Do you work toward facilitating active learning strategies in your college lectures? College students may feel disengaged in a large lecture hall, so rather than lose your audience, consider using active learning methods, which are more effective in helping students retain material than straight lectures. Here are some tips for college and university lecturers to keep students engaged.

Use active learning during lectures

Active learning helps develop problem solving, motivation for learning, and attitude for learning. According to Wilbert J. McKeachie and Marilla Svinicki in the book McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, 14th Edition: “The way students process verbal material depends on the structures that not only enable them to process bigger and bigger chunks of a subject matter but also give them tacit knowledge of the methods, procedures, and conventions used in the field.” McKeachie and Svinicki added that lecturers should go slow at the beginning of the course to let students take notes, ask questions, and become used to their lecture style. Then later in the course, teachers can add denser material to the lectures.

Engage students in lectures

The average length of time that a person can pay close attention to a lecture is twenty minutes. Lecturers can prepare for an hour-long or longer lecture by alternating lecturing with questions and answers, videos, and interactive classroom activities, then go back to fifteen to twenty minutes of lecture.

In addition to asking students questions during a lecture, consider these other tips for engaging students in class:

  • Avoid looking down at your notes too often. Rather, maintain eye contact with the students.
  • Write key concepts on the board.
  • Use diagrams, charts, graphics, drawings, PowerPoint, models, flowcharts, etc. These create flexibility and spontaneity, as well as highlight pertinent information. Use sparingly, however, as too much information overload can tune students out.
  • Provide examples and analogies of the concepts you just explained to make the material more concrete in students’ minds and applicable to real-world situations.
  • Frequently ask students for their own examples. This gauges their attention in class and their understanding of the material.
  • Ask students for “a show of hands” to assure attentiveness.
  • Conclude the lecture with a summary and synthesis of the material. Reiterate important facts or messages you discussed. You could also introduce a cliffhanger—a puzzle, problem, question, or statement—that will be covered in the next class.
  • Leave some time at the end of class and ask students to write a summary of the lecture.
  • Announce “This will be on the test!”

How students process data

The left and right sides of the brain work together to glean meaning and patterns from a variety of sources, including facts, emotions, discussions, associations, and memories. According to Davie Davis in “A Brain-Friendly Environment for Learning,” posted on FacultyFocus.com September 19, 2008, teachers should incorporate all types of sources into their teaching and lectures so students can use both sides of the brain to synthesize information and knowledge. Davis wrote: “We can create a brain-antagonistic environment by presenting isolated, random, one-dimensional information, or we can capitalize on the brain’s hunger for meaning by providing information in relevant contexts that yield both intuitive and logical meaning.”

What strategies do you use to make your lectures more engaging and meaningful?

 Reference: McKeachie, Wilbert J. and Marilla Svinicki. 2014. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, 14th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.