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Teaching Your First Large Lecture: Surviving with Attentive and Engaged Students

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Tricks of the Trade

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1155.1 - 23.1155.10



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Paper Authors


Mahnas Jean Mohammadi-Aragh Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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Jean Mohammadi-Aragh is a Ph.D. Candidate and Dean’s Teaching Fellow in Virginia Tech's Engineering Education Department. Prior to joining the Engineering Education Department, Jean earned her B.S. (2002) and her M.S. (2004) in Computer Engineering at Mississippi State University. Jean was a scientific visualization and virtual reality researcher for the Geosystems Research Institute, and outreach coordinator for Mississippi State's Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. Her current research interests focus on technology in engineering education, human computer interaction, educational data mining, and scientific visualization.

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Rachel Louis Kajfez Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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Rachel Louis Kajfez is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. She earned her Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Civil Engineering from The Ohio State University where she specialized in construction. Currently, Rachel is a Dean’s Teaching Fellow, is a Departmental Ambassador, and is actively involved in ASEE. Her current research interests include graduate student motivation and identity development.

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Surviving Your First Large Lecture with Attentive and Engaged StudentsThe usual and customary appointment for a graduate teaching assistant or new instructor inengineering is a recitation, workshop, laboratory or small classroom (~30 students). Hence, mostpractical advice for promoting attentiveness and engagement centers on that type ofenvironment. In those environments, individual student-instructor interaction is possible in orderto keep students attentive and engaged. Although less common, some new instructors areassigned to teach large lectures (>75 students), in which it is much more difficult to achievestudent-instructor interaction and to encourage attentiveness and engagement. However,interaction, attentiveness, and engagement are no less critical for student learning in largelectures compared to smaller learning environments. This paper summarizes the student-centered instructional approach in order to motivate new and future instructors to takeresponsibility for student attention and engagement regardless of classroom size. The authorsalso provide recommendations or tricks of the trade for promoting interaction, attention, andengagement in large lectures. For example, one recommendation based on the resourcesgathered for this paper is to be cautious when reminding students that a homework assignment isdue later in the day. In large classes, this simple reminder often causes students to start workingon that assignment, thereby decreasing or even removing their attention to your lecture. A wayto combat this issue is to make general announcements and then immediately follow theannouncements with an active learning activity to reengage the students.Recommendations are based on two sources of data: observations conducted during research andpersonal experience/evaluations. First, naturalistic observations of experienced large lectureinstructors were conducted in order to identify strategies used by experienced instructors andperceived changes in student attention. These observations are part of a research projectspecifically targeting students’ time on task in lectures. Second, the roles were reversed, andsenior faculty observed and evaluated the two authors’ of this paper in their own large lecturesproviding feedback to the authors on instruction and ways to improve student interaction,attention, and engagement. The two data sources combine to provide empirical evidence tosupport the recommendations provided in this paper.Though both authors of this paper are relatively new to teaching large lectures, thegeneralizability of the recommendations presented in this paper is strengthened by the authors’multiple semesters of teaching experience at multiple institutions. Before teaching the largelectures sections, the authors taught multiple courses fitting into the traditional recitation,workshop, and laboratory categories. Furthermore, the authors have taught large lecturesranging in size from 75 to 300 students contributing to their knowledge on tricks of the traderelated to this topic. The authors anticipate that the recommendations in this paper will supportany instructor assigned to teach their first large lecture, allowing them to survive with attentiveand engaged students.

Mohammadi-Aragh, M. J., & Kajfez, R. L. (2013, June), Teaching Your First Large Lecture: Surviving with Attentive and Engaged Students Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22540

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