Trying to stop lectures from being so zzzz…Part 2

Last time, I wrote about the tactics I was planning on trying out in my lecture series this year. Well, the lectures are done, I’ve collected some feedback and so here are the results.

  1. Live polling. Around three-quarters of the students had a smartphone or tablet and knew how to connect it to the Wifi, so there were enough for “think, pair, share” questions. I ran the quizzes using Socrative typically half-way through the lecture and the questions were simple, the idea was just to reinforce what I had just gone through, not to challenge them. Overall, 75% of the students agreed that “the quizzes helped me remember the key concepts from each lecture” and only 8% agreed that “the electronic polling is unfair as not everyone has a smartphone”. So, I’d say it went pretty well. There were the odd random problem running a quiz, which is inevitable given the technology involved. Also, the lecture theatres I was in didn’t have dual projection which would have made it a bit easier. So quizzes are definitely a good idea but I’m not sure how much the technology adds. If I can get my hands on some clickers, I will use these in preference next year, but using smartphones is certainly now possible.
  2. Online reading lists. I explained about the reading list on Mendeley at the start of the first lecture and I said we’d have a competition with a prize for whoever improved the Public Group the most. By the penultimate lecture …. no-one had done anything so I think they were a bit non-plussed. Over half (54%) of the students were not sure whether “it was useful having references in Mendeley”. I still think it is worth doing as, whilst it might not be of immediate use, I believe it is helpful to introduce them early on (this is a first-year course) to both references and reference managers as by the time they reach the fourth year they will have to be reading the primary literature.
  3. Videos. I showed them Linus Pauling explaining how he discovered the geometry of an alpha-helix and I started and ended the course with a very nice video showing a small protein folding, courtesy of Folding@home. I also introduced them to FoldIt which is a great game where you get to fold proteins. All of this went down very well and 85% of the students disagreed when I said that “the videos and other material were a waste of time.”. This does rely on the lecture theatre having speakers you can plug your laptop into, mind you. Will definitely do this next year.
  4. Stretches. I can still remember how sleepy I felt in many of my lectures after about 40 min. So I got my students to stand-up and have a stretch about half-way through, often just before a quiz. This is a no-brainer: 90% of the students agreed that “”the half-way break and stretch helped my concentration. It turns out there is a lot of material about breaks in lectures on the internet. I’m not sure if I will follow the advice of one student who suggested that “when doing the stretch in the middle of the lecture [you should] lead a routine.”.

By Philip Fowler

Philip W Fowler is a computational biophysicist studying antimicrobial resistance working at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

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