2005 Salt Lake City Annual Meeting (October 16–19, 2005)

Paper No. 2
Presentation Time: 2:00 PM


RIEMERSMA, Peter, Geology, Grand Valley State University, 145 Padnos Hall of Science, 1 Campus Drive, Allendale, MI 49401, riemersp@gvsu.edu

Traditional large lecture classes tend to contain physical and even psychological barriers that impede effective teaching. The physical distance between students and professor as well as the large number of students in the classroom promote an atmosphere of student anonymity, making it more challenging to engage the students. To create a more personal and interactive teaching environment, small group in-class exercises and student-assisted demonstrations are recommended. In-class exercises are an opportunity for students to interact and get to know their fellow classmates, as well as break up the lecture format to focus on crucial concepts. Having students invade the professor's space and assist in demonstrations is another technique to increase student-teacher interaction. But perhaps one of the best ways to create a small class atmosphere is to learn the names of all your students. As our names are an essential part of our identity, the first step in getting to know somebody is to learn their name. Such benefits as increased professor approachability and student accountability outweigh the effort of name memorization (I use pictures to assist me). Connecting with students, even superficially, should lower boundaries that separate professors and students in large lecture settings.

I also use humor in my large lecture classes as a way to engage and more directly interact with the students. Slipping occasional humor into the class adds an "unpredictable" aspect that helps to gain and keep the listener's attention and also helps make the professor appear more human. In addition, I have found personally that I am better able to sustain my enthusiasm for a lecture if I incorporate a silly photo or anecdote into the class.

I believe that students tend to be motivated to do their best if they explicitly know what is expected of them, if they have a good attitude about the course and if they interact on some level with the professor. It is more difficult for the professor in a large lecture setting to demonstrate to the students that he cares about them and wants them to do well in the course. Midterm course evaluations, congratulatory emails, and clear course expectations demonstrate the professor's interest in the student's education and success. By building bridges, many obstacles inherent in a large classroom setting can be overcome.