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Faculty tackle challenges of large lectures

Large lectures pose challenges for faculty members and students alike, participants in a recent half-day seminar agreed. During the program, about 50 instructors from a variety of disciplines shared ideas about teaching styles, classroom management, use of technology and other issues.

The Jan. 18 program was sponsored by the Center for Learning and Teaching and its Institute for Student-Centered Learning.

Challenges of large lectures include:

•Freshmen adjusting to college-level instruction and expectations.
•Students who come late, leave early or frequently miss class.
•Noise levels in large rooms.
•Finding ways to engage a large group of people.

Throughout the workshop, presenters and participants alike offered tips about what has worked well for them.

Dale Madison, professor of biological sciences, struck a chord when he asked participants to think about themselves when they were students.

“One of the things I most connected with is the power of story,” Madison said, recalling an undergraduate course he took on the Third Reich. Though the class wasn’t related to his major, it left a major impression on him.

Madison said he creates a detailed outline for each lecture and makes it available before class. That frees him up to zero in on a few key points in more creative ways while lecturing.

“I try to make the information jump out at them,” Madison said.

Wayne Jones, associate professor of chemistry and director of the CLT; and Sean McKitrick, assistant provost for curriculum, instruction and assessment, were among those who encouraged instructors to get student feedback throughout the semester.

That means asking students what they’ve learned, what they still don’t understand, what they’d like to see more of and whether the class is going too fast or too slow, among other questions.

Jones urged instructors to find ways to incorporate elements of small classes into their lectures. He also believes in engaging students through eye contact, chatting with them after class and trying to learn as many of their names as possible.

“I would argue the single biggest thing we can do as instructors is to listen better,” Jones said.

Among the other hints and tricks mentioned during the day were:

•Make good use of the first day by doing more than just distributing the syllabus. Jennifer Jensen, visiting assistant professor in political science, said she takes time to talk about how to succeed in college and in her class.

•Think of yourself as a ski instructor, said Arieh Ullmann in the School of Management. Students must fall down occasionally in order to learn, and they must be encouraged to challenge themselves and make mistakes.

•Civility is essential, said Anne Clark, associate professor of biological sciences. Be courteous to the instructors using the room before and after you.

•Don’t stand behind the desk, said Joseph Morrissey, an instructor in the psychology department. How you use the short space at the front of the room and whether you walk up and down the aisles can make a big difference
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Last Updated: 10/14/08