Large Courses

Even though there are significantly more students to manage in large lecture courses, it is still possible to complete short activities that provide opportunities for students to engage with the material in meaningful ways. Different methods can be used to build community and reduce anonymity in large courses.

Considerations for Keeping Students Engaged in Large Courses

Convey information effectively with the following suggestions:

  • Speak slowly.
  • Start with a hook. Explain relevance of content to students’ lives.
  • Provide a visual agenda of your lecture and use transition slides.
  • Organize your lecture into meaningful sections. Repeat main points and summarize periodically.
  • Check student progress to assess student learning regularly. Pause throughout your lecture to pose questions, or ask students to formulate questions to ask you or a partner sitting next to them. Classroom response systems also allow you to check on student comprehension.
  • Vary your teaching methods to convey ideas and concepts such through demonstrations, multimedia, and guest speakers.
  • End with a summary. You can visually display one or ask students to reflect and summarize the most important points of the lecture. You can collect these summaries for your review.

Know that you have options beyond lecturing. There are many engaging learning activities that can easily be implemented in any class regardless of size. Within a 50-minute class you can easily conduct two to three active learning activities. These can be short exercises such as:

  • Asking students to turn to a neighbor to share notes and ask clarifying questions.
  • Asking students to write down one or two possible exam questions based on the lecture content just covered and then turn to a neighbor and quiz each other (collect these questions and consider using them for a test or exam).
  • Use classroom polls to ask questions that review the lecture’s main ideas. Classroom response technologies  such as iClickers facilitate the collection of student answers electronically allowing for immediate feedback.
  • Poll students' prior knowledge by using a one-minute paper at the beginning of class to assess their existing knowledge on the topic (e.g., "Today we're discussing photosynthesis. Write down anything that comes to mind when you think of photosynthesis").
  • Check for comprehension by using a Think-Pair-Share exercise. Prepare a comprehension question ahead of time, ask students to discuss the answer with a partner, and sample the class for responses (e.g., "Do you think photosynthesis stops when the sun goes down? Why or why not?").
  • Incorporate a video clip into the lecture that illustrates a main concept. Ask students to predict what will happen before watching and have them respond to a question with a partner after viewing the video.

Managing Active Learning in Large Classes

  • Display learning activity directions on a presentation slide.
  • While students engage in the task, both you and your teaching assistants can circulate and answer any questions.
  • Signal the end of the activity by turning the lights off and on or by making a sound (e.g., clapping, ringing a bell) to redirect students' attention to you.
  • Take a moment to debrief by asking a few students to share their thoughts.
  • Move on to the next part of your lecture.

Getting Started with Reducing Anonymity & Building Community

Building community in large classes is not only possible but may lead to benefits such as a reduction of anonymity and an increase in student accountability. Here are a few strategies:

  • Get to know your students. Download a class list with pictures from the  Brio Hyperion  faculty website. Try to memorize as many students' names as you can.
  • When speaking with students, ask for their name and then use their name in that interaction.
  • Use a class list to randomly call on names when you ask questions. Tell students on day one you will be doing this so they will expect it.
  • On the first day of class, ask students to write the following information on index cards: their names, their reasons for taking the course, and their expectations of it. Collect and review them. Keep these on file and refer to them whenever you have a meeting or interaction with a student. This can also be done online through a pre-course Qualtrics survey.

Provide opportunities for students to get to know each other.

  • On the first day of class, have students turn to their neighbor and ask about their major, their year, and why they are taking the course.
  • If assigning group projects, provide class time for group work activities.
  • Ask students to work on tasks in pairs or small groups throughout your lectures.
  • Provide an online discussion space for students to ask questions related to the course.

Lastly, build an inclusive learning community.