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Active teaching in a traditional lecture hall

Lecture courses can be made more interactive with small-group activities
University Business, October 2016
High-capacity classrooms: The collaborative BioSciences West classroom at The University of Arizona holds up to 112 students.
High-capacity classrooms: The collaborative BioSciences West classroom at The University of Arizona holds up to 112 students.

Active learning should allow students in traditional lecture halls to work in small groups solving problem sets or developing presentations. That can be accomplished without renovating the space, but the layout does present challenges.

Lecture courses can be made more interactive by breaking up class time with small-group activities.

“You can do it low-tech —‘Here’s the problem, now work in pairs and get an answer,’ “ says Adam Finkelstein, academic associate and educational developer for teaching and learning services at McGill University in Montreal. “You can still be collaborative; it’s just much harder.”

One problem for faculty, who typically roam around lecture halls during group activities, is reaching students sitting in the middle of a row when the room has only a few aisles. That space is considered a “dead zone” by some faculty, says Lois Boynton, an associate professor at the School of Media and Journalism at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who teaches in a renovated lecture hall designed for interaction.

During the lecture, professors can use clickers or other online polling tools, or pose questions on the display screens for students to answer. And after class, faculty can engage students through online discussion boards, virtual office hours and online tutorials, says Simon Bates, academic director of the Centre for Teaching, Learning & Technology at the University of British Columbia.

“A great way to engender the sense of an engaged, collaborative learning community is to pay attention to spaces that support learning outside the formal classroom.”

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