Trying to engage large groups of students in a lecture hall can feel like a nightmare for some professors. Keeping students engaged, learning and on topic can be a challenge but is crucial to their academic success.
A 2023 Student Voice survey by Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse found 36 percent of student respondents learn best in interactive lectures, in which a professor breaks at least once to complete a specific learning task. The same survey found half of students want professors to experiment with different modes of teaching because it would promote their academic success.
Inside Higher Ed gathered four methods for faculty members to set up a lecture hall classroom for success with active learning and other ideas.
- Add an activity.
The University of California, Berkeley’s Berkeley Center for Teaching and Learning suggests faculty members stop around every 20 minutes to recapture student attention with an activity or active learning practice. Activities not only change how information is delivered but also make the class more personal and encourage student connections.
Interrupting the lecture for a class discussion is one way to mix up the class period. Professors can discuss how the topic has appeared in the news, ask for a raise of hands, pose questions to get student opinions or create a whole-class debate.
On a smaller scale, professors can propose students think-pair-share over a question or theme presented in the material, or they can break the class into groups to solve a problem.
Student role-playing or simulations are other ways professors can change up the format, according to the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater.
- Use tech tools.
Need to keep a pulse on students’ learning and understanding of course content? Try implementing an online quiz or discussion board to give students a chance to showcase their knowledge in real time.
Kahoot is a website that hosts free quizzes that participants can play on their phones. The platform gives scores based on how quickly students answer correctly and provides rankings on the top respondents. Plus, it’s got great theme music.
Pear Deck is another free website that students can log into and follow along the professor’s digital slides while engaging with different activities. Pear Deck can also be integrated with video platforms like Zoom or Teams or paired with Canvas or Google Classroom.
Some students hold anxiety around participating in class, so digital tools can make it easier for students to provide feedback or ask questions without the pressure of speaking in a large lecture hall.
For a lower-tech option, clickers also provide ways for professors to deliver multiple-choice questions and get real-time responses from those in attendance.
- Spice up visuals.
How content is delivered visually can be key to a student’s academic success. The Student Voice survey also found 26 percent of students don’t take their own notes but rely on professors posting their class slides or notes. Another 5 percent of students record lectures or take notes on their phone.
Visuals should be simple, with limited bullet points and text, according to Iowa State University’s Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching. Charts and graphics should be high quality and simple to convey the message and not confuse the learner. Serif fonts are more difficult to read than sans serif, and too many fonts on one slide can be distracting as well.
Professors should always remember that visuals should translate to every person in the class, from those sitting in the way back to the very front and everyone in between. Size, coloring and captioning can make visuals difficult to see or understand. Using inclusive and accommodating delivery methods should also be considerations.
- Get feedback.
Not every class will look the same—and not every class should. Gathering feedback from students throughout or at the end of the term can help a professor identify what techniques or tools work best for students in overall learning and classroom engagement as well as spark ideas or future considerations for content delivery methods.
The University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching suggests implementing a midterm student feedback session to spot elements of the class format that students think should be adjusted.
Do you have an academic success tip that might help others encourage student success? Tell us about it.