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Active Learning In Large Lectures

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.57.1 - 4.57.13

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Russell D. Meier

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2632

Active Learning in Large Lectures Russell D. Meier Kansas State University

I. Introduction

Active learning is powerful teaching. I have used active learning techniques in undergraduate computer engineering courses at Iowa State University and Kansas State University. I firmly believe that the learner-centered, active learning exercises have enhanced student knowledge of the material. I was challenged by two large lecture courses during the 1997-1998 academic year. Each course had a class size approaching 100 students. Many instructors believe that a large lecture is not an appropriate active learning environment. I strongly disagree. Properly designed exercises with appropriate individual-accountability measurements work very well in large lectures. In each course, the students formed cohesive learning teams. The teams enjoyed the active learning challenge problems and directed class discussion. My role evolved from a lecturer to the role of facilitator and mentor. Facilitating these learner-centered classrooms is the most rewarding experience I have had as a faculty member.

However, managing large active learning classrooms is not for the weak-at-heart. Large lectures pose unique questions that must be faced when designing active learning environments. How will the large number of teams be selected? Is it possible to diversify teams in a large lecture when the student population is mostly homogenous? How can activities be completed in large lecture halls? What about the students that refuse to participate? Does active learning work for every student in the large course? Will the shear number of active learning teams foster competition, and is competition desired? What about incomplete teams caused by truancy? Is it possible to guarantee individual-accountability within the large student population? I had to find answers to all of these questions. This paper will discuss my experience designing and facilitating the active learning environments for the large lectures of my computer engineering courses.

II. Background

I began my teaching career in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Iowa State University. The computer engineering enrollment was increasing steadily while the computer engineering faculty size remained static. Thus, class size increased dramatically for the faculty members teaching core courses. I was the only instructor of one four credit-hour course on microprocessor systems design (CprE 301) from 1994 through 1998. My CprE 301 lectures met for 50 minutes three times per week and every student attended one three-hour laboratory during the week. The lecture grew from 40 students to nearly 100 students during these years.

In 1997, I was also gifted with a second large lecture to be taught each semester; a three credit- hour course entitled “Fundamentals of Computer Engineering (CprE 310).” CprE 310 had always been extremely unpopular because it was perceived by students to be a mathematics

Meier, R. D. (1999, June), Active Learning In Large Lectures Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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