Monthly Archives: March 2014

Tring to stop lectures from being so zzzz…Part 2

Last time, I wrote about the tactics I was planning on trying out in my lecture series this year. Well, the lectures are done, I’ve collected some feedback and so here are the results.

  1. Live polling. Around three-quarters of the students had a smartphone or tablet and knew how to connect it to the Wifi, so there were enough for “think, pair, share�? questions. I ran the quizzes using typically half-way through the lecture and the questions were simple, the idea was just to reinforce what I had just gone through, not to challenge them. Overall, 75% of the students agreed that “the quizzes helped me remember the key concepts from each lecture�? and only 8% agreed that “the electronic polling is unfair as not everyone has a smartphone�?. So, I’d say it went pretty well. There were the odd random problem running a quiz, which is inevitable given the technology involved. Also, the lecture theatres I was in didn’t have dual projection which would have made it a bit easier. So quizzes are definitely a good idea but I’m not sure how much the technology adds. If I can get my hands on some , I will use these in preference next year, but using smartphones is certainly now possible.
  2. Online reading lists. I explained about at the start of the first lecture and I said we’d have a competition with a prize for whoever improved the Public Group the most. By the penultimate lecture …. no-one had done anything so I think they were a bit non-plussed. Over half (54%) of the students were not sure whether “it was useful having references in Mendeley�?. I still think it is worth doing as, whilst it might not be of immediate use, I believe it is helpful to introduce them early on (this is a first-year course) to both references and reference managers as by the time they reach the fourth year they will have to be reading the primary literature.
  3. Videos. I showed them and I started and ended the course with a very nice video showing , courtesy of Folding@home. I also introduced them to which is a great game where you get to fold proteins. All of this went down very well and 85% of the students disagreed when I said that “the videos and other material were a waste of time.�?. This does rely on the lecture theatre having speakers you can plug your laptop into, mind you. Will definitely do this next year.
  4. Stretches. I can still remember how sleepy I felt in many of my lectures after about 40 min. So I got my students to stand-up and have a stretch about half-way through, often just before a quiz. This is a no-brainer: 90% of the students agreed that “�?the half-way break and stretch helped my concentration. It turns out there is a lot of material about on the internet. I’m not sure if I will follow the advice of one student who suggested that “when doing the stretch in the middle of the lecture [you should] lead a routine.�?.

Trying to stop lectures from being so zzzz…

Why are lectures so sleep inducing? I remember well the effort required to keep your eyelids apart after 35-40 minutes. So, now that I am the lecturer, how can I keep my students at least awake, and hopefully interested? I am not going to talk about the most obvious point, which is to be an enthusiastic and engaging lecturer. Instead, I shall briefly list the tactics I am trying this year in my lecture series, which started this week.

  1. Live polling. Each year I ask the students how many have a device (smartphone, tablet, laptop) that could connect to a website in the lecture theatre. The proportion has been growing steadily and is now around 75-80%. It will never reach 100%, but so long as there enough such that everyone is at least sitting by someone who has a device I think that is good enough. is a good, clean website that allows one to create and run quizzes and since last year they have released a . So, I’m going to try running a simple quiz made up of 4-6 true/false questions halfway through each lecture. I could, of course, use but we only have a few sets and using the students’ own phones could be easier.
  2. Online reading lists. Who ever looked up, let alone read the papers you usually find on the lecture handouts? Part of this, I feel, is the difficulty in finding the paper on the web, especially when you’ve never done this before. So I have made a Public Group which contains all the references from my slides. Here one can click on a link and, voila, be taken straight the paper (subject to paywalls / VPNs etc). One can also add new references, or (in the app anyway) make notes on each paper that everyone else can see. To encourage some of the students to take this up I’m running a competition to see who can improve the the most.
  3. Videos. So far we’ve looked at a simulation of from Folding@home. In a coming lecture I’ve got discussing how he came up with the idea for alpha helices.
  4. Stretches. These also help break up the lecture. The idea is that Just getting the students to stand up, have a stretch and sit down about halfway through will help them maintain their concentration for the full 50 minutes.

I’ll write another post after the course is finished documenting what worked (and perhaps what didn’t).