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.
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.
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.
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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).