Physical Geology at Arizona State University
Professor: Ramon Arrowsmith
Enrollment: 220 students
I show examples of geology from my own experiences, and occasionally include a few funny slides or video or audio clips to lighten things up. I use a multimedia presentation system composed of a vertical camera above an illuminated table on which I write or place rocks, examples from the book, or anything else I want the students to see. The video signal is projected on a screen in the classroom. This form of presentation has worked well and definitely has improved students' access to the material by making things more visible. Along with the presentation system, I use a laser disc containing movies and photographs from a textbook publisher. I can easily switch from multimedia to laser disc output and thus weave visual examples into my lecture. Occasionally, I show the students computer files or video from a VHS player. The students react well to this multimedia approach, but to involve the students I have them do a short exercise in groups, then we talk about it.
For these, I walk up the side of the auditorium and designate even and odd rows. Then I say that the even people should turn around and face the odd people and do the exercise together. This generates groups of 2-6 people. They all put their names onto the single sheet they are to turn in. Then the students work together on a question for 3-4 minutes. I walk around the room, answering their questions.
When time is up, the TA stands at the overhead projector, and I walk through the crowd (I have a lapel mike so they can hear me), collecting their answers for each question. Then we talk about solutions. Usually the time runs out, and the students turn their papers. Of course, they get credit for their participation, and that provides some motivation, but I am sure students understand the concepts better than if they were presented only in my lecture.
This process engages the students. Of course the hub-bub grows as the students move from the assigned topic to other conversations, but they come back fairly quickly. It is a bit unnerving because there is the potential for loss of control in the class, but the students seem to either like it or are indifferent, but certainly aren't quite as passive as they are while being lectured at.
Don't give up lectures completely.
Anticipate students' anxiety, and be prepared to provide support and encouragement as they adapt to your expectations.
Discuss your approach with colleagues, especially if you are teaching a well-established course in a pre-professional curriculum.
When lecturing is the chosen or necessary teaching method, one way to keep students engaged is to pause periodically to assess student understanding or to initiate short student discussions (see sidebars). Calling on individual students to answer questions or offer comments can also hold student attention; however, some students prefer a feedback method with more anonymity. If they have an opportunity to discuss a question in small groups, the group can offer an answer, which removes any one student from the spotlight. Another option is to have students write their answer on an index card, and pass the card to the end of the row; the student seated there can select one answer to present, without disclosing whose it is.
The literature on teaching and learning contains other examples of techniques to maintain students' attention in a lecture setting (Eble, 1988; Davis, 1993; Lowman, 1995; McKeachie, 1994):
Avoid direct repetition of material in a textbook so that it remains a useful alternative resource.