So you've decided to take the plunge. You've heard all the great ideas about active learning techniques used in large lectures and you've decided to move away from a traditional lecture format toward a more active learning classroom. But a nagging question remains: how will I win the students over to this different style of teaching?
The students, accustomed to the traditional lecture for years, may not be as enthusiastic about active learning as you are. You might even anticipate complaints like, "All I want to do is just show up to lecture and be told what I need to know," or "All you're doing is monitoring us work on problems in class--that's not real teaching."
Eric Mazur, physics professor at Harvard, discusses his approach to this problem in his classic book, "Peer Instruction: A User's Manual". The solution, he says in essence, is to motivate what you're doing early and often.
A similar approach to that last point is to have participation in the active learning exercises actually be included as part of the final grade, but at low stakes so the students are not overburdened with getting the correct answer every time.
The clicker questions are included with the homework assignments as part of a bucket grade. Clicker questions are worth ~70 points out of 230 possible "bucket" points. To make those questions low stakes and to allow flexibility, a maximum of 200 points is awarded and any extra points are discarded.
Try these strategies to help your students get on board with the goals of your new active learning teaching style. Yes, you need to prepare thoughtfully and carefully, but if you take the necessary steps to motivate why you're using the techniques you do, you may soon find your students more engaged than ever before.
Bob Rawle is a doctoral candidate in Chemistry at Stanford.