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Commercial Breaks In The Classroom

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Off the Beaten Path

Tagged Division

New Engineering Educators

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.301.1 - 13.301.9

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Paper Authors

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Seth Norberg United States Military Academy

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

“Commercial Breaks in the Classroom” by Seth Norberg


After teaching a required undergraduate thermal-fluid systems course in the spring of 2006 to a broad assortment of engineering students at the United States Military Academy, many of whom saw no point in their enrollment in the course, various methods were attempted to spur their interest, keep their attention, and liven the discussion. The necessity of a “commercial break” in the classroom was recognized. “Commercial breaks” consisted of demonstrations, slide shows on the topic, an engineering story, a military story, or a personal story programmed at the half way point of the lecture. After collecting data in the fall of 2006 and the spring of 2007, the results showed that students appreciated the effort as indicated in the 93% positive responses to the overall attempt. The majority found commercial breaks to be an effective and enjoyable way to break the class. The commercial breaks also expedited development of rapport with the class. The students were more attentive and livelier after the break and the class was much more enjoyable for everyone. In addition, the performance of the sections was at or above the overall course performance.


About a third of the faculty at The United States Military Academy is rotating faculty members from the active Army. These officers enjoy a three year tour after completing their master’s degrees. After an instructor workshop in the summer, I was unleashed upon cadets. Teaching three sections of thermal-fluid systems to 46 students, I had the typical successes and failures of a first year instructor. The class consisted of predominately students majoring in mechanical engineering. My second semester, I had three sections of thermal-fluid systems again with a similar number of students. This time, however, the course consisted mainly of non-majors. Most of these students saw little point in taking my course and openly questioned the merit of my course on both their academic career and their life. I attempted various methods to spur their interest, keep their attention, and enliven the discussion. I saw the value in developing a rapport with the students and also answering the “so what” question that the challenging student so often poses. In short, I saw the necessity of the commercial break in the class room.

Research shows that the college age student initially has a 15-20 minute attention span which becomes shorter as the lecture progresses [5] & [10]. Further research showed that students recalled 70% of the information presented in the first 10 minutes of class and only 20% from the last ten minutes [6].

Changes in the environment recruit attention. The ability of changes to capture attention can work to the advantage of the lecturer. Variation in pitch, intensity, and pace of the lecture, and visual cues such as gestures, facial expression, movement to the blackboard, the use of demonstrations or audiovisual aids—all of these recruit and maintain attention to the lecture.—McKeachie [6].

Norberg, S. (2008, June), Commercial Breaks In The Classroom Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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