ULTIMATELY, the fundamental goal of teaching is to foster learning. During lectures, lecturers are expected to deliver the knowledge, skills and understanding necessary for their students to excel in their chosen programmes and become successful professionals in the future.
Many classes in universities all over the world have large enrolments of over 100 students and research has shown that large classes can have a negative impact upon student results (Bandiera et al, 2010).
This could mean students’ needs are not being met or that they are not able to understand the course content fully. This may result in difficulty in establishing positive collaborative relationships with the students, a vital aspect that must be considered in a classroom situation.
Tutoring elements of teaching and learning can be extremely important, particularly in an international environment where students come from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds and may have differing learning styles. Lecturers must have a reflective teaching practice that enables them to evaluate the effectiveness of their teaching styles, make changes to their pedagogy, and develop and demonstrate the ideal student attributes.
Curtin University has a strong commitment to producing outstanding graduates who exhibit the ‘Curtin Graduate Attributes’. These attributes are embedded within the framework of every course. However, the lecturers also need to evaluate how well students are achieving this, which could be a daunting task.
Lecturers must try to minimise the negative impacts of large classes by ensuring that they demonstrate enthusiasm for the relevant subjects and that the students feel confident in asking questions. Dubrow and Wilkinson (1984) mention the joy of listening to lecturers with such teaching styles but also recognise that it can be difficult to maintain such high energy levels.
McKeachie (1986) notes that (class) size and method are almost inextricably intertwined, thus research on class size and on lecture versus discussion overlap. Large classes are most likely to use lecture methods and less likely to use discussion than small classes.
Curtin’s ‘Transforming Learning’ initiatives emphasise moving away from traditional-style lectures towards a more collaborative approach. At present, while changes are slowly being integrated, lectures are still mostly carried out using traditional formats although the reflective lecturer should introduce their own strategies to encourage interaction and engagement of students.
There is evidence from research that show active learners take new information and apply it, rather than merely taking note of it (Bonwell & Eison 1991, McKeachie 1972, Prince 2004). For most of us, having first-hand use of new material helps to develop a sense of personal ownership. When the subject matter connects directly with students’ own personal experiences, projects and goals, they are more likely to care about and have a deeper understanding of the lecture.
One method to relate more directly with students, even in large classes, is to provide examples that reflect the students’ interests and experiences so that they are able to relate to the subject matter more easily. Giving clear, straightforward and memorable examples reinforces the points that the lecturer is trying to make.
The use of technology in the lecture hall is another way of achieving this. An example is beginning each lecture with an engaging video related to the topic of the lecture. By trying to put oneself in the students’ shoes, lecturers can ensure each video interests the students.
Other use of technology such as the use of iPads or mobile phone apps also supports active engagement and group participation and interaction.
Today’s technology is becoming increasingly important as a tool for education and ‘Learning for Tomorrow’. It helps us to reach different types of learners and, as described in Curtin’s ‘Transforming Learning’ plan, by effectively integrating technology into education, the roles of teachers or lecturers will naturally evolve to one of advisor, mentor, content expert and coach.
Lecturers are able to make significant steps to combat the inhibitions toward student learning provided they are reflective of their own teaching styles. Although students are likely to be more active in small class sizes, there are ways in which lecturers can increase students’ participation and directly encourage them to think critically and creatively.
This process can only begin when lecturers recognise that they, too, are on a learning journey and improve through constant evaluation and self-development.
Dr Haidar Fadhil Abbas Al-Qrimli is a lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering of the Faculty of Engineering and Science, Curtin Sarawak.