Learning together in large and small groups


Why does unrest come into my lecture?

How can I counteract my students staying away?

How do I make students not feel lost in the lecture?

Unrest arises seemingly automatically in the course of large events. No wonder: Especially in lectures, students are not supposed to become active themselves and thus find an outlet for their energy. Listening and sitting still for long periods of time, however, is difficult, and the more people there are in the room, the less noticeable a little side activity seems to be. But when students don't take lecture presence seriously, are inattentive, loud, or lack productive contact with their seatmates, potential for their learning is lost: they miss or don't reflect on content; they don't benefit from each other or the professor's presence. There are different approaches to dealing with these problems. All of them aim at involving the students more in the course and thus to put the focus of the teachers more on "instigating learning". This can be thought of from the perspective of activation (learning as an active process), but also from the perspective of social integration -for just like inactivity, anonymity fosters unrest in the plenary. From this perspective, the goal must be a collaborative work atmosphere, as communicative, integrative elements measurably improve the delivery of course content. Students learn with and from each other, and even in a lecture, a lively structure can emerge in which phases of lecture alternate with phases of communication. This allows all students to have their say with their views and ideas, while at the same time creating social engagement. When anonymity is removed, the willingness to be considerate and take responsibility increases, as does the sense that one's presence is important. Student involvement occurs on two levels: Through instructor communication with students and through student communication with each other. In the communication of the lecturer with the students, even low-threshold "boundary crossings" are a gain, e.g. when the lecture is interrupted for short questions to the plenum or space is given for discussion of a thesis or questions. However, communication with students can also consist of incorporating student comprehension questions posed in advance - e.g., in a forum or just-in-time teaching (JiTT) format - into the lecture. In all of these cases, students get the sense that their input is important. Students' communication with each other can often be combined with this: Students can first discuss questions posed by the instructor briefly with their neighbors, and then in a large plenary session, feedback can be provided via clicker (clicker & peer instruction). A variant of this approach is the "Think - Pair - Share" (Think-Pair-Share) described below. This is a particularly sustainable method of integrating students in large events.

Early studies at the TUHH with Prof. Mackenshe most interesting aspect is working with so-called base groups, which work together both inside and outside the event - this is described in more detail below (base groups). The principle of base groups draws attention to an aspect that at first seems outlandish for large events, but has great potential: seating arrangements. It is unfavorable if the students sit widely scattered in a half-empty auditorium - here, requests to the students to move together a bit and thus facilitate the dialog can be well invested and - well justified - will also meet with understanding among the students. In Stud.IP or on the script, these aspects can also be documented as "basic rules". Even for large events, however, more far-reaching solutions are conceivable, e.g. determining the places for the basic groups in the plenum. Some teachers also appreciate it when rows are left free at regular intervals so that they can get in touch with each individual student even in large rooms.

Siska Simon & Marisa Hammer

Related articles on learning in and with groups:

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