The typical image of an undergraduate learning environment invokes a large, theatre-style room with (usually uncomfortable) seats arranged so that everyone can watch and hear the instructor at a lectern or podium. The longstanding practice of lecturing speaks to its efficacy; lectures can emphasize and add context to the information in a time-efficient manner (White, 2011). However, online environments provide opportunities for creative and interactive lecturing that are difficult or even impossible to do in face-to-face lecture-style settings. This chapter describes the benefits of interactive lecturing and presents four activities to contribute to an engaging online lecture.
Proponents of online lecturing describe the many benefits of communicating to and with students in a lecture-type format. For example:
- Online lectures can be delivered and recorded in real-time (synchronously) or pre-recorded for enhanced flexibility and accessibility (asynchronously).
- Digitally-mediated lectures extend benefits that live, face-to-face lectures cannot, including accessibility (ex. captions, playback speed), device flexibility, convenience, and built-in formative assessment (quizzes or pauses to reinforce learning).
- Recorded lectures permit instructors to edit and revise a lecture to chunk information into smaller lecture episodes, address speaking errors, add visuals, or adjust sound quality.
- Synchronous lecture-style delivery invites student participation via polls, breakout activities, or surveys related to the lecture topic.
An engaging lecture does not simply mean that the instructor is energetic, uses examples, or incorporates humour into an otherwise dull monologue. Instead, interactive lecturing actively involves students throughout a digital lecture. Online interactive lectures engage students in critical thinking about learning materials to enhance the group’s collective energy or engagement (Moellenberg & Aldridge, 2010).
Attention. An online lecture can be constructed to increase student attention. Although instructors have lamented a lack of student focus for generations (Wilson & Korn, 2007), studies show that students are often not actively involved with a lecture and thus are not able or willing to focus on it (Steinert & Snell, 1999). In the online environment, actively involving students in a lecture rather than passively transmitting information improves student engagement and learning outcomes (Prince, 2004).
Equity, diversity, and inclusion. Underrepresented and minoritized students, undergraduates who lack academic preparation, and women benefit disproportionately from active learning (Eddy & Hogan, 2014; Lorenzo, Crouch & Mazur, 2006; Haak et al., 2011; Preszler, 2009; Bullard, Felder & Raubenheimer, 2008).
Investment. Interactive teaching and learning strategies can encourage students to engage with one another and course content, fostering investment in course study (Braxton et al., 2000).
Participation: Elements of interactive learning, such as engagement, rapport, and collaboration, improve student motivation and a more inclusive learning environment (Ambrose et al., 2010; Tanner, 2013; McGuire, 2015).
Rapport. Interactive lectures can provide space to develop rapport between and amongst students and instructors. Studies show that interactive lectures increase the potential to build such prosocial bonds and connections (Sharma et al., 2010). The online environment is a particularly welcome venue for building such relationships; digital opportunities such as backchannel discussion or crowdsourced responses throughout a digitally-mediated lecture can help establish familiarity and recognition amongst students. The formation of prosocial bonds is critical in improving student retention, particularly in first-year courses (Madgett & Belanger, 2008).
Small-group learning. The interactive lecture can incorporate opportunities for small-group learning. Educators can use case-based learning (CBL) and problem-based learning (PBL), typically in small groups, to engage and motivate students in applying their knowledge (Thistlethwaite et al., 2012). Students report high satisfaction with these approaches given the real-world application and social rapport that can be established (Curran et al., 2008). Such strategies, which can be implemented successfully in a remote online environment or a traditional classroom, have also positively affected learning (Davidson et al., 2014). However, it is unclear whether the learning occurs through curriculum delivery or the beneficial effect of small-group education (Thistlethwaite et al., 2012).
Student success. The active process of interactive lecturing requires that students critically think about course materials (Prince, 2004). In a meta-analysis of 225 studies, Freeman et al. (2014) found that “failure rates under traditional lecturing increase by 55% over the rates observed under active learning” (p. 23), while active learning enhanced examination performance and raised grades by a half a letter. Interactive lectures have also been shown to increase understanding of course content (Chimmalgi, 2019; Sharma et al., 2010).
Understanding. Active learning can improve comprehension and retention compared to passive learning strategies (Delauriers et al., 2011).
An interactive online lecture is broadly a semi-structured discussion where instructors aim to ensure that students are comfortable answering questions or sharing thoughts rather than being lectured at (Moellenberg & Aldridge, 2010; Steinert & Snell, 1999). Consider the following practices to ensure the best possible digital lecture experience for both you and your students:
- Variable student group size. While it is essential to consider overall class size, attendance at synchronous lectures may vary. You may consider activities that offer flexibility, such as the use of breakout rooms along with interactive quizzes (Mentimeter), such that you can amend interactivity on short notice.
- Type and level of course. The types of interactive activities that you choose to implement may be discipline-specific (e.g., humanities vs. science) and vary according to the specifics of the student group (e.g., fourth-year vs. first-year students). For example, a fourth-year humanities course may lend itself to a rich discussion of a controversial topic. In contrast, a first-year anatomy and physiology course may establish objective content knowledge.
- Time and resource needs. Interactive lectures can be time and resource-intensive. Consider factors such as how long it will take to set up and what resources (e.g., technology, learning materials, space) are required. Engage in contingency planning if the interactive lecture does not go as planned (e.g., technical difficulties can happen when you least expect it!).
- Inclusive Environment. Interactive lectures should include the development of an environment in which students feel comfortable participating and sharing experiences, knowledge, and perspectives. An authentic interactive lecture will consist of participation by most students, not just a select few.
- Student Participation and Accessibility Needs. It can take time for students to process and develop meaningful responses without the potential influence of the larger student group, so plan to give time to respond. Even 10 seconds can help foster independent thinking, especially during reflective exercises, discussions or content review.
Lectures = Discussions.
- The presentation is a guide. PowerPoint Presentations or slides are guides, not teleprompters. Lectures shouldn’t be the sole means of information dissemination.
- Ensure learning materials are accessible. Let students know the focus and intent of the lecture ahead of time. Sharing materials well in advance will afford students to prepare (hopefully) and a chance to reflect.
- Don’t repeat information that is overtly present in books.
- Learn students’ names and use them.
- Begin with low cognitive load activities and build based on response and engage volunteers and non-volunteers.
- Implement a pre-class exercise (e.g., informal quiz, reading, reflection) to encourage advanced preparation and comprehension
- Conduct an experiment or view a multimedia presentation in an online classroom, then prompt discussion.
- Connect students’ experience/background with the topic (ex. Q & A, educator ties it back to the topic).
- Use visual organizers such as slide colour or progress bars/images to chunk information into smaller conceptual components.
- Using multimedia content such as video lectures can help reduce cognitive load (Clark et al., 2011).
- Be aware of facial expressions. Lecturers’ facial expressiveness in online learning may enhance student learning experiences (Wang et al., 2019). Video lectures with heightened levels of expressiveness were more effective for increasing student arousal and learning satisfaction than conventional levels or audio-only (Wang et al., 2019).
Potential Limitations or Issues
- Using personal technology such as social media and texting may present challenges in maintaining focus on learning tasks (Morrell & Joyce, 2019).
- Efforts to impress (e.g., theatrics, audio, visuals) should add to, not take away from the content.
- A lack of student preparedness for an interactive class may limit their participation.
Activity 1: Interactive Lecturing with Mentimeter
Mentimeter is an interactive, web-based presentation tool that replaces traditional slides to facilitate engagement between and amongst students and instructors. The value-add is an ability for audiences to interact anonymously with each slide through various response options. The use of EdTech, such as Mentimeter, is in direct contrast to passive methods of teaching that resemble the factory (Leather et al., 2020) or banking (Freire & Ramos, 1970) knowledge transmission models. Using Mentimeter can help to improve interactivity and engagement in lecture formats.
- Sign up. Visit mentimeter.com and create a free account if your institution has a paid membership, all the better, though the free version is sufficient for most online lectures.
- Get a presentation code. Mentimeter generates a unique numerical code for each presentation, which will appear on each slide. As students join the lecture or presentation, direct them to the Menti site to enter the code and join the group online. All participation and results in Mentimeter are anonymous.
- Introduction. When beginning a lecture, it is helpful to find out what students know or don’t know already. Invite students to respond to pre-instruction questions in various ways, as below.
- Polls/Votes. Mentimeter allows polling results in various formats, including multiple-choice, ranking, or scales. You could ask students to rank their knowledge of a particular topic or concept that you’ll cover in the online lecture and then repeat this exercise at the end of class to assess the efficacy of the lecture.
- Word clouds. This interaction format invites responses to open-ended questions answered in one word or a brief phrase. Responses automatically appear on screen in real-time. Words or phrases with more than one response appear larger than those with fewer responses.
- Short answers. Invite students to ask questions throughout the presentation. Questions appear in small text blocks live on screen.
- Content. For slides in which you seek to deliver information, Mentimeter offers content slides with bullet points, headings, images, or video functions.
- Check-in. Students can still respond to slides that contain primary content. Each Mentimeter slide has the option to present a series of check-in responses: the heart, question mark, thumbs up, thumbs down, and cat silhouette buttons. Students can click one of these options to indicate the presence, confusion, something they like/dislike, or the cat (which is somewhat random but cute nonetheless).
- Quiz. Mentimeter has a quiz function whereby students can respond to questions, and results are displayed (anonymously) on screen. This function can help both instructors and students gauge comprehension and is particularly useful at the lecture’s conclusion to informally assess retention.
- Debrief. Mentimeter saves all student responses anonymously, so instructors can revisit each slide to see where there were questions, increased or decreased participation, and quiz results.
- Format. Mentimeter can be used in either asynchronous or synchronous environments. However, many of its functions (such as polling and Q & A) are best suited to lectures/presentations in synchronous online environments. It may take some experimentation to determine how to best use Mentimeter in recorded lectures in your specific discipline.
- Anonymity. As Mentimeter affords anonymity, it is unlikely that you can identify students presenting issues best served through a private response. Also, inappropriate dialogue might occur even with filtering settings engaged.
Activity 2: Implementation of Case Studies
Case studies offer a unique opportunity to engage and motivate students to apply their basic theoretical knowledge to real-world scenarios. They enable scientific inquiry, integrate knowledge and practice, promote critical reflection and clinical reasoning (Thistlethwaite et al., 2012). Through personal experience, undergraduate students enjoy discussing authentic clinical cases, particularly in small group settings.
- Case Study Content Development. Case studies should provide an in-depth, multidisciplinary perspective of the issue. There are plenty of case studies already published for use that you may consider, including traditional textbooks, subscription-based repositories and OER publications (see Resources). In the case study development phase, educators can evaluate the level of the student group. For example, first-year students may be content with more structured activities. In contrast, fourth-year students should be able to integrate and apply knowledge from current and past courses in forming shareable answers), relevant course content (e.g., to ensure overlap with theoretical concepts presented in the course), and intended timing and format of the case study presentation.
- Timing and Format of Case Study Presentation. The introduction of case studies in the undergraduate health sciences curriculum typically follows an interactive lecture on the related theoretical content. Notably, a detailed case study can be time-consuming, so it’s essential to provide sufficient time to share relevant information and discussion. Therefore, case studies will likely extend beyond the time spent in a lecture.
- Case Study Release. Release the details well before the lecture, ensuring that theoretical concepts and relevant information are concise and easily accessible.
Here are some of the challenges that you may experience with implementing case studies:
- Student preparedness. Students need to acquire basic knowledge before they can apply it. Consider including a pre-class quiz or assignment as a knowledge check, affording time for reflection and correction.
- Student participation. Students have considerable experience remembering and understanding course materials but might be apprehensive about applying their knowledge in front of peers (Krathwohl, 2002). Small groups such as breakouts or tutorial groups can be helpful, particularly with guided discussion.
- National Center for Case Study Teaching in the Sciences
- Multi-Course Case Studies in Health Sciences [Open textbook]
Activity 3: Breakout Rooms in Synchronous Lectures
Breakout rooms are particularly suitable for online synchronous lectures. These smaller group sessions are separate from the main online meeting room. Managing breakout rooms can be challenging, especially in larger classes with novice student groups, but they are adaptable.
The primary objective of a breakout room is to permit small group interactions and collaborative learning. How can this be accomplished in an online learning environment?
- Group Assignment. Educators may choose between random or pre-defined group allocation. A random distribution of students may permit them to gain a diverse perspective with interactivity, whereas students may feel more comfortable establishing a rapport with pre-defined, consistent groups. Consider the scope of the activity or objective and populate the room accordingly.
- Tasks and Assignments. Educators should provide structured activities to keep students on task and stimulate meaningful discussion. For example, educators may utilize a collaborative workspace (e.g., Google Docs, Jamboard) to support student interaction.
- Use of Web Cameras (Webcam). Educators and students should be encouraged to keep a webcam active during small-group conversations to enable rapport-building.
- Educator Interactions in Breakout Rooms. Educators should consider circulating between breakout rooms when they are not called upon directly to respond to student questions. For example, some online platforms will enable participants to raise a (virtual) hand to prompt the educator host.
Here are some of the challenges that you may experience with implementing case studies:
- Student preparedness. While students can tutor each other or catch up on material at the start of a breakout session, prior knowledge is often a key for effectiveness.
- Student participation. Students may be reluctant to participate in small groups with unfamiliar individuals. The inclusion of ice breaker activities and consistency in student groupings (vs. random group allocation) may build familiarity.
- Educator-student interaction. Class and breakout sizes can affect connectivity and can still be challenging even with small groups if there are many. Ensure that you construct structured outcomes to guide focus and then circulate and monitor student prompts.
Activity 4: Digital Media in Synchronous Lectures
Digital media is an extensive term including social media, popular media websites, and podcasts. And, often, students tend to enjoy integrating digital media into a largely theoretical lecture.
- Preparation. Finding, integrating, and developing relevant, thought-provoking lecture content takes time. Educators should focus on high-quality digital media content rather than quantity.
- Student group. Our students tend to thrive with digital media content. However, the first-year student may be more concerned about remembering and understanding the content, whereas the fourth-year student may interact and apply the knowledge. The course content may also matter. For example, I teach anatomy and physiology, which may not lend itself to interpretation and discussion to the same extent as a course in the humanities.
- Implementation. Provide sufficient time for the integration of digital media content and discussion afterward. Consider implementing a small number of digital media segments into your larger lecture. For example, you may choose to start a synchronous lecture review session with a 5–7-minute YouTube video (e.g., TedEd talk) to frame the lecture content. Overall, the intent is to provide a new and communal stimulus (e.g., not your voice or theirs).
Here are some of the challenges that you may experience with implementing digital media:
- Cognitive overload. The introduction of content from multiple sources should proceed with caution. To overcome this challenge, consider integrating digital media content into lecture slides, providing relevant hyperlinks in advance. Moreover, you may choose to select and emphasize a focused number of platforms to reduce unnecessary issues as the term progresses.
- Student engagement. While students may enjoy digital media content, additional strategies are required to encourage participation. A structured activity that includes reviewing the digital media content alongside a question set may be more engaging and prevent students from tuning out.
- Poll Everywhere Audience Response System (ARS) or Nearpod: Live online polling.
- Google Meet Polls: Conduct polls in Google Meet, Polls in Google Meet [3:41].
- Microsoft Teams Polls: Poll attendees during a Teams meeting, How to create a Poll in Microsoft Teams
- Zoom: Polling for meetings – Zoom Support, Polling for Zoom Meetings and Webinars [4:08].
- Presentations. Create engaging presentations with platforms like Canva and Adobe Spark.
- Google Meet Q & A. Engage students or encourage backchannel discussion as you progress through your content. Ask participants questions in Google Meet, How to use Q&A in Google Meet [4:08]
- Google Arts & Culture. A resource that offers high-quality visuals to explore architecture, art, and history to engage students’ creative thinking processes. Consider virtual tours or road trips, your collection based on a theme (ex. colour, subject), or VR. Learn With Google Arts & Culture, Google Arts & Culture [Video playlist]
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