Best Practices, Pedagogy, Small Teaching Tip, Teaching Advice

Small Teaching Tip #4: Incorporate Active Learning into Your Lectures

Most faculty members have lectured to their students at some point in their careers. In traditional lectures, this means that the instructor speaks while students listen. While some lectures can be dynamic, engaging, and even entertaining, research has shown that student concentration typically drops after 10-15 minutes. With many questions during a traditional lecture being purely rhetorical, there are few opportunities for students to engage with the material or their instructor and classmates. What can you do to be sure that your students are engaged?

Try implementing low risk, high impact strategies such as interactive lecturing. Instead of a traditional hour-long lecture, break the content into several 10-15 minute “chunks.” In between each chunk, incorporate small, structured activities. This can be as simple as asking a question that requires student responses, encouraging students to participate in a brief think-pair-share exercise, or having students complete a one-minute paper. These active learning strategies will re-focus student attention as soon as concentration begins to drop while also giving you the opportunity to assess student comprehension throughout the lecture.

What kind of active learning strategies have you used to enhance your lectures? Please share your tips!

This post is part of a series which will present low risk, high reward teaching ideas. Inspired by James Lang’s book Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning, this series will inspire you to implement small but powerful changes to your teaching.

1-1-1, Faculty Technology Institute, TLT

Incorporating student interaction and peer instruction in math courses

Our guest blogger is Stephane Lafortune, a professor in the Department of Mathematics. Dr. Lafortune attended the 2014 Summer FTI. This post is a report and reflection on incorporating a new learning strategy in his math courses.

I participated in the 2014 Summer FTI. My goal was to become more familiar and comfortable with the technology that can be incorporated in my work as a teacher. Below, I will first talk about my general experience as a participant and then focus on one aspect of the workshop that I used in class.

The commitment of participating in an FTI involves being there eight hours a day for a week. This is quite a commitment from both you and the organizers who have to come up with activities and material to entertain all these professors (we were about 25 people). Well, let me tell you that the staff of TLT filled this week with so many workshops, activities, and games where we could win stuff (I did win a TLT umbrella) that really there were no dull moments. In addition to that, the people at TLT truly were enthusiastic about the FTI and really cared about the participants. As a direct consequence of that, there was really a good spirit of camaraderie among the participants. As a human experience, I have a fond memory of the week I spent with the TLT people.

My primary goal was to learn about technology. However, I had not noticed that there was going to be a section of the FTI devoted to the topic of “interactive teaching.” For that section, we were using the guide entitled “The Interactive Lecture” written by Silver and Perini. As part of our activities, we had a block of time (about 2 hours) when we had to come up with a specific way to implement the strategies outlined in the guide. To do so, we were guided in a very specific way as the steps we had to follow were written in a Google document. Our “job” was to write our plan by following each step carefully. Admittedly, I was not initially very enthusiastic about the idea but, given that I was sitting there with nothing else to do, I went to work and decided to apply this technique to my Math 103 course.

One of the topics that most of the students have difficulty to grasp in Math 103 concerns the analysis of arguments (this is part of the mathematical theory of logic). During that session, I created activities where the students would be forced to collaborate with a neighbor to come up with their own arguments and then share their ideas as to how the argument can be analyzed.  I did use those ideas in my summer Math103 course right after the FTI. To do so, I shortened the time spent on lecturing by going over less examples on the board. The idea was to have the students make their own examples and have them explain to each other how to apply the concepts to their cases.  It went magnificently as the students enthusiastically exchanged ideas once I had told them to start. As a direct consequence of that, the students had a better understanding of the topic and their exam scores on that particular topic were much higher than usual. In addition, being “forced” to work on interactive lectures gave me other ideas of activities, which I also incorporated in that summer Math 103 course.

To conclude, this FTI was a wonderful experience on a personal level as it was very pleasant and enabled me to get to know some of my colleagues. In addition, I was pleasantly surprised by the impact what I learned had on my teaching style.