21 Feb 2003 ............... Length about 700 words (5,000 bytes).
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Designing and managing a teaching session
as part of the Interactive Lectures website)
Any session or lecture can be thought of as having 3 aspects, all of which
ideally will be well managed. If you are designing a new kind of session
(e.g. with handsets) you may want to think about these aspects explicitly.
- The narrative or story-telling aspect. Even
for a passive audience member, this is the bit that lets them feel the session
hangs together as an event, and how it connects to other bits of the course.
A session that is entirely a sequence of questions, whether created by the
presenter or from the audience, lacks this. On this depends the audience's
sense of smoothness and good organisation. Real learning may actually not
depend much on this.
Techniques include having an agenda, relating each part, or each
question from the audience, to the overall purpose, ending with a summing up,
- Social feeling. In particular, whether anyone feels it is OK to ask a
question or make a comment is very sensitive to this. Precedent both within
the session, the course, and the university are all important to whether and
which people feel OK about asking.
If you want people to participate in this way then you could: ask them
questions to elicit oral responses, start with a question that is easy and
unstressful to answer, etc. If questions or answers are helpful, always say
so; if not, say why not (while in many cases also saying thank you that they
were prepared to volunteer something at all), ...
A technique used entirely to create the right precedent is to ask everyone to
stand up; then only those to sit down who think the answer to this question
is X ...
- Individual processing. Learning may depend almost entirely on the
time spent on individual mental processing. In most cases, a frighteningly
tiny proportion of the audience's time is spent on this. Answering a handset
question means they spend at least 5 secs on this (for an easy question), or
perhaps a minute or two for a hard question. If they discuss the reasons for
choosing an answer, they spend more. (But listening to someone else answer a
question orally often leads to no real processing; taking dictation, none;
finding the right place on a handout, again none; etc.)
Feedback to the presenter
In running a session, the presenter has to make various judgements on the fly,
because they must make decisions on:
- Do the audience understand? Can ask, orally or by handset. But in fact,
it isn't always easy for students to be sure. So a test question is often
useful to them, as well as to the presenter, in discovering whether they do
- When to stop a discussion: when have they made up their minds and are
just chatting. A presenter can see a few groups not speaking any more: that
is one sign. They can walk round the room and ask a few groups if they have
- Are all the responses now in? The total on the PRS screen is a fairly
good guide to this.
- How easy was a question? In a large group (e.g. 150), answers come in
with a long tail (Poisson?) distribution. The sign of an easy question (that
only requires a second or two to decide): the first answers come immediately
and continue to register fast until 2/3rds are registered. A hard question
leads to only a few being registered at first, and a slower, steadier, flow.
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