I am sitting in on a big lecture course - Biology for Majors - that I will teach next fall. Faculty, both junior and senior faculty, rotate and teach core courses here. I haven't had to think about foundational biology in a decade and I'm taking notes on the material as well as the presentation emphasis of my senior colleague.
Thought bubble: Was there a memo about the rearranging and reassigning of organisms into different groups? Domains, Kingdom, Paraphyletic groups #howsway?!
Seriously, here I am in the course, sitting mid-range in this huge auditorium. I can see both my colleague's expression and note the level of engagement (via facial expressions and the amount of scribbling students are doing)...He asks simple feedback questions and no response.
I decide right then and there: I will need Clickers for this course when I teach it. I need a way to gage student's comprehension of the material because the bio-feedback mechanism doesn't seem to really snag students. I notice the same in my large lecture hall (general biology for Nursing majors).
I'm a pretty emotive lecturer. I take up space and use my loud voice in class hoping to get some call-and-response action from my students, especially those in the back. I get little feedback - mostly a few polite murmurs and mumbled answers and often from the same handful of students.
So, now I'm super curious: Why won't students respond?
Why do I care about any of this?
1. Students shouldn't have to wait until they are upperclassmen taking specialty courses in smaller classrooms to finally experience an intimate engagement with their major or the material.
2. All students deserve the opportunity to feel vested in their higher education and to feel like they finally "get the material".
3. Lecture isn't a performance. Instructors aren't entertainers. Lecture is a very formal presentation of learning materials, but students aren't merely there to witness information. Students are there to engage with the information -- absorb it, integrate that information, chew it over, consider it, apply that info across the curriculum and ultimately demonstrate that comprehension on test day.
Lecture halls can feel like hiding in plain sight, but I really want to encourage any students reading this to come out of the shadows. Don't hide; but more importantly don't hide your level of comprehension of the material. Education is an iterative process. We (Instructors) need your (students) feedback to know if we're on the right track.
So, the next time your instructor asks a general question in class I want you to energetically puts those hands in the air and raises those voices high!
Image credit: Image 8975, Getty/ PhotoDisc, MARS