Are lectures the best way to learn? Probably not. You have probably seen numerous headlines shredding lectures to pieces.

Lecture GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

But the reality is that lectures are not going anywhere (at least not any time soon), and we need to explore different ways to make lectures more engaging.

Numerous studies suggest that ‘chunking’ lectures and punctuating them with activities is a good way to improve the effectiveness of lectures.

Indeed, talking at students for 60 minutes (or more) is a guaranteed way to put even the most interested folks to sleep or, at the very least, encourage their mind to wander. Research on mind wandering in lectures (yep, it exists) seems to suggest that unless students get actively engaged with the content, you’ll start losing them as early as 10 minutes into the lecture.

So, here are my top 5 ideas to make lectures more engaging, using Echo360’s Active Learning Platform (ALP).

 1. Hook them in early

Start your lecture with an interesting or controversial question that acts as a ‘warm-up’ . For example, if you are about to share the most uninspiring topic of academic referencing (just an example), why not start with something like:

“Why did Germany’s most popular politician Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg resign as a defence minister in 2011?”

A. Corruption allegations
B. Dual citizenship
C. PhD plagiarism

(the answer is C).

Why have a ‘warm-up’? Get EVERYONE to participate! Technical how-to
It increases students’ interest in the topic and can enhance understanding/retention. Instead of calling on a couple of ‘brave’ souls or getting students to raise their hands, use ALP polling or quizzing features. Add an interactive slide to your lecture, collect, display and discuss the responses. See ALP guides.

Can’t think of interesting questions?

Start with a 2-3 question quiz that leads to the topic of this lecture OR covers the content of the previous lecture.


 2. Use a misconception/ bad example

The internet is full of ‘bad’ examples. Incorrect assumptions, wrong applications.. you name it! Why not show one bad example of a key concept and ask students to ‘diagnose’ the problem with it?

Why use misconceptions or ‘bad’ examples? Get EVERYONE to participate! Technical how-to
It promotes critical thinking and puts learning in context.
A bonus: it’s sometimes easier to find a mediocre/bad example than a good one.
Use ALP ‘short response’ feature to get students to type their thoughts. Add an interactive slide to your lecture (short response), collect, display and discuss the responses. See ALP guides

 3. Make students ‘earn’ info

Instead of telling students what you think is important for them to know, first pose a question or a problem and get students to predict an answer.

Why make students ‘earn’ info? Get EVERYONE to participate! Technical how-to
It creates interest and prepares students for ‘deeper’ learning. Use ALP ‘quiz’, poll or a ‘short response’ to collect students’ thoughts/ideas. Add an interactive slide to your lecture, collect, display and discuss the responses.
Tip: you can get students to ‘justify’ their replies. See ALP guides

 4. Peer explanation

Remember the old saying, ‘”f you want to learn anything, teach it?”. Invite students to discuss the key concepts with their peers, and then summarise them in 1-2 sentences.

Why use a ‘peer explanation’? Get EVERYONE to participate! Technical how-to
It creates conditions for deeper learning. Use ALP ‘short response’ to collect students’ explanations. Add an interactive slide to your lecture (short response), collect, display and discuss the responses. See ALP guides

Variation: students can write up the summary of their peer’s points/explanations.


 5. One-minute summary

This  ‘classic’ has been that trick up the lecturers’ sleeves for decades…

Get students to pause, reflect and write a 1 minute summary of what they’ve learnt.

Why write a 1-minute summary? Get EVERYONE to participate! Technical how-to
Deeper processing = deeper learning. Use ALP ‘short response’ to collect students’ explanations. Add an interactive slide to your lecture (short response), collect, display and discuss the responses. See ALP guides

Have you read through the quick guides and still need help? Send a support request to ilearn.help@mq.edu.au for a one-to-one consultation with your Faculty Learning Designer.

Gaffney, J.D.H, Richards, E., Kustusch, M.B., Ding, L., and Beichner, R. (2008). Scaling up educational reform. Journal of College Science Teaching, 37(5), 48–53

Huerta, J. C. (2007), Getting active in the large lecture, Journal of Political Science Education 3(3), 237–249.

Risko, E. F., Anderson, N., Sarwal, A., Engelhardt, M. and Kingstone, A. (2012), Everyday Attention: Variation in Mind Wandering and Memory in a Lecture. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 26, 234–242. doi:10.1002/acp.1814.

Smallwood, J., Fishman, D.J. & Schooler, J.W. Psychonomic, (2007), Counting the cost of an absent mind: Mind wandering as an underrecognized influence on educational performance, Bulletin & Review, 14 (2), 230-236. https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03194057.

Wammes, J. D., Seli, P., Cheyne, J. A., Boucher, P. O., & Smilek, D. (2016). Mind wandering during lectures II: Relation to academic performance. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 2(1), 33-48.

Posted by Olga Kozar

I'm a 'long-term' Mq girl. I did my PhD here and taught different courses, ranging from undergrad to PhD students. I then joined the Learning Innovation Hub, which I love. I'm passionate about good learning and teaching. Give me a shout if I can assist you in any way.

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