Interactive Teaching

In addition to having a nationwide shift toward a wider grading distribution (see prior blog post), I’d like to see a nationwide shift toward more interactive lessons. By interactive, I don’t mean getting-your-hands-dirty, build-a-volcano-out-of-baking-soda interactive. If your classes lend themselves to hands-on activities then that would be fantastic, but for most classes it’s not feasible and wouldn’t even make sense. What I mean by interactive is engaging the students to think for themselves.

Especially with the ubiquity of PowerPoint in teaching, too many professors have fallen into the easy trap of throwing all the content onto the screen for the students to passively absorb. But therein lies the problem – when the learning is passive, there’s not much absorption happening. Another tricky thing is that students often feel like they are learning it. If they see all the content and nothing confuses them, then they’re more likely to feel content in their level of understanding. However without picking their way through the details and actively turning the concepts through their minds, it is very difficult to know if you really grasp the material.

To force students to grapple with the content in such a manner as to tease out their level of comprehension, professors need to force the students to fill in holes in the content rather than always give them the full story. The good news is, incorporating such interaction is possible in all subject matters, and PowerPoint can even help with this. As the lecture goes on and references are made to previously mentioned points or ideas, professors should refrain from expounding on what those prior points were and instead make the class reference those ideas. Professors can also pause mid-sentence and ask the class to fill in the rest of what they were going to say. PowerPoint can help enact this with the animated feature – instead of putting up the whole content, only show a couple points at a time so that the class must predict the rest. Even the students who are not speaking up can benefit from this change, as they are having to predict and thus think through the unshown material rather than just reading it.

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