How to bring life back to lectures

Bored student sleeping in lecture

A 1984 New York Times survey on social anxiety placed death third in the list of people's biggest fears. The top two responses were walking into a room full of strangers and speaking in public. Educators face those fears every day.

If you’ve experienced addressing a room full of slouching figures with glazed eyes, or having no hands raised when you ask a question, perhaps the next statement won’t surprise you. In his TEDx talk, chemistry lecturer Dr Matthew Stoltzfus showed that students' brains are often more active in sleep than in traditional lectures.

This article is for those who, like Matthew, want to bring engagement and discussion to a traditional teaching or training model, especially in large cohorts. We also asked a group of students how they view the future of higher education, and include some of their expectations of teaching. 

Support peer to peer learning

Educators, students and learning technologists alike push for more engagement in teaching sessions through peer to peer learning, supported by classroom response technology. By offering regular opportunities for learners to respond and to discuss among themselves, you can keep your students actively engaged.

Matthew notes in the video: “I can see in real time how my students are answering… I can go over to them and say one of you are right and one of you are wrong… This can stimulate discussion.” In this way, peer-to-peer learning also works well with Socratic dialogue: students can be encouraged to discuss the reasoning behind their responses and to question one another. This experience opens up the lecture into a more personal, discursive and challenging learning opportunity.

Classroom response system Learning Catalytics offers 18 question types that you can pose to learners, including open-ended questions. The students respond on their mobile devices, and their feedback gives real time insight into their conceptual understanding, enabling you to assess cognitive skills such as application and analysis.

Having students respond regularly in contact time facilitates you to tailor the content more closely to the learners’ needs. In this way, content does not outpace learners’ understanding.

Although mobile devices can be viewed as a distration in lectures, Learning Catalytics encourages students to integrate their use of devices and social platforms with their education.

“[The future of HE is] a lot more interactivity... I think that's important because you can't learn if you're not allowed to challenge things, and you're not allowed to question things."

- Second year business student, Pearson College London

This approach also serves as an early warning system to show what students don’t understand well before exams, so action can be taken early and assessment results improve. It also enables you to access feedback on students’ experience of lectures before your end of semester survey, or National Student Survey (NSS), so that you can adapt the lecture experience and get better NSS results.

Flip the classroom

Another way to increase engagement in contact time is to transfer knowledge and begin comprehension before the lecture. There are a number of ways in which educators do this, including lecture capture, sharing slides, or setting reading or problem sets in advance. Flipping the classroom in these ways enables you to use contact time to engage higher cognitive functions. You can set questions before or after class as well as during it using Learning Catalytics, and then discuss the responses within the teaching session. In this video, Professor David Dye, an engineering lecturer at Imperial College London, talks about how he flipped the classroom using Learning Catalytics classroom response technology.

Engage blended and distance learners

One of our students responded saying: “I think a lot of e-learning is going to come into universities. So, more online classrooms and courses. People going to university a lot less.” If he's right, then the question of how to engage students comes even more sharply into focus.

“Exam performance has gone up by about ten percent... People get fewer of the simple conceptual things wrong in exams, so I think [Learning Catalytics] is effective.."

- Prof David Dye, engineering lecturer, Imperial College London

There are many ways to offer an engaging online and on-campus student experience. One way is to support blended and distance learners to use their devices while watching lecture capture using Learning Catalytics. When distance learners’ responses are taken into account alongside on-campus learners, students know their engagement has value and impacts on the teaching delivery. This can support retention and engagement rates and create a stronger sense of community. 

Personalise learning in large cohorts

One student respondent said that she saw the future of HE as having “more insight from the students... more statistics like, whether students are actually focusing, whether they're finding it boring, whether they’re finding it really interesting”. In a large cohort it can be difficult to assess how well each student is engaging with the lecture content. As much as they may wish to, educators may not feel able to address individual student needs in a large cohort.

Students may sense that they won't get the lecturer’s individual attention as they may have done at school, or the quick email responses they came to expect from professional life, and begin to engage less as a consequence. However, with Learning Catalytics, lecturers can see responses given by each individual, and assess understanding at that level. 

See for yourself

Look out for more on student expectations on this blog in the coming weeks.

Discover more about Learning Catalytics.

About the author 

Chimaechi Allan is passionate about education for social mobility, and manages content marketing for the higher education division at Pearson.