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Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching

Instructors Share Ideas: Large Class Teaching Tips

Excerpts from: Inside Iowa State
February 9, 1996

by Anne Dolan


Following are short summaries of successful large class teaching methods used by the faculty at ISU.

Create working teams in class.

Teams of six students are mixed randomly to play off each other's strengths. They discuss lecture materials in class and learn to be responsible for each other because individual quiz scores reflect the average performance of team members.

Create a non-threatening environment.

Bill Boon, landscape architect, plays music as students enter class and also includes a silly segment in each of his lectures to help remove barriers. "I think any subject can be made fun. I couldn't do it with algebra because I'm not in love with algebra," he said. "Our job as teachers is more to light candles than to fill vessels."

Be accessible.

Show up for class early and hang around after class so students can approach you individually. Some faculty provide their email addresses to students and encourage them to send inquiries that way. They noted, though, that email correspondence allows students to remain nearly anonymous.

Mix up the media used in the classroom.

Variety is important to keep students engaged and also to respond to different kinds of learning styles (visual vs. straight lecture vs. hands-on opportunities, for example). Many use combinations of video clips, 35 mm slides, overhead sheets and demonstrations involving students in their classes.

Use of technology

One professor said he is a strong proponent of the use of Power Point software to present diagrams, key questions and photographs. Some said they are cautious about getting too caught up in the technology and losing track of the students.

A Ph.D. candidate said that as a student, she is frustrated by lectures that rely on Power Point. "It's colorful and pretty, but I can't put that pretty stuff in my notes," she said.

Assign creative projects.

Whether used as extra credit opportunities, key components in the course or an option to the final exam, some faculty believe student projects help personalize the class, particularly when the process requires students to submit proposals or receive feedback periodically from the instructor.

Place "Help" boxes in the back of the classroom.

Students anonymously ask questions related to the course. One instructor prepares responses outside of class and answers questions at the beginning of each lecture.

Ask "lecture challenge questions."

Presented to students near the end of class, the questions relate to a topic just covered, one soon to be covered or something related generally to the class. One professor said students' written answers provide her with a barometer of whether what she thinks she said is what they learned, student prejudices about a topic coming up, or insight into how to approach a puzzling or difficult topic.

Pair students to help both learn better.

One of several "contract"options students may select for the course, this teams a strong student with a struggling student. It requires a time commitment, but both in the pair typically perform better in class.

Develop a course homepage on the World Wide Web.

A Web page can reinforce or enhance the content of lecture classes. Steve Richardson's course page includes "Ask a geologist," an electronic version of the "Help" box; vocabulary lists; tutorials; sample test questions; and links to other Web sites.


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Revised 10/9/99