So you suddenly have 68 students enrolled?

Suppose you are an instructor who uses Inquiry-Based Learning. You are used to running a particular course with 30–35 students, and you are about to start teaching that course in two weeks. But then you find out that you have 68 students registered for your class. What do you do?

Peer Instruction, hands down. Here is how you do it.

Since I am assuming that you only have two weeks to prepare, this is the most basic way of implementing Peer Instruction. Robert Talbert’s Guided Practice idea would be better to include if you are able.

If it is too late to get “clickers,” use Poll Everywhere, Socrative, or Learning Catalytics. I would tend toward Poll Everywhere, since it is pretty cheap ($65 per month for 68 students—get someone else to pay for it), and students only need a texting plan to use it. But Learning Catalytics seems pretty awesome; I just don’t trust all of the students to have a tablet or smart phone.

Do you have a textbook for the course? If so, here is the recipe:

  1. On the first day of class, assign students to fixed teams of 2 or 3. This will help every student feel like they are part of a community in your class. Students should sit together with their team. You may want to change up teams later in the semester.
  2. Students read a section of the text the night before class. You prepare 5–10 multiple choice questions based on the section. These questions should cover the main points of the section. Some questions will only be to help students understand a definition/concept, other questions will force students to confront misconceptions. Peer Instruction is awesome for confronting misconceptions. Just make sure that you have good distractors for each question.
  3. Everyone comes to class.
  4. If you need to pass back papers, make administrative announcements, etc, you can do that at the beginning of class. But do not, under any circumstance, give an overview of the section; this will teach them that they do not need to read the section, and the result will be that your class will eventually morph into a standard lecture. Instead, simply start the first clicker question.
  5. Display the question on the screen. Have students silently think about the question themselves and “click” their favorite answer when they are ready. You may want to give them a fixed time limit here, although I usually do not; I can usually tell how much students need by the number of students who have already responded. But I usually do not have 68 students.
  6. Look at the results, but do not let them see the results (mute the projector if you need to). If the students overwhelmingly get the correct answer, display the results and give a very brief explanation about why the correct answer is correct AND why the other answers are incorrect. (Note: there is a high bar for “overwhelmingly correct.” For instance, on a True/False question, if half of the students know that the correct answer is True, say, and the other half guess blindly, then 75% of the students will answer correctly. This is bad, since half of the class does not understand. So you might want 90% correct answers on a True/False question, slightly lower for a question with three options, etc. This is an art and not a science, though).
  7. On the other hand, if the students do not overwhelmingly answer correctly, tell the students to discuss their answers with their team. The students should try to convince the other team members of their answer, but the students should be open to changing their mind. Once the team agrees on a single answer, have them re-vote. You should wander around the class as much as you can here, eavesdropping. Once most students have responded (or your time limit is up), display the results to the class.
  8. Now, explain why the correct answer(s) is (are) correct AND why the incorrect answers are incorrect. You can tell how long you should spend talking about this by how the teams did in the most recent round of voting. If they did well, do not talk for long. If they did not do well, give them a more thorough lecture (although you probably will not need to talk for more than 10 minutes).
  9. Repeat with the remainder of your questions until class ends.

This will get every single student involved, and my students have overwhelmingly loved the experience. There is also evidence that Peer Instruction will help students learn enough to increase grades by half of a grade.

If you do NOT have a textbook, you should do your best to find some sort of a free online text for them, write your own notes, create your own lecture videos for students to view before class, and/or use existing videos (e.g. Khan Academy) to use to “transfer” knowledge to the students before class. Then you can use class time to have the students make sense of the new knowledge.

Failing this, lecture. But build some number of clicker questions into your lecture. The process is the same as outlined above, but you will just have fewer questions.

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7 Responses to “So you suddenly have 68 students enrolled?”

  1. Theron Hitchman Says:

    Wow! I was just thinking about this. What are the chances?

  2. aaron Says:

    You make it sound surprisingly easy.

    • bretbenesh Says:

      It is surprisingly easy—especially if you already have clickers (or are fine using notecards) and steal other people’s clicker questions.

      That is not to say that it is effective. . .

      On Fri, Aug 16, 2013 at 1:20 PM, Solvable by Radicals

  3. identityelement Says:

    Does this generally take the whole class period?

  4. identityelement Says:

    Oops, I see that you already answered that!

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