Teaching a Course

Creating Engaging Lectures

In many classes, lectures are important opportunities to make sure students become familiar with the key take-aways, debates, and issues for your subject. Engaging lectures require thoughtful preparation and are best interspersed with moments of student feedback.

Engaging lectures are ones that relay and inspire intellectual energy and student excitement. We suggest the development of lectures that are punctuated with moments of student activity. Such activities may range from individual to social and from informal to highly organized. Examples could include silent reflection, ordering notes, answering questions via raised hands or with personal response systems, or even highly organized group activities. Practices like these offer instructors a window into student thinking and help both students and instructor gauge the degree of student learning. CATs, or classroom assessment techniques, are good examples of practices that use formative assessments to enrich the classroom and engage students. While spontaneous moments of student engagement can and do occur, planning for them makes it much more likely that they will be effective learning experiences.

Let's discuss what a lecture development and delivery process might look like. When preparing for a lecture, it may be helpful to apply the principle of backward design that we have recommended for the design of the whole course. This principle will then guide you through choosing the most important points and aligning those points with your goals for students. This information will also guide the ordering of your topics (introduction, body, and conclusion, perhaps) and will suggest the most obvious CATs with which to engage and challenge students. CATs provide another opportunity for you to demonstrate your commitment to student learning by interrupting your lecture to open it up to allow for student discussions. While it is important to take this time, it is also important to know when to suggest the discussion be moved "offline" to office hours or on-line discussion. It is valuable to prepare for these interactions in the classroom so that engagement is focused on those items of "enduring knowledge" (in backward design terms) and not merely on trivial aspects of the discipline.

Especially if you have a large class, you might also consider "flipping the classroom," or having students engage in peer instruction during class time in response to homework questions they have completed after watching online lectures you create. Whatever engagement method you use, students will notice your willingness to engage their thinking and your desire to bring them into the discipline.

We can't consider here the many different ways in which instructors can evaluate their own performance, but we will say that it's very difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of your own lecturing. It's difficult not only because you are giving it and not listening to it, but also because you are already expert in the material and will naturally assume much of the implicit context for what you explicitly say. The CATs mentioned above provide some insight into the effectiveness of your lecture insofar as they give you an immediate report of what students are hearing. Other methods of evaluation include mid-semester group feedback sessions (MSGFs) or pairing up with a trusted colleague to listen to one another's lectures.

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