At the Learning and Teaching Conference last month we were treated to an awesome presentation by Dr Ali Al-Ataby, the winner of the annual Sir Alastair Pilkington Prize for excellent teaching. In his presentation, entitled ‘Satisfying the 300’, Ali explained how he has turned what was considered to be a boring and difficult, yet required, module with a large failure rate into one of the most popular and successful in Electrical Engineering and Electronics (EEE).
Science and Engineering are really tackling the challenge of teaching large cohorts with lots of good practice across the Faculty. I was reminded that I attended another fantastic event last term. Run by Dr Kathy Johnson in Science and Engineering and introduced by Mark Bowen, a whole day was dedicated to large group teaching with invited speakers from within and beyond the University, giving thought provoking and entirely practical strategies for teaching modules for groups of up to 600 students.
Executive Pro Vice Chancellor for Science and Engineering Professor Ken Badcock opened, underlining the importance the Faculty gives to the quality of the student learning experience. He was followed by five speakers, from Liverpool, Manchester and The Open University.
Key messages from the session emphasised the importance of:
- Students having the opportunity to interact with one another, something that can be done very well online.
- Students feeling connected to the lecturer. They will overcrowd a live lecture rather than sit in an overspill and they need to know their lecturer is concerned about their learning. This requires planning and insight that takes as much effort as all other aspects of the teaching. But, it can be done.
- A blended approach with on-line activities and discussions which can significantly enhance the student learning experience because the very nature of the large scale course means that there are many ideas, points of view, and knowledge to bring to the debate and insights to share. Well planned online elements are valued by staff and students.
- Module efficiency was a key consideration for staff – including excellent administrative staff and well trained teaching assistant support.
- Selecting tools that work for students, not simply like for like replacements for those that work face-to-face, but approaches that meet the aims and intended learning outcomes of the modules.
The presenters were (click the links for short interviews):
Dr John Moriarty (Manchester) – Feeding the four hundred – case study with a large class.
Dr John Marsland (Liverpool) – 3000 students and counting! Assessing and engaging large cohorts.
Erik Clark (Liverpool student) – Strategies for large cohorts – a student perspective.
Dr Matt Murphy (Liverpool) – Using more than just lectures to teach classes of 500+.
Dr Anne -Marie Gallen (Open University) – Developing large scale undergraduate engineering modules using VLE-based approaches.
You can view Ali Al-Ataby’s full conference presentation here.
Anne Qualter, Centre for Lifelong Learning