small group discussion February 20, 2017

An Activity That Promotes Engagement with Required Readings, Even in Large Classes

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On the first day of class, I often say something like this to my students: “Nothing floats my boat more than great discussion. Nothing promotes great discussion like having completed the readings. And nothing promotes completing the readings like having points attached to it.”


Four Key Questions About Large Classes September 2, 2015

Four Key Questions About Large Classes

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Here’s a set of questions about large classes that I’m thinking we ought to be discussing more than we are.

1. How many students make it a large class? Teachers who do and don’t teach large classes have their opinions, but it’s not clear who has the right answer. Often faculty views seem related to the size of their college or university. I once consulted at a small liberal arts college where I was asked to sign a petition against classes enrolling more than 35 students. At about the same time, I saw a list of the 10 courses most often taken by beginning students at my R1 university. Only two—English composition and physical education—enrolled fewer than 30 students, and most had many more.




April 12, 2013

Moving up Bloom’s Taxonomy in an Introductory Course: What’s Being Done

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The content of many courses is too focused on the facts—those details that students memorize, use to answer test questions, and then promptly forget. That criticism has been levied against many introductory college-level courses, especially by those of us who think faculty are too focused on covering content. But is it a fair criticism? Do introductory courses ignore the higher-level thinking skills, like those identified on the Bloom taxonomy? Is the evidence empirical or anecdotal?


January 22, 2013

Online Homework Systems Can Boost Student Achievement

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Online homework has great appeal for instructors, especially those teaching large courses. By using online assignments, instructors don’t have to collect, grade, and promptly return large quantities of homework assignments. Online programs provide instructors with feedback on student performance that can be used to modify the presentation of material in class. Online homework is also beneficial to students. They get feedback promptly, even more promptly than that provided by very conscientious instructors. Online homework can also be designed so that it allows students to work on areas that frequently cause trouble and/or on areas where the individual student is having difficulty.


April 3, 2012

Active-Learning Ideas for Large Classes: Simple to Complex

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The article that proposes these active-learning strategies is written for faculty who teach large-enrollment biology courses. But large courses share many similarities, and strategies often work well with a variety of content. Even so, most strategies need to be adapted so that they fit well with the instructor’s style, the learning needs of the students, and the configuration of course content.


September 23, 2011

Student Engagement Tip: Give Each Lesson its Own Theme Song

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The challenge of engaging students in a large, introductory political science course, motivated Christopher Soper [article referenced below] to start exploring whether music might help him better connect students and course content. He now opens every class session with a song, and selecting those songs is part of an extra-credit assignment in the course.



January 28, 2011

Helping Students Develop Problem-Solving Skills via Online Discussions

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Developing sophisticated but essential learning skills is especially challenging in large classes. That’s why we regularly report on strategies that faculty members have developed and are using in large classes. The cases in point here are three different biochemistry courses in which faculty members have been using online, asynchronous discussion groups to develop problem-solving skills.