Increasing student engagement in large lecture theatres

The ResponseWare app allows students to participate in polls during live lectures. Emma Rand has recently trialled the ResponseWare app on a large cohort (241 students) attending statistics lectures in Central Hall, a venue that holds up to 1190 students.

The York pedagogy "seeks to maximise the value of students' contact time with staff," with staff-student interactions designed to "encourage, inform and propel students' work." In Central Hall, the lecturer is removed from the class on a stage with multiple wall mounted screens, while students may sit several tens of metres from the lecturer (see photo). This makes conversational interactions during a lecture extremely difficult, and the problem is compounded by students' understandable reluctance to speak up in such a large class.

Emma used ResponseWare to encourage direct interactions between herself and the class, starting with simple, "Is the software working?" questions, and moving on to True/False and multiple choice (MCQ) questions to check understanding, MCQs to be discussed with a neighbour, and questions allowing students to express how they feel about a topic. Answers can then be displayed directly on the slides on screen, or saved for the lecturer to look at after the lecture. An end-of-module questionnaire established that the vast majority of students liked the interaction and ability to influence the speed and depth of lecture material, even if they had not responded to polls themselves. Feedback comments suggested that, as well as providing instant feedback, a key outcome was that students felt obliged to keep paying attention, thinking and concentrating in lectures, which they all appreciated.