Teaching Large Cohorts – Workshop summary

The problem of teaching large cohorts has attracted a lot of attention in HE.

Anything above a ratio of 60 students to 1 lecturer changes the pedagogical dynamics. A systematic review of the bigger picture of managing large cohorts from induction to graduation and the redesign coming from this kind of intense commitment is the work of programme teams rather than the lone lecturer, and it takes time. This blog is aimed at the lone lecturer faced with a term of timetabled lectures slots with 60+ students. There are many different lecturing styles as there are diverse learners and specificity of discipline/field are critical.

Having said that, 10 top tips from Ian Turner are short, quick and simple strategies to help engage (and entertain) students in the lecture theatre, specifically in larger classes when 1-2-1 interaction and small group or tutorial work is not possible. Each card is a new strategy showing how to incorporate it into your practice. Each cards includes a risk factor and this is where judgement is required. The riskier strategies, if they do not ‘come off’ can confuse the students or distracting from the overall session aims.

An extended version of the trumps – #52etc is more comprehensive (and strategic). The ideas for blended learning for example flipped summaries, a jigsaw and rotating groups are also promising in terms of high impact teaching practices in higher education.

In the resources made available during this workshop, you can find several case studies, highlighting different issues that lecturers face when teaching large groups and some ideas on how to address them. It is not a one fits all approach but rather a selection of thoughts on how to deal with these issues. These go hand in hand with BU’s Digital Pedagogies Framework and make sure that the student experience is targeted.

It turns out that the ideas are simple enough:

  • more students talking and working together,
  • more configuring large groups into smaller groups of students with clear tasks,
  • using flipped approaches for knowledge/information transmission so interaction is richer,
  • more focus on the quality of the questioning.

Simple but no. To pull it off lecturers showcase a great deal of judgement, expertise, planning and the lecturers’ imaginative presence in the learning process.

In fact, one of my personal recommendations when it comes to teaching large cohorts is The Slow Professor, a book that advises academics to actively resist the “culture of speed”. The authors (Maggie Berg, a professor of English at Queen’s University in Canada, and Barbara K. Seeber a professor of English at Brock University, also in Canada) argue that

slow professors advocate deliberation over acceleration because they need time to think, and so do our students. Time for reflection and open-ended inquiry is not a luxury but is crucial to what we do.

Last but not least, in parallel with the Teaching Large Cohorts Workshop, I strongly recommend the journal High-impact teaching practices in higher education: a best evidence review by Calvin D. Smith & Chi Baik.

Given the current and emerging challenges facing the higher education sector with the rapid growth in student  participation and an increasingly diverse student cohort, there is a need, today more than ever before, for a focus on sound evidence-based teaching – that is, teaching practices that are most likely to lead to effective student learning outcomes (James et al. 2015) 

I will soon post information on the second FLIE workshop, Inclusion, Equality and Social Justice.

Looking forward to your comments and ideas.

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