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Interaction – The Alpha and Omega of Good Education

Yvette Schipper
Hannah Saul


Although lectures are the most common form of teaching in higher education, they bring  many disadvantages and often come at the cost of student engagement and motivation.  Engagement is extremely important for student satisfaction as well as their study success.  Previous literature shows that students are often dissatisfied with the way lectures are  taught, which was supported by the findings of a student survey we conducted at the  RUG. The final sample consisted of 54 students from different disciplines, and results  showed that over half of these students are dissatisfied with the amount of engagement  and interaction in the lectures at the RUG and that they wish for more interactive teaching  methods. This led us to the proposed redesign of making lectures more interactive and  engaging by using diversified teaching methods and especially interactive teaching tools  such as Mentimeter and Kahoot. To support teachers in this process, we designed a  manual for interactive teaching, which also provides lecturers with an overview of the  most popular interaction tools available, as well as showing the time and IT skills they  require. There are several scientific perspectives supporting our redesign, including Self determination theory, Activation perspective as well as the so-called Power of Visuals,  which all explain the importance of student engagement and interaction for their study  success and satisfaction.

Problem Analysis

Although studying is great, it goes without saying that there are many things that  could be done better when it comes to education. The large and ever-growing number of  students accepted to university nowadays makes it hard to make education fit everyone’s  needs, which is natural. Some fields of studies, however, accept way too many students.  This can cause students to feel like they are just a small part of a big crowd, not making  any meaningful contributions and barely even being actively included in most aspects of  the study. This is especially true in big lectures, where interaction and engagement are a scarce commodity. This is also what we, as students of popular study programs such as  Psychology, identified as the biggest flaw in our education. Not being engaged, merely  listening and not contributing to anything often leaves us unmotivated to study and take  up the material, which also leads to decreased satisfaction and performance. However,  we are not alone with this experience, and there is a whole stream of literature stressing  the importance of interaction and engagement in the classroom. Engagement has been  described as “motivation in action” and has been found to be vital for successful  classroom performance (Furrer, Skinner & Pitzer, 2014). Not only does engagement  foster positive educational results as well as students’ motivation for achievement, but it  also restrains the number of dropouts. Accordingly, engagement, stemming from  interaction in the classroom, is crucial for making students successful in their studies  (Appleton, Christenson & Furlong, 2008).

Past research, however, also identifies that lectures often are a poor way for  stimulating such engaging thoughts and behaviours, especially when they are very large.  Even the seemingly superficial educational aim of transmitting knowledge is often not  dramatically enhanced by lectures over other traditional teaching techniques, such as  seminars (Huxham, 2005). Students, especially those in advanced years of education,  are often dissatisfied with lectures, and express their dissatisfaction by failing to attend  them. Indeed, a study by Sander et al (2000) showed that lectures were rated amongst  the least preferred active learning in higher education teaching methods. The results of a  student survey we conducted at the RUG confirms these findings, showing that while 72% of students prefer interactive lectures over the standard system of lecturer talking and  student listening, over half of the students rated the degree of interaction in the lectures  at the RUG as insufficient. Considering the fact that 82% think interaction between them  and the professor and the material improves their learning ability, this makes the lack of  interaction and the issues related to it even more significant.

Not only students identify this as an issue, but often lecturers themselves agree  with the fact that teaching should be more interactive. Rebecca Sargisson, a formal  Psychology teacher at the RUG, said that “interaction is very important, but at the big  level, with like 800 students, you just cannot have as much interaction as you would like”,  describing the issue of overcrowded lectures as an “economic problem”. Indeed, lectures are likely to be popular due to the dominant powers of economic efficiency, bureaucratic  persistence, and personal habit. Thus, and regardless of the claims against them, lectures  are expected to be a big part of conventional higher education for the foreseeable future  (Huxham, 2005). While we can only hope that lectures may be replaced by other modes  of teaching in the future, it would be hard to change such deeply rooted general issues  right now. It may, however, be possible to enhance meaningfulness and enjoyment by  making lectures more interactive and engaging. Maikel Wijtmans, professor at the VU  Amsterdam said that he believes interactiveness is important, not only because it makes  lectures more fun for students and lecturers alike, but also because it helps students to  become critical thinkers. He said that he has learned from experience what works best  for his lectures and his students when it comes to interactive learning and that he found  that a combination of “traditional” lectures and interactive elements works best. Further,  Kees Aarts, the dean of the faculty of Behavioural Sciences said that there are initiatives  from the faculty such as learning communities to increase interactivity, however, it seems  as though there is still a lot that can be done. Additionally, the problem of engagement  has become more prominent since the outbreak of Covid, as online education makes  (face-to-face) interaction even harder and needs advanced methods to regenerate. Kees  Aarts said that nevertheless, the pandemic may also have its good sides for interactive  learning, as (online) interactive tools have become more interesting for professors. This  gives us hope that first steps towards more interactive lectures may have already been  taken but we still believe that there is more we can do. Finally, also 85% of students who  participated in our survey agreed that teachers should use more interactive tools in their  lectures. These findings led us to the proposed redesign of lectures at the RUG.


In order to help solve, or partly solve, the above-mentioned issue, we propose a redesign  for lectures, which is feasible and easy to implement, helping teachers to make their  lectures more interactive and engaging. We suggest that lecturers use diverse and  interactive teaching methods to make lectures more engaging, and that they specifically  make use of technology and tools to do so. Although it may be hard to include everyone  in lectures of several hundred students, with our proposal, teachers can at least give everyone a chance to get engaged. After creating a save environment for students right  from the beginning by ensuring them that they can feel safe to ask every kind of question  or that there is no such thing as stupid answers, lecturers then have a choice of several  methods and tools to get students engaged. First, it is helpful to design lectures in a way  that they are more diversified, in that they do not only consist of the lecturer talking, but  may also include videos, animations and the integration of students. This will stimulate  students’ perception of information better, so that they engage mentally more with the  material, leading to better absorption and memory of the material. It is also helpful to  consider the attention span of students, which is only around 20 minutes, so that it is good  to mix it up after 20 minutes by showing videos or giving interactive tasks. This leads us  to the second and most important point: interaction. By using different interactive tools,  teachers can make their lectures more engaging without much effort. Especially the use  of polls, MC questions and whiteboards is easy to implement and very effective. For using  these methods there are many technological tools such as apps and websites available,  which make the integration of such methods even more easy and accessible. Kahoot and  Mentimeter are only two of them. To make it easier for teachers to choose from those  different tools, we provide a manual of different tools, including a description, tips and  scales of difficulty and IT skills required. This should help teachers to choose between  tools and in getting started with making their lectures more diversified and most  importantly more interactive. Further, Kees Aarts, the dean of the faculty of Behavioural  Sciences said “You always have the same people who are courageous enough to take  the first step during normal lectures, not all students feel comfortable enough.”, which is  why it may be especially helpful for those shy students to be integrated by using tools that  allow for anonymity instead of calling names. Lastly, Rebecca Sargisson gave another  interesting insight we integrated into our redesign. She told us that the most important  step for her to make her lectures more interactive is the re-watching of her own lectures  to analyse which parts of the lectures fostered interaction, what the students liked or  disliked and where she can still improve. According to this idea, we added the tool  Echo360 to our toolbox, which helps teachers capture and extend those moments to  improve student engagement before, during and after class.

Interactive Toolbox

Please click here to access our Interactive Toolbox.


The proposed redesign can be justified by several scientific perspectives. First, the perspective of Student Engagement explains the importance of interaction and  engagement for students’ motivation and success with their studies. Several scholars  recognized interaction as a vital aspect of student learning as well as the general success  and efficacy of (online) education (Anderman, Appelton, Sher, Nguyen). Student  engagement is affected by how students interact with the material. Authentic and  demanding activities are linked to higher levels of interpersonal engagement, according  to research (Nguyen, 2018). Thus, when students believe the assignment is important to  them, they are more likely to engage, which is why they should be involved in the lecture,  at least to some degree. According to Nguyen et al. (2018), engagement also stems from  interest, so that more interesting classes are more motivating and make the student more  engaged with what he or she is studying. This also has to do with intrinsic motivation.  According to Ryan and Deci (2002), individuals who are sincerely motivated and self inspired are more involved, enthused, and confident than others who are merely  externally motivated, which results in greater performance and persistence. Appleton et  al. (2008) proposed that additionally extrinsically motivated activities can help students  develop self-determination by providing resources for decision making and other  authentically autonomous opportunities, supporting the need for opportunity of  interaction. Indeed, self-determination theory shows that one important factor for student  engagement and its positive effects is the need for autonomy. Accordingly, students are  more likely to be motivated in circumstances where they have some sense of internal  autonomy and self-determination. Consequently, students are more motivated to engage  when they are given some degree of choice and are included in classroom decisions  (Anderman & Leake, 2005).

Another perspective supporting our redesign is the Activation perspective of one  of our stakeholders, Maikel Wijtmans and colleagues (2014). According to their  perspective, interactive teaching stimulates deep learning with students and activating  teaching methods are broadly effective. Interactive teaching includes things like asking  questions, working on problems, and buzzing (short conversation exercises to break up  monotony). An average concentration span for students is estimated to be about 20 minutes, which is why it makes sense to use interactive tasks every 20 minutes. According  to Wijtmans et al. (2014), during lectures, for example, MC questions prove a powerful  tool for activating students. Strategic questions, in particular, will show teachers and  students whether the content and ideas have been understood adequately. Especially the  rise of technological tools and students’ increased use of mobile devices offer  opportunities for in-class activation and can provide quick and effective ways to involve  larger classes of students. In accordance with this perspective, our suggestions to use  diversified, interactive teaching methods, especially on mobile devices, is supported.

The last perspective used to support our ideas is the Memory perspective. Part of  this perspective is the learning pyramid by Letrud & Hernes (1954), according to which  an important learning concept is that individuals learn best when they are being actively  involved in the learning process. Respectively, only 20% of content will be retained from  just hearing a lecture, while 50% will be taken up if it is accompanied by videos or live  demonstrations, supporting the importance of Youtube videos, graphs and experiments  etc. This finding can be explained by the so-called power of visuals: more visual, less  passive information transfer will stick better in the long-term memory, transmit messages  faster, as well as improve comprehension and motivation of learners. Even more uptake,  however, can be achieved when students have to say or write something themselves,  which strongly supports our suggestion of making use of tools that include whiteboards,  quizzes, MC questions and so on. Thus, a lecture with diversified, active teaching  methods will make the learning process more successful.


Anderman, L. H., & Leake, V. S. (2005). The ABCs of motivation: An alternative  framework for teaching preservice teachers about motivation. The Clearing  House, 78(5), 192-196. 

Appleton, J. J., Christenson, S. L., & Furlong, M. J. (2008). Student engagement with school: Critical conceptual and methodological issues of the construct.  Psychology in the Schools, 45(5), 369-386. 

Furrer, C. J., Skinner, E. A., & Pitzer, J. R. (2014). The influence of teacher and  peer relationships on students’ classroom engagement and everyday  motivational resilience. National Society for the Study of Education, 113(1),  101-123. 

Huxham, M. (2005). Learning in lectures. Active Learning in Higher Education,  6(1), 17-31. https:// 

Letrud, K., Hernes, S. (2016). The diffusion of the learning pyramid myths in  academia: an exploratory study. Journal of Curriculum Studies 48(3): 291– 302. 

Nguyen, T. D., Cannata, M., & Miller, J. (2018). Understanding student behavioral  engagement: Importance of student interaction with peers and teachers.  The Journal of Educational Research, 111(2), 163-174. 

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of  intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American  psychologist, 55(1), 68. 

Sander, P., Stevenson, K., King, M., & Coates, D. (2000). University students’  expectations of teaching. Studies in Higher education, 25(3), 309-323. Sher, A. (2009). Assessing the relationship of student-instructor and student student interaction to student learning and satisfaction in web-based online  learning environment. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 8(2).


Please click here to access the appendix, an excerpt from a student survey.