Rethinking Classroom Engagement
An exploration into alternative lecturing techniques.
By Rashad Muhammad, Instructional Designer
If you wanted to design a space that deterred student engagement, it might look like a large lecture hall. Fixed seating, 100+ students, an instructor anchored at the front of the classroom.
This way of communicating information goes back to the middle ages and it is a product of how people viewed and shared knowledge at that time. Large lecture halls occupy a lot of real estate at colleges and universities around the country, so they will likely remain a staple of these educational environments. However, we can seek to modify these environments so they are more reflective of our current values concerning what learning spaces should feel like and how students can be more successful in them.
Marty Spranger, Assistant Professor of Physiology, and Chris Shaltry, Academic Technology Coordinator for the Natural Science College, have taken on this challenge head on. For nearly two years, Marty has been using a device called a Screen Beam which allows him to use his Surface Pro tablet to wirelessly transmit the image on the tablet to the projector without screen lag. The fully-functional operating system of the Surface Pro allows him to facilitate his class from any corner of the large lecture hall located in B115 Wells Hall. In fact, Marty is able to control the screen from the hallway which is over 100 ft away from the front of the room. The connection reliability is one of the features that sets the Screen Beam device apart from other technologies on the market.
Why does this matter? According to an article published in e-Journal of Student Research (MYERS, A. & ANDERSON, S. , 2010), “The positioning of the teacher in the classroom indicates whether he or she is enthusiastic about the subject matter, cares about the students’ progress, is motivated to help students learn content material, and has high expectations for the success of his or her students.” In a large lecture hall, the challenges that a teacher faces are compounded by distance and design. The design in large lecture halls reinforces old notions that the speaker is the only person in the room with knowledge. The amount of distance between students and Instructors in some rooms can be so great that asking a question is like a performance. So the benefit of this project is not in adopting some new technology. The real benefit lies in redefining how we want our learning spaces to feel and giving instructors the tools to potentially change the power dynamic in their classrooms.
With help from Chris Shaltry, Marty has developed a method for teaching in large lecture halls that enables him to freely engage with students on a more personal level while simultaneously using Top Hat, Media Space, and Capture Space (a tool that enables lecture capture and facilitates the storage of the recordings on MediaSpace as a preparatory step for streaming or video captioning).
The Hub is currently working with Marty and Chris to look at ways that technology can be used to enable instructor mobility in the classroom, help identify other faculty members who are interested in exploring ways to make the lecture halls more engaging, and work with other groups on campus to investigate if this is a solution that should be adopted on a larger scale.
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 (MYERS, A. & ANDERSON, S. 2010. How teacher positioning in the classroom affects the on-task behavior of students. E-Journal of Student Research, 2(1):1-9.)