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How to Make Lectures More Participatory

February 11, 2015

By Cathy Santanello

Incorporating a variety of techniques to get students to participate may enhance discussion. Let’s face it - we feel energized after a great lecture/discussion in our classes, right? The following is Twenty Ways to Make a Lecture More Participatory from the Derek Bok Center: http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/html/icb.topic58474/TFTlectures.html

I’d like to comment on some of the things that usually work for me that are addressed in this document. My examples will be from my Microbiology and Immunology course, which is one of the main courses I teach.

Point 1. Begin the course or the lecture with a question or questions which help you to understand what students are thinking. I sometimes start with a question, story, or case for students to think about during the lecture and I end with the same topic. For example, I may show them a case and picture of a person with an unknown disease and ask them to diagnose it at the end of the class period, based on the clues I have given them throughout the lecture. This helps keeps them engaged throughout the lecture and encourages them to ask and answer questions.

Point 3. An interesting way to introduce topics you will cover in a course and to find out students' assumptions is to ask students to jot down answers to some questions on their own and then combine answers in a small group. I do a variation of this called the Background Knowledge Probe. (Classroom Assessment Techniques, Angelo and Cross, 1993.) On the first day of the semester, I will ask about 15 questions that gauge their background knowledge about topics I will be covering throughout the semester. This gives the students an idea about the topics to be covered but also I can see what they have already been exposed to. The questions are not a right or wrong answer but rather how familiar they are with various topics. For example, I may ask them if they have ever heard of, are somewhat familiar with, or are extremely familiar with a topic such as Major Histocompatibility Complex. I will typically ask this using clickers (personal response systems) which gives immediate feedback.

Point 4. Create an atmosphere that encourages student participation by using a conversational tone and not criticizing student questions or comments in front of the class. The more relaxed and encouraging the professor is, the more inviting the classroom environment. Also, moving around the classroom gets students to pay more attention!

Point 9. Pause in the lecture after making a major point. Show students a multiple-choice question based on the material you have been talking about. I frequently have MC or T/F questions embedded into the lecture that I ask as a pre-question before a topic or one to gauge whether they understood a topic that has just been covered.

Point 14. Use cases to exemplify the issues you want to convey, and conduct the class as a case discussion rather than as a lecture. As mentioned in Point 1, cases are a good way to introduce material. Try writing and publishing your own cases. The National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science is a great site with over 500 published cases. I’ve published on this site a few times and have used my cases and others from the site in many of my classes. http://sciencecases.lib.buffalo.edu/cs/

Point 17. Allow time for questions at the end of lecture. When I first started teaching 20 years ago, I was so worried about getting through the material! Now I know that it is more important to end on a note that allows the students to ask their questions before they leave. Take a few minutes to have students look over their lecture notes to see if there are any outstanding questions. If one student has a question, chances are, others were also confused about the topic.

Point 21. This is my point - not on the document! Have fun. If you have fun in the classroom, the students will too. Research shows that  this enhances learning!

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