May 2012 Archives

Engaging a 2,670-student-class by utilizing technologies

Have you ever taught a large class with 200 or 300 students? If so, you should know how difficult it is to teach a large class.

What about, then, teaching more than 2,000 students in a classroom? How can you handle that?

One recent article in the Chronicle in Higher Education really inspired me to rethink about teaching a large class.

John Boyer, who teaches "World Regions" course at Virginia Tech explores how technology can help engage students from 600 to nearly 3,000 students in a big classroom. And it was shown that students do learn from the class while some people doubt the effectiveness of the class in terms of student learning.

To me, the most interesting thing he does is the 'virtual' office hours.

Before starting the office hours, his assistant sends out alerts through Facebook and twitter. Then, students including his former students attend the office hours either off-line (i.e., come in person and sit in his office couch) or on-line.

Then, he takes questions through instant messages and 'broadcasts' his answers via 'Ustream', a free Web platform that lets anyone broadcast a video feed through a Webcam.

Isn't that cool?

Another way of utilizing technology is to let student tweets tagged with the class hashtag. ,

Also, he often invites students to text their responses to a poll to choose a topic for the day (FYI, 'Chime In' is a similar system developed by the U of M CLA IT group that lets students respond to a poll via internet or text messages).

Oh, and I should tell you one more thing he does. He has been inviting famous people (e.g., Aung San Suu Kyi, a Myanmar's pro-democracy leader) to do a Skype interview in his class. To make that possible, he recorded videos showing the large crowd of students blowing noisemakers and chanting their names and posted them on Youtube.

What a bold and great idea!

I believe it was not only the technologies but also his knowledge in interactive teaching methods that helped engage a large crowd of students into learning.

I think these techniques, especially virtual office hours using Ustream, can be useful in all types of classes (off line, online, or hybrid).

If you have time, I do recommend to read through the original Chronicles of Higher Education article.

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