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Do you truly interact with your students in the lecture hall?

Last updated on 16 August 2022
Do lectures only consist of broadcasting information? Do students just sit back lazily? Or is it always the same zealous students who actively participate? Without explicit attention to these challenges from you as a teacher, lectures can indeed deteriorate into these problems. There is a simple way to improve on this! In this didactic tip, you will find three practical suggestions on how to improve the interaction during your lectures.

Do you think that lectures are not a match with active learning? In fact, they are! In active learning, lectures also have an important function. They offer students an overview of the subject and a framework for planning activities to achieve their learning goals. Lectures are also a good way of explaining difficult concepts and methods. And they allow the teacher to enthuse the students about the subject and the material. 

Interaction helps to keep students focused and to increase their involvement in the subject during the lectures. In practice, many teachers therefore make genuine efforts to actively involve students during lectures or work groups. The question is whether this is done effectively and engagingly. Often, the interaction is limited to a teacher improvising a question and posing it to the audience in general: "OK, who knows the answer to this?" This approach is not very effective. Especially because it is usually the same students - sitting in the front row - who end up answering it.

How can you improve this? Read our three tips below!

Tip 1: Divide your lecture into 10 to 15 minute parts with interaction in between

It's better to not deliver your lecture in one go, but rather divide it into shorter sections. Make sure that students do something active after each segment, and that you have prepared this on forehand. This can, for instance, be about the subject, such as discussing difficult problems, but also about the learning objectives or the criteria for completing and grading assignments. You can also choose an activity in which you get to know each other better. Whatever you do, make sure that the activities remain focused on achieving the learning objectives through constructive alignment.

Tip 2: Prepare questions properly

Not every question will actually prompt students to respond. For example, questions that are too open are difficult to answer by a large group or sometimes even by individual students.

It's usually better to ask closed questions (or give statements) where students can choose from options (Yes/No, 5-10-20 etc). If necessary, you can then ask an individual student for their reasoning behind their choice. This also makes it easier for you as a teacher to respond to the most common errors.

Preferably, ask questions to test students' understanding of the most important information. This can be done in a simple way using, for example, the Buzz Group method. A more elaborate method is the ConcepTest en Peer Instruction approach, developed by Eric Mazur of Harvard University.

Tip 3: Pick students to answer (don't wait until someone answers)

Every student in the room must be addressable during the lecture. So for instance, try asking a question in which students can all express their views simultaneously, by raising their hands at the same time. This makes them feel more confident. If necessary, give students some time to think about their answer.

If you prefer students to answer individually, pick someone at random to answer. This way you prevent the same students always replying to your questions.

If an individual student gives an incorrect answer or is unable to give an answer, continue to create a positive atmosphere. Choose another student to give the answer or provide a short reflection on a student's answer, but do not repeat the answer entirely.

More tips?

Have a look at this follow-up tip.

Digital tools

There is no digital support required for Buzz Groups.

Mentimeter allows you to quickly and anonymously pose open and closed questions to all students in the lecture hall and immediately and interactively see the results. As a teacher, you can then respond quickly. This ensures participation from all students! 

Bear in mind that letting students raising their hands can often be just as effective, and that this is less likely to interrupt the pace of your lecture. 

This teaching tip is provided by VU NT&L and LEARN! Academy.

Erik Scherder asks a question

Erik Scherder is a master at eliciting reactions from the audience. Quickly and effectively. Both open and closed questions.