Friday, 4 December 2015

Encouraging contributions from students in lectures, by Dr Chris Stiff

University courses continually emphasise the active approach that students should take in learning; facilitating their own intellectual development rather than relying on passive delivery of material from lecturers (Chilwant, 2012; Rehman, Afzal, & Kamran, 2013). An expeditious method for this is through interactive teaching. Here, students are encouraged to contribute their own thoughts and ideas on the material delivered, and to apply their own experiences and conceptualisations to material they are presented with.

However, this method often works better in theory than in practice. Frequently, a lecturer may find that their suggestions for audience contributions are met with silence, and their postulation of questions are met with a shy shrug. In lectures – where the attendance may run into triple digits – students may feel embarrassed and even intimidated at lecturers efforts to “get them involved”.

Fortunately, there are numerous methods available wherein lecturers can obtain the opinions of their students without causing problems. This article attempts to outline some of these methods.

1) Small group discussion and feedback 
Students are placed in small groups, and then provided with a question to discuss. The lecturer can then move around those groups, asking for group feedback
Why it works:
  • Belonging to a group – even one of a transient and superficial nature such as this – increases self-esteem and confidence in individuals. This reduces the anxiety that speaking aloud can cause (Rudich & Vallacher, 1999). 
  • Students contributions become somewhat anonymised, meaning they are less embarrassed about “wrong” answers. 
Potential problems:
  • Individuals may “coast” on the contributions of the others in their group 
  • Groups may end up discussing other extra-curricular activities! 

2) Use technology
Many options exist for students to contribute their ideas via their laptop or mobile phone. At the most basic level, students may email the lecturer in class. The freemium service Poll Everywhere is also a viable means of obtaining feedback, as is Padlet. In both, students can contribute anonymously from most electronic devices.
Why it works: 
  • Anonymity is a great facilitator for discussions such as this. By remove the evaluation anxiety, students are free to contribute their ideas (Postmes, Spears, & Lea, 1998) 
Potential problems: 
  • Gremlins in the technological works may scupper some attempts at this – always have a back-up plan 
  • Some students may use this opportunity to demonstrate their “wittiness” 

3) Writing answers down and handing them in
A low-tech alternative to the above; students simply write their ideas on a piece of paper and pass them to the lecturer. This can be combined with putting them into groups to reduce the number of pages coming in.
Why it works:
  • See above 
Potential problems: 
  • Can be time consuming to collect paper from large numbers of students 
  • Not very ecologically friendly 

4) Offer incentives for speaking
Students are asked a question, and those that provide an answer are provided with a ticket which absolves them of answering any more questions that class/semester/year.
Why it works:
  • As a simple cost/reward equation, students can recognise the payoff in this small contribution to the lecture 
  • Tickets can be customised to emphasise the “light-hearted” nature of the exercise, which again reduces anxiety 
Potential problems:
  • The lecturer must calculate the number of passes provided per class, to ensure the entire class is not in possession of one before the end of term 
  • Forgeries may be produced by a particularly enterprising class 

- Poll Everywhere:
- Padlet:

Chilwant, K. S. (2012). Comparison of two teaching methods, structured interactive lectures and conventional lectures. Biomedical Research (0970-938X), 23(3), 363–366.

Postmes, T., Spears, R., & Lea, M. (1998). Breaching or Building Social Boundaries? SIDE-Effects of Computer-Mediated Communication. Communication Research, 25(6), 689–715.

Rehman, R., Afzal, K., & Kamran, A. (2013). Interactive lectures: A perspective of students and leceturers. JPMI: Journal of Postgraduate Medical Institute, 27(2), 152–156.

Rudich, E. A., & Vallacher, R. R. (1999). To belong or to Self-Enhance? Motivational Bases for Choosing Interaction Partners. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25(11), 1387– 1404.

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Encouraging contributions from students in lectures by Chris Stiff, Keele University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.