How to make your large classes more participative and engaging

Large classes in higher education is a well-known phenomenon for many countries such as France, Holland, Italy and the US. Even in the UK, in which the higher education system is marked with smaller class sizes, the demand for large classes has been increasing due to large numbers of students wishing to get college education (Mulryan-Kyne, 2010; Huxham, 2005; Cooper & Robinson, 2000). In Türkiye, the situation is not much different from these countries. Thus, for the recent and would-be faculty members, it may be important to get ready for teaching large classes.

Being aware of the challenges may the very first step in preparedness for teaching large classes. Student passivity, high absenteeism, low motivation, low engagement with the course content, lack of interaction among the peers and between the faculty and the students are some of the challenges that research reveal in recent years (Mulryan-Kyne, 2010; Carbone, 1999). The second step in preparedness for teaching large classes is making an astute decision for the teaching style to be used. The research shows lecturing is still used widely in large classes but more and more faculty is integrating non-lecturing teaching strategies into their lectures. As McKeatchie (2011) points out lecturing is a powerful teaching technique for teaching low level factual knowledge. If the content is based on the application of specific knowledge to new contexts or the content that requires higher order thinking skills, lecturing is insufficient in its own. In addition to this, traditional lecturing aggravates most of the factors associated with the challenges of teaching large classes. Lecturing strengthens student passivity and anonymity and non-attendance. “Lectures are often unpopular with students, especially those in advanced years of study who demonstrate their feeling by not attending them.”(Huxham, 2005, p. 17).

Students like ‘doing’ (active learning) and ‘doing with others’ (cooperative learning) in lectures (Machemer & Crawford, 2007). Instead of traditional lecturing that leaves no room for active participation and engagement of students, inclusion of different techniques and technology in lectures by gradually increasing their percent in overall class time in junior and senior classes result in more learning and more student satisfaction in large classes (Huxham, 2005; Lake, 2001). University of Washington Center for Instructional Development and Research suggests that establishing personal relations with students; designing activities that have the potential to engage students, and setting clear expectations for active participation can enhance active participation of students in large classes. There are also several techniques that can be incorporated in lectures to make students get more benefit from lectures:

  • Brainstorming
  • Think-pair-share
  • Case study
  • Simulation
  • Gallery walk
  • Jigsaw
  • Role-play
  • Games with educational value
  • Demos
  • Debates
  • Discussion
  • Podcasting or videocasting
  • Quizzes by clickers

Which of the above strategies can work effectively in large classes at KU? Would you like to suggest any strategies that can work in large classes at KU?