Results tagged “Lectures” from The Scholar as Teacher

Laptops in Class


More and more Princeton students are using laptops in the classroom, and more and more faculty are concerned about what those students are doing with their computers.  Over the past year, a number of professors have asked for our thoughts about dealing with laptops in class.  

In a recent edition of our Scholar As Teacher tip sheets we suggested these questions to think about as you confront this issue in your classroom.
  • Share with students your understanding of the importance of engaging with the ideas presented and discussed in lecture for their understanding. Is it important to you that they interact with you and their fellow students as a community of learners? How may their use of laptops enhance or constrain that experience?
  • Are students aware that certain uses of technology in the classroom are inappropriate from your point of view? Students live in a high-tech, multitasking universe, and they are used to being constantly on-line or connected. They may need instructors to distinguish between what they as students perceive as “normal” from what we might consider “rude.” Consider outlining your policy about technology in the classroom at the beginning of the course and include it on the syllabus.
  • Some instructors feel uncomfortable asking students not to use computers, believing that the student must decide on how to take notes and whether to pay attention. If a student is distracting others, however, then the issue goes beyond personal freedom. Being silent about indiscriminate laptop use can be perceived as tacit permission, so more and more students may use laptops inappropriately as the semester goes on unless instructors give them  boundaries. You do have the right to ask students not to use their laptops. If you make that choice, sharing with them your reasons for doing so can help them understand your goals and expectations for their learning.
  • Periodically asking students to close their computers and answer questions or dialogue with their neighbors can break the hypnotic spell that computers exert and bring back student attention  at least momentarily.
  • Student laptop use may require us as teachers to ask ourselves a hard question: does our teaching style need to be updated given the easy access to information available to students now? If lectures are mainly reiterations of information that students have in hand, e.g., lecture notes, PowerPoint slides, textbook or readings, is it surprising that they are tempted to disengage from class? The more interactive the class, the less likely it is that students will seek a distraction—and the more they are apt  to retain from the class.
  • Are there ways to turn the use of computers to advantage in your course? Occasionally asking students to look up something on the web to add to class discussion can help students re-engage with the task at hand. 
What are your own thoughts about students using their laptops in class? How have you responded? 


Teaching Large Classes


We recently hosted a panel on teaching large classes led by four Princeton faculty: Beth Bogan, Senior Lecturer in Economics, Michael Hecht, Professor of Chemistry, Lee Silver, Professor of Molecular Biology and Public Policy, and Michael Smith, Professor of Philosophy. In a recent edition of our Scholar As Teacher tip sheet series, we shared some of the ideas that arose from that discussion, both from panelists and audience members:

 Planning and Organizing

  • Structure assignments to help promote the kind of work that your discipline requires (e.g., writing, problem solving) and weight assignments to allow those who improve during the semester to benefit from doing so.
  • Meet with preceptors before the class begins to set policies on the conduct of precepts, and meet with them regularly to follow the progress of the precepts, to design grading rubrics for assignments, and to hold sample grading sessions to moderate grades. During such sessions you can have several preceptors grade the same student paper or problem set and share with the group the rationale they used for assigning the grade. Helping preceptors think through grading issues in this way can help promote consistency across sections.

 Preparing Lectures

  • Compose each lecture as a chapter of the unfolding story of the course. Include a manageable number of points in each lecture—three to five are common.
  • Provide students with a lecture outline online just before class either as a document file or via PowerPoint. But avoid using PowerPoint as a complete record of your notes. Instead use it primarily for images, graphs, and other visuals, and as a lecture outline. In this way you provide students some needed support for their notes, but still give them reason to attend lecture.

 During Lectures

  • Make yourself accessible. Announce your office hours regularly, come to class early, and stay after class to talk with students and answer questions. These moments provide great opportunities for you to get feedback about the course as well as to show your interest in your students’ progress. Take opportunities to gather more structured feedback from your students via anonymous midterm feedback forms or one-minute papers (short questions at the end of class) to find out how they’re experiencing the course. This tactic helps prevent surprises at the end of the semester on course evaluations.
  • Shape students’ expectations. Be transparent about what you want students to learn in the course, what aspects may be difficult, or why some topics may seem uninteresting. Pointing out how their interest and hard work will pay off in the course can help students understand and appreciate your approach. Provide regular assignments for students to apply what they’re learning and give them feedback on their progress.
  • Recognize the performance aspects of a large lecture and keep your audience engaged by using your stage presence: make eye contact, move away from the podium and into the audience, and avoid the appearance of reading lectures, either from notes or PowerPoint. Ask students questions periodically to keep them engaged and change the pace of the class. Show your enthusiasm for the topic—it’s infectious.
  • Connect to students’ lives, interests and concerns whenever possible by using current events or students’ own experience to illustrate course concepts. Show pictures or give some interesting biographic details of the people whose works are being discussed to make their ideas more interesting and accessible to students.  
  • Teach at multiple levels. In a large class there will be students with widely varying abilities and backgrounds. Present topics in such a way that the take-home is clear to everyone, but add in advanced ideas from time to time to capture the interest of those who have the background to understand them. Make it clear to the class when ideas go beyond what all students might be able to appreciate.

 For more tips and ideas about teaching large classes, visit our Scholar As Teacher tip sheet library