On October 30, 2017, Richard Freishtat (director of the Center for Teaching and Learning) moderated an open discussion about all the “stuff” that gets in the way of teaching a large-enrollment course. Instructors and staff from math, economics, classics, media studies, biology, environmental science, and physics were joined by CTL and ETS staff who support classroom technology, digital pedagogy, and teaching and learning services such as bCourses, Clickers, and Online Course Evaluations.
Participants were asked to share questions and concerns as well as suggestions and best practices. Below are highlights (and lowlights) from the conversation:
GENERAL CHALLENGES AND CONCERNS
- Courses keep getting bigger...what to do? We can’t just keep increasing the instructor-student ratio, even with GSI support.
- Some courses have outgrown the limits of our classrooms. Active learning techniques are no longer possible, scheduling labs and discussions becomes a nightmare, and there isn’t always enough equipment to use.
- With course capture and overflow rooms, students are less motivated to come to class, especially for 8am lecture. There is less sense of community, less engagement.
- There's so much content we need to cover, and a lot of it is very complex. How can we make this better for students?
- What is a flipped classroom? What are techniques for engaging large numbers of students during class?
- How are people using clickers in humanities classes? What are examples of good poll questions?
- How do you maintain consistency / standardize content in large courses where professors swap in and out each semester or even at different points of the course?
- Larger classes often means working with more GSIs. How do we organize them, distribute the work? What labor management resources or training are available to faculty?
- How do you find good GSIs and readers when your department doesn’t have a built-in graduate student pipeline? What are good strategies for recruiting from other departments? How do you ensure quality, incentivize, and hold students accountable?
- How do you teach a large-ish course without GSIs? In particular, how do you give instructions about writing or creative assignments? Written instructions only get you so far, so do you give up time in class to talk about these things or hold additional office hours?
- I’ve taught only small classes for many years. How do I make the transition from a small to a large class?
- As class sizes go up, the number of DSP accommodations also goes up, so how do we handle these effectively when there is not a good system in place?
- The budget committee does not understand how difficult it is to teach these very large courses, especially within stressed-out departments. What can we do as a community?
RESOURCES AND STRATEGIES IN THE ROOM
- Course capture is an important review tool for many students, particularly non-native English speakers. To minimize impact on attendance, ETS recommends setting up a delayed release for capture videos. Be sure to talk to students and set expectations around course capture videos; don’t just put it out there.
- Martha Olney delays 3 days during the normal semester, 1 day close to exams. She also selectively mutes the audio at key points (such as when the students are having small group discussions) so those who miss class still have to work through questions on their own.
- What about having a student volunteer to come to class to record lecture, rather than use the course capture service? What are policies?
- Okay for internal/department use, but risky without explicit agreement. Can’t control what student does with material.
- Media must be stored/handled appropriately and captioned for distribution.
- Need to communicate to students that all digital content (lecture slides, course recordings, handouts, etc.) is copyrighted intellectual property. (Beware: lots of companies looking to purchase course material for resale.)
- Instructors should put copyright symbol, year, and name on ALL materials.
- What are analytics around course capture? Are students actually looking at videos?
- Spikes occur before midterms, students tend to pick and choose segments rather than watch straight through. Comments are disabled on YouTube; discussions happen in bCourses. ETS doesn’t have the full analytics picture.
- Differential use of lecture recordings among groups of students:
CARLOS CORTINHAS, The University of Exeter – Is Lecture Capture Benefiting (All) Higher Education Students? An Empirical Investigation https://econpapers.repec.org/paper/exewpaper/1706.htm
Engaging Students During Class / Using Clickers
- For those interested in Clickers, consultations are available as well as some online resources. End-of-semester Clickers user group meetings are also a good opportunity to hear ideas and share tips and strategies.
- Using clickers: Martha Olney polls on several questions per day, which are all pre-planned. One is right at the beginning of class, related to the reading/homework. The accuracy of responses helps her determine how fast or slow to go in covering material. Others are interspersed, usually applications of different concepts. She often presents a set of choices then eliminates one at a time, allowing students to work through the question through discussion. Students are rewarded for participating, not for getting the correct answer. Points in class make up for points lost on homework/problem sets. Discussion is possible even in 700-person classes, with the proper management.
- Clickers can also be a spontaneous way for instructors to check understanding and solicit questions during lecture. The technology helps people who might not otherwise feel comfortable raising their hand.
- Ananya Roy (no longer at Berkeley) used Twitter as a back channel for student questions and comments. GSIs would monitor and review these behind the scenes, and Roy would take a break every 20 minutes or so to highlight interesting comments or select a few questions to address. (Leaving the channel running and visible to everyone would be too distracting. Some instructors don’t like asking students to use personal accounts on public platforms...need to weigh FERPA concerns.)
- Other tips and tricks:
- Walk around the room, change the focus of attention, break the instructor/student divide.
- Have music playing when students enter, to set the right mood. (Some people choose tongue-in-cheek selections related to the subject matter.) Students will learn that when the music stops playing, it’s time for class to begin.
Incorporating Videos and “Flipped” Classroom Techniques
- The DIY Media Studio (adjacent to the entrance to the AIS) is a free resource for instructors who want to create videos, annotated powerpoint presentations, etc. These are good for a flipped classroom setting and lecture replacement (if you are going out of town or for whatever reason can’t hold class in person). Also useful and super easy if you want to film short video responses or feedback on questions that you didn’t get to in class, expand on lecture/homework, or provide detailed instructions about an assignment (see concern above).
- Flipped material can be real time, explanatory. Recording audio while drawing on a screen is just like writing on the board in a lecture hall. (Better for students because they get an up-close view of everything and can stop/start/review.) John DeNero, Martha, others make short videos to supplement lecture, take care of housekeeping, not as a replacement for lecture.
- Best to put videos on Box and GDrive and embed links in bCourses. These have unlimited storage, a better video player, and give you better analytics than bCourses/Canvas.
Online vs. Face to Face
- Why do students need to come to class? What can online courses teach us?
- Does seeing faces equal engagement?
- It’s possible to create a shared experience, even a synchronous one, without being physically in the same space. At Berkeley, we are slow to accept this, but online/hybrid courses are commonplace.
- Continuing discussion and giving feedback outside of class
- Many use discussion forums (bCourses, Piazza). Note that Piazza is not officially supported by the campus, so student privacy is not protected by a university contract, unlike bCourses, Gradescope, Turnitin, Google Suite, etc.
- Many instructors keep a set of standard responses to commonly asked questions, which they post at appropriate times.
- ETS staff play an advocacy role with vendors like Canvas (bCourses) and Turnitin (Academic Integrity). They can’t always ensure that new features will be added or problems will be fixed, but they work with other R1 institutions to find out what our peer institutions are doing, to represent instructors’ needs as best they can and to push for changes we want to see, often vigilantly preventing problems before they impact students and courses.
- ETS classroom technology staff know about the technology in large classrooms and can communicate needs to the engineers who install and work on specific rooms.
- Campus contracts with vendors like Canvas, Gradescope, Turnitin, Google provides level of protection, privacy, and control for both students and instructors. Using “unofficial” tools is up to individual discretion, but should be weighed against privacy concerns, loss of data/analytics, lack of support.
- Martha Olney puts in her syllabus that students must read all emails, that these will contain important instructions about the class.
Now in its fifth year, Dialogues is a regular campus-wide discussion on pressing topics related to teaching and learning, hosted by the Academic Innovation Studio, the Center for Teaching and Learning, and the Academic Senate's Committee on Teaching.
For one-on-one consultations on teaching-related topics, including suggestions for other ways to engage students in a lecture-style setting, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.