Planning free spaces for active learning


How can I design my course so that the learning outcomes are more sustainable?

How do I give structure to my course?

How do I package my content?

The pious ideal: courses are planned early, the material is reviewed, the script is revised and the didactic methods are adapted. But in reality, things often turn out differently. For time reasons alone, planning is often based on a content-based system familiar from textbooks. This alone does not necessarily mean any harm, but if, as a consequence, the presentation of content also dominates in the lecture – where is the added value for the learners compared to the textbook? For the teachers themselves, pure lecture events are often equally unsatisfying: lecturing for 90 minutes in a concentrated manner, especially when there is unrest, is no fun. And the question arises afterwards: What has actually stuck with the students?

Research shows that 90-minute frontal lectures are ineffective. The students hardly retain anything, since the average attention span for passive listening is only about 15 minutes. Thus, teachers find themselves in the dilemma of the completeness trap: On the one hand, they think they have to convey a large amount of material, especially in basic courses, but on the other hand, this amount of material is not mastered in the classic frontal format. Since hardly anything remains in the memory of the students, it is possible that many students have been “taught past”, because they lack the context: What is important, what is unimportant? Accordingly, situations often arise in which students say, “But I pointed this out several times in the lecture!
To avoid these problems, an effective way is to break up the frontal format and include units for active engagement with the content. By means of a grid, the classical perspective in lecture planning changes in that, in addition to the focus on content, methodological variety and the respective learning objective also come to the fore. However, if you build in phases for active engagement with the material, it becomes necessary to reorganize the material
and possibly outsource portions to independent study time.

auditoriumIf planning is structured and transparent, not only one’s own teaching actions can be improved, but also the students’ understanding process. It is particularly important for the students that the topic is defined and delimited, i.e. that they are given a precise overview of what it is essentially about, and that the goals of the event are formulated and visualized as well as the procedure itself. When students know what you are going to do with them, it is easier for them to follow along both in terms of content and to engage in small periods of work with their seatmates or other variations in format.
And finally, the question of presentation: sometimes you get bored in lectures. At the same time, most people know from their own experience the little tricks that need to be taken to heart:

  • Engage students emotionally: What does it matter to them (for their professional future, but perhaps also personally)?
  • Engage them visually: use different forms of visualization (images, text, formulas, concept maps, etc.).
  • As a presenter, consider the personal touch in the presentation: don’t start the talk right away, but make your own reference to the topic clear.
  • Focus on the essentials: because a presentation can never be an encyclopedia (this is so trivial as it is often not considered).
  • And don’t keep talking immediately after opening a slide: the brain can’t read and listen at the same time!

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