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This issue of CDTL Brief on Engaging Students features articles by colleagues and a student on how to engage students in the learning process at different levels.

May 2009, Vol. 12 No. 2 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Make Large Classes Engaging With ‘Quick-ins’
Associate Professor Milagros (Millie) Rivera
Communications and New Media

Let’s face it, many undergraduate students view large lectures as the ideal setting to fade into an anonymous mass, relax, catch up on their emails and touch base with friends using various online platforms. Oh, yes, they also text on their mobile phones, surf the Internet and take notes on whatever the lecturer is saying. I have no idea how they manage to do all these things simultaneously, but they do! I saw it with my own eyes when I sat at the back of a lecture theatre to watch a colleague’s lecture some time ago.

The truth is that your passion for the subject, charisma and a lively style of lecturing can only get you so far. Our students’ ability to focus on only one thing is challenged constantly by all the electronic gadgets they carry, and the large lecture format offers the perfect set up for them to practice ‘multitasking’. After all, since the lecturer is busy talking at the front of the room, it is easy for students to become invisible.

This is why I make it a point to have at least one interactive moment in every lecture. It does not cost much—it can be done in about 10 minutes—but the benefits are worth it. These interactive moments can be called anything you want; I am warming up to ‘Quick-in’ (quick interaction), but I have also used the ‘Buzz Moment’. It does not matter what you call it, but I assure you that Quick-ins will help draw students out of their passivity and engage them in discussion even if your class comprises several hundred students.

I usually choose an interesting or controversial issue for my Quick-ins. It should be something that will capture students’ interest or a concept you think needs additional discussion. In my class, I have a slide (see Figure 1) which students recognise as the prelude to a Quick-in or Buzz Moment.

I introduce the slide to students on the first day of the semester and have a Quick-in to give them a taste of what the activity entails. I also explain to students that my co-lecturers and I will not be ‘picking’ on them, but actively engaging them in the class discussion. When the slide is shown in subsequent lectures, students usually perk up and are eager to interact with each other. I get lots of positive comments about my Quick-ins from student feedback, such as:

• “Though lectures start at 8 am,she never fails to liven up lectures and make them     engaging and interesting through initiatives like breaks and Quick-ins. She has taken     lectures to a whole new level altogether.”

• “She made lectures very lively and fun to attend as there is interaction between     students.”

Figure 1. Slide used in the first day of class to introduce the
concept of a Quick-in or Buzz Moment

One catch is that you must be able to get students to be quiet after the time for interaction is up—once they get going, they sometimes do not want to stop. I usually give them a one-minute warning so they can wrap up the discussion and then firmly ask them to stop so we can hear from some students in the class.

A Quick-in can last anywhere from four to six minutes. If you let students talk for too long, they may slowly gravitate to discuss things unrelated to the class, but if you do not give them enough time, they are unable to have a meaningful discussion.

After the discussion is over, I ask student to share their views with the rest of the class. Do not expect volunteers! Instead, be ready to ask students at random. Make sure you call on students across the entire lecture theatre and not just those seated in front or centre for instance. In fact, I make a point to call on students who sit at the back. Your discussion with students after the Quick-in can be just a few minutes; but if you do it right, you can easily move on to the next subject and continue your class.

You can do a few variations of the Quick-in. For example, you can have students write down their views on the subject and collect the sheets so they can receive credit for class participation. I used to do this in a 450-student lecture and it created a huge amount of work for my teaching assistants. You can also have each segment of the lecture theatre discuss a different question/issue. Another good use for a Quick-in is when you are showing a video and want students to extract key issues. You can show students a slide with the questions before the video so they know what to look for in the video, and allow a short discussion after the video is over. Students will pay more attention to the video that way. Finally, if you are discussing a difficult concept, use a Quick-in. You can introduce the concept, give students an opportunity to discuss it or answer some questions, and then use their feedback to explain the concept further and clarify the common doubts or misconceptions.

It is important that you walk around the lecture theatre when students are interacting. This will keep their focus on the subject and allow you to engage students who resist the activity (you will always have a few of those). I usually approach the disengaged students and discuss the issue with them, letting them know I will call on them during the sharing session. The next time I do a Quick-in, these students will start talking with the others right away because they do not want me to zero in on them again!

Building at least one interactive moment in large classes allows students to learn from each other, reflect on the subjects/issues discussed in class, and makes the lecture more enjoyable and a more meaningful learning experience. Since students are fully engaged in the discussion, they will remember the concepts better.

So try a Quick-in! The benefits for you and your students are worth it.

 First Look articles

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Inside this issue
Encouraging Youth Engagement in the Public Square
Designing Interactive Spaces for Teaching and Learning
Make Large Classes Engaging
With ‘Quick-ins’
Learning Spaces
Maximising Opportunities for
Experiential Learning at NUS