October 18, 2011
Create graphic organizers to improve student learning in large lectures
A graphic organizer or set of essential questions provides an overall organization for material that instructors discuss during a lecture. Cognitive research has demonstrated that individuals retain more information when they have a structure that organizes the new information. Mnemonic devices often depend on existing learned structures to organize new learning and function as reliable retrieval cues for new information. When organizing structures are also related to the relations between newly-learned concepts, these structures promote understanding and articulation of these meaningful relations as well as retrieval of content (Bransford & Johnson, 1973; Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999).
Organize your lecture on a given day around a big-picture question or relation between concepts that can be illustrated through a graphic organizer. The organizer can take the form of a concept map, a matrix or grid, a flow chart, or a list of 3 or 4 key questions. If instructors provide the basic structure as a handout (distributed at the start of class or posted in D2L for printing before class), students can use the organizer while taking class notes. Alternatively, students might rework notes taken during class to incorporate key points into the appropriate areas of the graphic organizer. Both exercises will help students identify the key concepts and details discussed during class and integrate these individual details into a coherent whole.
Tip based on suggestions included in Sibley, J., and Canuto, L. (2010). Guide to teaching for new faculty at UBC. Available at http://issuu.com/ubc-aspc-cis/docs/faculty_guide-2010
Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (1999). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Bransford, J. D., & Johnson, M. K. (1973). Considerations of some problems of comprehension. In W. G. Chase (Ed.), Visual information processing. Orlando, FL: Academic Press.
August 24, 2010
To Post or Not to Post: What are the consequences of posting power point slides for student learning?
What is the evidence about the impact of having a handout of the power point slides during the presentations? Do instructors who provide the slides as handouts free students from the multi-tasking associated with copying information from the slides and allow them to concentrate on listening to the presentation and class discussion? Or does having a copy of the slides encourage students to skip class, allow them to surf the web during class, or otherwise disengage?
Marsh and Sink (2010) examined the content of notes students took during classes when they either had an advance copy of the presentation slides or only had blank paper for taking notes. They also examined student performance on several types of course exams (multiple choice questions, short answer questions, free recall essays). Although students took more notes when they did not have copies of the presentation slides, the notes they took consisted primarily of verbatim copies of the content of the slides presented during class. Both groups recorded additional information from the lecture and discussion that had not been included on the slides, but both groups of students recorded this additional information at equal rates.
What were the consequences for learning? Students who received a copy of the slides as handouts before attending the lecture performed better than students who took notes and received the slide handouts later when both groups were tested with short-answer questions. The groups performed equivalently on other types of questions. Thus, student’s claims that having a copy of the slides in advance helps them focus on the meaning of the lecture by reducing the time they spend recording specific slide content appears to be supported by evidence.
If you decide to post slides in advance, consider posting a bare-bones variant of the slides you plan to use in class. This handout will support note-taking without providing all the detail that might be included on class slides. This creates an incentive to attend class, provides a structure for organizing the notes, and forces students to attend to details included in the class slides and your presentation as they add these details to the notes on their handouts.
Marsh, E. J., & Sink, H. E. (2010). Access to handouts of presentation slides during lecture: Consequences for learning, Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24, 691-706. doi: 10.1002/acp.1579
February 2, 2010
Improve student learning by evaluating what students retain from a lecture
Ever wonder how well your students understand and remember that lecture you worked so hard to prepare? It seemed clear. Students seemed to follow your line of reasoning. What do they actually remember?
The Focused Listing activity takes only a few minutes to complete at the end of class and can provide useful information about how much students recall from the class meeting.
This activity can help instructors determine whether the main points they intended to make during class were actually perceived by students as important.
The activity can promote student learning by helping students:
Angelo, T. A. & Cross, K. P. (1993) Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Based on a tip provided by:
University of Kentucky
October 6, 2009
Human factors in the classroom: Minimizing problems created by inadvertent multitasking associated with PowerPoint
In spite of popular media depictions and their own proclaimed competence, students are not as adept at multitasking as they believe. Divided attention has costs for the quality of student learning. Classroom situations can create unintended divided attention conditions that interfere with student learning. For example, PowerPoint presentations can create a variety of challenges to effective note-taking:
Instructors can help students manage the task of taking effective notes on PowerPoint presentations by providing a minimalist version of their slides before class. Posting a minimalist version of slides rather than the detailed slides used during class also creates an incentive for students to attend class. Remember to provide enough time during the lecture to allow students to complete their notes on one topic before moving on to the next.
Matlin, M. (2007). How cognitive psychology can enhance your students’ learning. In S. A. Meyers & J. R. Stowell (Eds.), Essays from E-xcellence in Teaching (Chapter 9), Volume 7.
E-book retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology Web site:
October 14, 2008
Creating Active Learning in Lectures by Getting Students to Read Assigned Material before Class
How often have you assigned a chapter for students to read for a given week only to discover that your lecture on the material is actually their first encounter with the content of the chapter? Instructors tend to control the structure and pace of their review of required readings by preparing a detailed PowerPoint presentation. With this level of organized review, students may question the value of advance reading. Some may even question whether purchasing the book is necessary. Under these conditions, motivating students to read assigned material before coming to class can be a challenge.
One approach to this problem is to require your students to prepare detailed study notes for the assigned reading as graded assignments. Structure the class meeting time around student learning from their advance reading. Begin the “lecture” with the question What did you learn from your study of today’s assigned reading?
In a large class, most of the key points of the chapter will be addressed after discussing the responses of 9-10 students to this question. Instead of delivering a prepared lecture, use class time to respond to student comments and questions. Clarify misunderstandings that might emerge. Augment the assigned reading with relevant practical examples. This approach transforms a lecture that simply reviews the reading to an interactive and engaging discussion that still “covers” the content of the reading.
Based on a teaching tip described by Mick La Lopa, Purdue University (Indiana) in the Professional and Organizational Development (POD) Digest, August 28, 2007 and summarized by the Faculty Center for Excellence in Teaching, Western Kentucky University.
Updated 03/02/12 cdw
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