Lectures are useful to convey knowledge at the basic levels of Bloom’s revised taxonomy i.e. remembering and understanding. Lectures can show how experts in a field think, how they approach questions, and how they try to solve a problem.
Yet in traditional lectures, students are mostly passive and their attention span decreases significantly after 15 to 20 minutes. Traditional lecturing may not be suitable for higher levels of learning i.e. apply, analyse, evaluate, and create. Research in teaching and learning show that students learn best by engaging in active learning rather than passive learning activities. (Chi, 2014).
Lectures can be made interactive to intellectually engage and involve students as active participants. Interactive lectures are designed where the instructor incorporates learning activities throughout the lecture so that students participate in a way that lets them engage directly with the material.
Here are some strategies to deliver an effective and interactive lecture.
- Avoid text-heavy slides: These result in a tendency by both you and your students to read off slides.
- Choose examples carefully: A relevant, concrete example (familiar and meaningful to students) may help far more than paragraphs of abstract or theoretical description.
- Use varied multimedia and technology to support your delivery (e.g. audio clips, videos, websites, demonstrations and experiments).
- Create opportunities for students to discuss and peer-teach each other: This is one of the most impactful teaching lecture strategies. It breaks the passivity and engages students to think through, reformulate, and explain the lesson concepts in their own words. This could be introduced with minimal effort by (a) inviting students to teach their neighbor, followed by a quick class level discussions on points of disagreement or confusion or questions that may have arisen or (b) pausing at various points in the lecture for students to work in pairs to discuss and rework their notes without input from you.
- Use pop quizzes regularly in class: These can be readily generated on eLearn or using other EdTech resources. They involve the students in practicing what they have just learnt, and receiving feedback on their level of understanding, individually, as well as relative to their peers.
- Managing different types of students: Here are some tips on how to handle common archetypes of students that you may encounter in the SMU classroom:
- The Hostile: If a one-off incident erupts, avoid a public confrontation in front of the class; acknowledge the student’s position through restating or paraphrasing in a non-judgmental manner; extend an invitation to continue the discussion after class so that the lesson can continue for everybody’s benefit. If there’s a pattern of recalcitrance involved, it helps to seek to understand and address the underlying cause as far as possible by speaking privately to the parties involved; keep the discussion focused on the objective actions rather than the subjective interpretations of what the actions represent e.g. “I notice you have not responded when called upon over the last few lessons. Is anything the matter?” instead of “It is disrespectful and disruptive to me and your peers when you don’t respond or even acknowledge if called upon in class”.
- The Vocal “know-it-all”: There are several techniques you can use to check or stretch such a student e.g. invite him to summarize his sharing, or to explain his basis or reasoning process, or to link up his contribution to the peers who preceded him. You may wish to avoid intervening until you have had a chance to investigate if it’s a consistent pattern of behaviour across classes and get a sensing of how his peers feel. Before implementing the foregoing suggestions, do have a private word to explain your intentions to stretch him in this way, and in particular how the skill of summarizing and being able to distil something to its essence precisely and concisely is something you hope to see him develop.
- The Interrupter: Invite them to hold that thought. Or to jot down their question or idea somewhere. Express the professional value of allowing the other person the courtesy to finish articulating their position fully. Be sure to follow up with the interrupter to ensure that he and what he had wanted to say are not overlooked.
- The Silent observer: Quieter students may require additional understanding and support from you to participate. Some students learn and contribute best when they have had the benefit of thinking through an issue. For such students, it is helpful to provide advance opportunity for considered thought e.g. email out your talking points in advance to the class and separately prepare some students that you plan to call on them, use the think-pair-share technique, inform students whom you overhear making good points in discussions that you would like for them to share with the class later. You may also wish to provide for alternative non-verbal modes of contributing, such as discussion forums.
- The Latecomer: If this is likely to be an issue for you, do state upfront your stance on punctuality and its professional virtue, backed up by the prospect of a penalty if they arrive late. Your TA can help you to monitor and track. A grace period of a week may help take a bit of the sting out of such a measure. You may also require students with valid reasons to notify you or your TA at least 1 day in advance.
- The Early leavers: Likewise, you can consider requiring students to notify you at least 1 day in advance of any need to leave early. This should give pause to students who might otherwise decide to leave on a whim. You may also wish to incorporate a regular end-of-class quiz or poll which counts towards class participation.
SMU also uses other teaching approaches (e.g. SMU-X and Case Method Teaching) and instructional strategies to create a personalised, collaborative and authentic learning experience. If you plan to use active learning strategies and techniques that may not work as well in the conventional SMU seminar rooms, you may wish to consider flat venues with movable tables and chairs such as classrooms, SIS B1.1 or the SMU-X Active Learning Classroom 3.1. Expressing venue preferences is done through the Registrar’s Office via their regular Teaching Preference Survey email that is sent out in the preceding term.
- Chi, M. T., & Wylie, R. (2014). The ICAP framework: Linking cognitive engagement to active learning outcomes. Educational Psychologist, 49(4), 219-243.
- Schmidt, H. G., Cohen-Schotanus, J., Van Der Molen, H. T., Splinter, T. A., Bulte, J., Holdrinet, R., & Van Rossum, H. J. (2010). Learning more by being taught less: a “time-for-self-study” theory explaining curricular effects on graduation rate and study duration. Higher Education, 60(3), 287-300.
- Schmidt, H. G., Wagener, S. L., Smeets, G. A., Keemink, L. M., & van der Molen, H. T. (2015). On the use and misuse of lectures in higher education. Health Professions Education, 1(1), 12-18.
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