by Missi Patterson

You may have heard that lecture is dead. Scores of articles, both peer-reviewed and otherwise have proclaimed the demise of the lecture, but are the dirges being played prematurely? At ACC, our classrooms are still set up for lectures, most students seem to expect lectures, and our courses are listed as “lecture” or “lab.” Given that the research suggests active learning is the way to go for student success, where are we on the transition? (For articles, take a peek at: , , .)

In looking at my own teaching, I realize that my teaching style was informed by the way I was taught. Most of my educational experience was in the form of lecture, so that was the method that I fell back on. As the research started to convince me that active learning was worth trying, I searched for books and advice to support my own move to more collaborative and experiential opportunities for my students. I’m now years into my metamorphosis as a teacher, and I’m inspired to practice and update my own classes as I learn about the move away from straight lecture.

The best advice I’ve gotten is to avoid attempting to go “all in” with this move. For teachers who find lecturing to be their comfort zone, attempting a whole course re-design is not a great idea. Rather, trying out new methods slowly; once a week or so can be a safer bet. Like anything, I wasn’t an awesome active learning facilitator the first time I tried it. Through baby steps though, I think I’m becoming a stronger teacher for my students.

So, what about these baby steps? Where can you start? I’ve got a few ideas for you.

Share-a-slide! With this method, I get students to present slides I’ve prepared instead of me. I make copies of a powerpoint slide I’ve used in the past. I highlight new terms, prompt with critical thinking questions, request examples. I handwrite all of this on the slide, and give one annotated slide to each group of students during class. While I walk around offering help, groups are attacking the prompts on their particular slide. They can use their textbooks, personal experience, or me to help them solve the problems they’ve been given. After a few minutes of this, we come back together as a whole class, but now instead of me presenting the slides, the students do! Slides go on the projector as usual, and each group shares what they’ve learned. I’m there to correct mistakes, offer additional information, or prompt the class with more questions. This is a super quick way to convert a lecture into an active learning opportunity. When you print out a copy of your slides for the day, just add questions and prompts on the fly.

Question Writing! With this method, I get students to practice challenging material by asking them to “test” their peers. After a class discussion (or even a mini-lecture) I stop the class and ask pairs or groups of students to create tough multiple choice questions on the topic. Each team has to develop a good question, three distractors and one correct choice. They also have to give a clear rationale for why each choice is either correct or incorrect. After class, I can check the questions for quality, then scan them in at my campus copier and post them all on blackboard. Students now have a great list of questions to practice with.

Table Walk! With this method, students can share study methods or helpful tips with their classmates. When we cover challenging material, I put one large piece of paper with a new topic or concept on each table. I then give students time to walk from table to table, adding memory devices, diagrams, sample problems or anything else they can think of to each topic. Students are asked to contribute to at least one topic, but can add to as many as they like. If I see errors, I can correct them, or discuss them with a class as a whole. Since students don’t sign their work, mistakes are not attributed to a specific person, but I can catch issues before students attempt an exam. At the end of this activity, students have a bunch of student-generated information to clarify new material.

Experimenting with active learning doesn’t require abandoning the things we love to do in our classes. Opportunities for student collaboration can work hand in hand with lectures you’ve already created. Trying out baby steps can be a way to flavor your classroom with the benefits of active learning without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.