Exercises within Lectures
This page owes much to the work of Ruth Pickford and her collaborators: it can't do justice to the ingenuity of the Fe-Fi-Fo-Fun approach, so read her paper hereWho said that lectures, even large (100+) ones had to be passive affairs? View the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures if you need to be disabused of that notion. Few of us have the time and resources to prepare shows like those, as full of experiments and demonstrations and audience participation as a journal article is of references.
But there are simple and easy methods to incorporate participation and active learning into lectures, which require no more resources than you will already have to hand.
The basic tool
—is some means of facilitating communication from the audience to the lecturer. That's all. It does not have to be sophisticated.
- At its most basic it is a show of hands
- ...or of coloured cards (or coloured pages which can be included in the students' module handbooks). Red, yellow, green, blue is plenty.
- (Sorry, I forgot colour vision deficiency: for students, print "this page is blue" on it, and for the lecturer, he [more men than women are deficient in colour vision] will have to rely on someone else to estimate the signals.)
- Or at a sophisticated level, use electronic keypads (also known as "clickers").
Each adds extra functions, but since I am a KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid) person, who believes that Murphy's law applies in spades to any classroom technology, we shall only go as far as coloured cards.
Feedback to the Lecturer
How do you know when your students have got the point, and you can go on to the next one?
Writing these pages, I don't know when I am labouring the blindingly obvious, or blithely skipping complex ideas (OK, that's pushing it a bit); because I don't know who is reading them, and apart from the much-appreciated several hundred of you who have contacted me, I have no idea what you are making of them. Even then, most of the responses are about how much you like it—many thanks, but where are those of you who think it is patronising or puerile or misleading or...? It doesn't matter much, here, because you can click on a link and surf away. But in a lecture? The students are stuck there, at least for this hour. You need to know how they are responding, apart from observing the proportion who are asleep.
Ask them. It may be as simple as a show of hands:
e.g. "This is a crucial point, and there's not much point in going on if you haven't got it. So raise your hands if you still have problems with it. [...] OK, most of you are clear about it, according to that. We'll carry on...
- That is very basic, but better than nothing. It relies on those who do not understand being prepared to expose themselves as having difficulties.
- But it is better than asking those who do understand to indicate, because then the group pressure to conform will drag the timid members along with it.
Back to group culture
- Coloured cards/pages can be used according to conventions which are easy to establish, e.g:
Ask "Is that clear?"
- Red: yes! Stop now.
- Yellow: not quite sure (which means you will need to check further)
- Green: go over it again, please
- Blue (or any other colour): "programmable"—use as you think fit.
- Note that the convention could work exactly the other way round, depending on the question, so take care to make it explicit.
- There is no need to count. Everyone should be signalling something, and a quick glance around the room should tell you what you need to know.
- You may need follow up questions about just what has not been understood by the yellow card holders.
Checking understanding and creating interest
One looks back, the other forward, but the technique is the same in each case: multiple-choice questions answered by a show of cards. (If you have keypads and the associated equipment, of course, you can get detailed data from the responses.)
So, revising last week's work; which of the following neurotransmitters is most associated with stress?
- You get some idea of how much last week's lecture was absorbed, although this is a very basic factual example. The correct answer is (3).
- Or you can intrigue them by eliciting an informed guess on something not yet covered:
According to A J P Taylor, which of the following was a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for the occurrence of the First World War?Answer here
- Mechanical trench-diggers.
- The telegraph/telephone?
- Railway timetables
- In this case it does not really matter which answer you get, because you can briefly discuss each of the alternative answers in turn, and focus on the correct one.
- In each case, you can refine the results with targeted questions or more focused follow-ups, such as "Show your red card if you were guessing!"
Thanks to Bruce Wertheimer for the following information on colour vision deficiency—which I erroneously referred to as "colour blindness" in an earlier version:
Do you know that virtually no humans are color blind?
Monochromacy is an inherited eye deficiency, found in only 1 of 30,000 in the population.
It is probably the most severe of all color blindness for it is literally, true color blindness.
An individual with Monochromacy sees the world in shades of grey for they cannot distinguish any hues, only various shades of light so everything is black, white, or grey.
It afflicts equal numbers of men and women.
Many men (about 10%) have varying degrees of color vision deficiencies.
For most people with milder forms of color blindness, the biggest problem is passing color blind tests.
The more accurate term is color vision deficiency – not color blindness because they see colors, they just don’t agree with most people as to what those colors are!
Don’t feel sad for them because they don’t get to see the world in all its beauty.
They don’t miss what they don’t know and there are probably millions of people out there who don’t even know that they have some sort of color vision deficiency!
By the way, you might have already guessed that I have a color vision deficiency.
On the other hand, I enjoyed reading your piece on lectures.
(Up-dated 22 July 2011)