Active Learning: Surmounting the Challenges in a Large Class

“Enabling interaction in a large class seems an insurmountable task.” That’s the observation of a group of faculty members in the math and physics department at the University of Queensland. It’s a feeling shared by many faculty committed to active learning who face classes enrolling 200 students or more. How can you get and keep students engaged in these large, often required courses that build knowledge foundations in our disciplines?
The article referenced below recounts how this faculty group did it in an introductory-level physics course required of most science majors at their university. They implemented an “integrated approach to active learning that supports the class activities with extensive preparation by both the teacher and the students. A key feature of our approach is the rich data it provides to teachers about student understanding before the start of each class.” (p. 77)
The pre-class quizzes allow teachers to arrive to class knowing what students don’t understand, what they misunderstand, and what is causing confusion.Their approach has two distinct phases: what the students do before they come to class and what happens during class. As with the flipped classroom model, these students are responsible for “covering” the content before they come to class. After completing the assigned reading, students take a short online quiz that must be completed 12 hours before class. The quiz questions are conceptual and interpretative (not problem solutions), which means the answers are written out. Students get …