minutes left at this point, skip to card 7." Examples boxed in red could mean "Include this if students seem uncertain about my point."
  • Write down facts and formulas for easy reference. Within the body of your lecture notes or on a separate sheet of paper, copy out all the key facts, quotations, computations, or complex analyses.
  • Write down vivid examples. Clear, straightforward, memorable examples reinforce the points you are trying to make.
  • Prepare your lecture for the ear, not the eye. Oral presentations are very different from written presentations. When students are listening to you speak, they cannot go back and "reread" a troublesome sentence or look up a difficult word in the dictionary. Use these techniques to facilitate oral comprehension:
    • Use short, simple words and informal diction, including personal pronouns and contractions.
    • Speak succinctly, in short, straightforward sentences.
    • Offer signposts for transitions and structure - "the third objection," "let's look at this argument from another angle," "in contrast," "as we have seen," "now we can turn to.
    • Restate and periodically summarize key points.
    • Ask questions
  • Suggestions for Successful Lectures
    • Start the lecture on the right foot by allowing students a few minutes of adjustment time to get settled. If you put your key sentence first, they will probably miss it.
    • Start the lecture with a non-critical item so that they know you have begun. Provide a brief review of major points before lecturing so that students can still interact with the lecture even if transitions are weak. For clarity and retention, outline what you will cover, cover it, then review or summarize what you just covered.
    • Provide an outline of the main points of the lecture on the overhead projector or chalkboard. This outline can be presented to students in the calendar of a course website.
    • Include no more than three or four main points in a 50- minute period.
    • Begin by posing a question or example.
    • Clearly delineate major points verbally (“The next point is….”) and stand by the lectern in a relaxed posture.
    • Write out unfamiliar terms, names, or references on the board or transparency. Intersperse concrete examples of general concepts for clarification. Also include these on the course website.
    • Involve students as much as possible. Use topics as online forum discussions over the coming week or the prior week.
    • Be enthusiastic.
    • Adapt lecture material to your students. Share information with them that concerns them and provide examples that relate to their issues and concerns.
    • Cover a few points in-depth rather than many superficially.
    • Interest comes from variety. Try to assemble facts as well as examples, opinions as well as illustrations, statistics as well as anecdotes. A variety of material captures attention.
    • Vary format and move around. Use visual aids.

Promoting Engagement and Interaction

From “Lecturing to Large Groups” (Soliman, 1999)

  • Use vivid examples to bring ideas/theories to life
  • Use humor which provides interest and emotional release
  • Use analogies, similes, metaphors to link what is new to what is already known
  • Use signposting statements which signal direction and structure of lecture; ex: “Today I want to examine four approaches to the managements of tumors.”
  • Use framing statements which indicate the sections you discuss; ex: “Let’s turn now to the use of chemotherapy.”
  • Using focusing statements which highlight and emphasize key-points; ex: “The basic pharmacological principle underlying chemotherapy is this…”
  • Break up the lecture ever 15 minutes with some activity
  • Ask students to write down one or two questions they may have at a certain point in the lecture and instruct them to discuss these with a neighbor
  • To refocus flagging attention, say: “Take two minutes to plan out what further work you need to do on this topic.”
  • Check that you are still holding their attentions by asking, “Before I move on, are there any questions?”
  • Check that they have understood by asking, “What was the key idea there?”
  • Provide interactive lecture notes which are notes with gaps/questions in the text that students fill in during the lecture as a direct result of the information obtained
  • Organize lecture in a dialogue form with a colleague, where each person alternates between questioning and answering questions on a topic
  • Use ‘buzz groups’ of 2 to 4 students 3 or 4 times during a lecture to tackle a small task
  • Organize lecture as a sequence of problems to be solved by a buzz group who discuss problem for 2 or 3 minutes
  • Vary mode of presentation with use of audio visual media; ex: cartoons, pictures, diagrams, video clips, or slides.

Emerging Technology for use in Large Group Instruction

From “Avoiding the 5 Most Common Mistakes in Using Blogs with Students” (Reynard, 2008)

Blogging can be an effective tool for learning, but its benefits shouldn't be taken for granted. It takes careful planning and skillful management to make it work in an educational setting. Here are five of the most common mistakes for instructors to avoid when incorporating blogs into instruction.

From “‘Clickers’ Let Teachers See Who’s Really Learning a Lesson” (Allen, 2008)

The clicker allows students to answer questions simultaneously and for the teacher to see what proportion of the students got the correct answer; therefore, understanding the material.

From “Emerging Technologies in the Classroom” (Bowden, 2007)

Refer to this article for examples of several up-and-coming classroom technologies.

Bibliography (MLA)

Allen, Anne Wallace. “‘Clickers’ Let Teachers See Who’s Really Learning a Lesson.” IdahoStatesman.com. 09 September 2008. 02 October 2008.

Cantillon, Peter. “Teaching Large Groups.” BMJ. BMJ 2003;326:437 ( 22 February 2008). 22 September 2008.

Davis, Barbara Gross. “Preparing to Teach the Large Lecture Course.” Tools for Teaching. 1993. University of California, Berkley. 22 September 2008.

Felder, Richard M. “Beating the Numbers Game: Effective Teaching in Large Classes.” North Carolina State University. June 2007. ASEE Annual Conference. 22 September 2008.

Reynard, Ruth. “Avoiding the 5 Most Common Mistakes in Using Blogs with Students.” Campus Technology. 01 October 2008. 02 October 2008.

Soliman, Izabel. “Lecturing to Large Groups.” Introduction to University Teaching Series. 1999. Teaching and Learning Centre; University of New England. 22 September 2008.

“Teaching Contexts.” Instruction at FSU: A Guide to Teaching & Learning Practices. 22 September 2008.

Additional Resources

(This text is not excerpted above but has exemplary information on large group instruction)
Bain, Ken. What the Best College Teachers Do. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2004.  (Chapter 5 of this book is particularly useful for the research of large group instruction. Bain gives seven principals with a lot of examples and explanation of successful lecturing.)

 

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