Facing bored students frustrates Dr. Wong.
Dr. Mike Wong, who teaches a large mechanics of materials class, is frustrated that his students appear bored and disinterested. Mike wants his class to be an engaging and instructive experience, so he talks with a research colleague who offers useful suggestions for enlivening the course.
Dr. Wong is disappointed in his students' reactions to his teaching. Though he has some attentive and interested students, the majority of students look bored in his class, with that glazed-over look in their eye, and a surprising number skip class altogether.
Since this class is required for civil engineering and materials science students, it is a large class with over 100 students. Mike understands that in a large class students can easily hide among the sea of people, but he hates the lack of responses.
Mike taught this class last year in his first year in the civil engineering department and has been using the curriculum provided by the original professor. The students have weekly homework, bi-weekly quizzes, and three exams. He tries to be an energetic lecturer, and he usually starts the class with 5 - 15 minutes answering questions and then spends the remaining 35 – 45 minutes explaining new concepts.
All of this left has left him wondering, “Am I a boring lecturer? Are the students confused? Should I modify the course structure or material?” He would like to get more interest and response from the large class, beyond the vocal students who sit in the front.
Mike mentioned his frustrations to a research colleague who then brought up three general suggestions that may increase his students' engagement in class:
- Consider asking questions that promote deeper thinking, rather than generic questions such as “Are you following this?” For example, ask “How would you explain constitutive theory to a non-engineering friend?” Also, since students are likely intimidated speaking up in a large class, asking for a show of hands may give you a greater response than asking for a volunteer.
- Make it easier for students to stay focused by breaking up the lecture with activities. Consider assigning in-class problem solving to pairs, small groups, or the whole class, and then walk around the classroom to help. Also students could provide feedback to their peers, field questions, defend their answers, provide real world example, or write test questions.
- Help the students become more responsible for their own learning with improved questioning, interactive teaching methods, or other activities. Offer mini-lectures on effective studying and exam preparation or change graded quizzes to non-graded self-check quizzes that emphasize learning over scores.
After considering this advice, Dr. Mike Wong thoughtfully chose the questions he asked his students and he used a few simple in-class activities. These subtle changes resulted in more class discussions, and many students showed improved understanding of the concepts.