Posts by Jess Gervais

Building Connections in Large Lectures

It is no secret that class sizes in public and private institutions across the country are growing. In fact, teaching a large lecture or non-traditional classroom is often required to advance along a tenure-track or to earn a promotion. And the rapidly changing classroom structure isn’t slowing down. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 2000 and 2016, undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions increased by 28 percent (from 13.2 million to 16.9 million students). Increasing class sizes bring challenges to educators, such as lower student engagement, an increased grading burden, more questions from students and often teaching methods which worked in smaller classes don’t scale to a larger class.

When Dr. Stacey Combes transitioned from a class of 20 students at Harvard University to a class of 400 students at the University of California, Davis, she quickly learned the challenges of connecting with students in an auditorium. In a small class, she had time to build relationships with her students and students were comfortable discussing class topics, debating ideas and asking questions in class. At the University of California, Davis, she wanted to build that same sense of community but knew creating an environment where hundreds of students were excited to share ideas would be challenging.

Dr. Combes’ challenge isn’t unique. More and more professors across the country are tasked with developing a classroom that is engaging for students, teaches core subject matter knowledge and leaves the student with a positive experience. It’s nearly impossible to speak with each student and many students feel uncomfortable sharing their questions or ideas in front of their peers. Often, the same students speak up in class discussions and it becomes hard to know where students are on the class material. One way to overcome these challenges is to focus on creating a collaborative environment where students feel empowered to take ownership of their education.  

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Creating An Active Learning Environment in College Classrooms

College enrollment for the 2018 fall academic term in the United States is expected to hit more than 20 million students according to a report from Statista. The rapid enrollment growth is putting a burden directly on professors to innovate in overcrowded lecture halls and meet the needs of Gen Z students.

These overcrowded lectures, where devices can be as much of a distraction as they are a tool, are a challenging setting to engage students. But students who don’t actively engage often lose interest in material and become less willing to apply themselves on assignments and exams. These students are also less likely to have a positive perception of their learning experience, which can be reflected in semester evaluations.

Unfortunately, there isn’t one simple addition or change in class structure that will empower students and encourage them to participate. However, one popular method professors in top colleges and universities are successfully incorporating is active learning. In fact, many different active learning techniques can be tailored to fit any classroom and can lead to increased engagement and a better understanding of class materials.

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Implementing Technology in College Classrooms

When Dr. Kaston Anderson-Carpenter steps in front of his psychology class at Michigan State University, he sees 175 students interacting with laptops, tablets and smartphones in a carefully constructed academic environment. His courses are filled with Gen Z students; a digital generation of non-traditional students who rely on technology to do research, access their textbooks, complete their homework and communicate with their peers and professors.

Dr. Anderson-Carpenter’s classroom is not unusual for professors teaching in the 21st century. Students are no longer thriving in traditional classrooms which expect them to passively absorb information through lectures. Instead, studies show that teaching trends are moving toward app-based learning, microlearning and mobile learning where students can take ownership of their education and consume information in a familiar way. A study from Barnes and Noble College shows that Gen Z students expect digital learning tools to be utilized on-demand with low barriers to access, to create interactive learning environments.  Since this new generation of college students expect classrooms to use digital learning tools, it’s important for professors to consider ways of implementing technology that will not only intrigue students but bring value to their education.

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Time Management Tips for Professors

Finding and managing time as a professor is overwhelming. For many professors, clocking a 60-hour week is the norm and finding where to cut back can be tricky. Facilitating classes, mentoring students, conducting research and professional development activities are just the beginning; and when midterms or finals come around, any established routine doesn’t last. Suddenly, on top of a packed calendar, there’s a constant stream of student emails asking for clarifications and extended deadlines, colleagues seeking advice and required staff meetings; all while trying to make sure grades for hundreds of students are accurate and submitted on time.

One way to ease some of the stress and anxiety that comes with being a professor is to focus on time management. By setting goals, making an actionable plan and implementing technology, professors can relieve stress and facilitate a more streamlined, impactful course for the next generation of doctors, scientists, scholars and citizens to enter the workforce. But first, it’s important for professors to understand how they are spending their time and where they can afford to cut back.

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Introducing New Feature: Critical Debates

We are passionate about building a platform that inspires students to become curious about course material and encourages an academic debate between classmates. With Packback’s new Critical Debates feature, learners can now reply directly to Responses with a Counter Point or Supporting Point. This new feature makes it possible for the entire class to engage in true deep, critical discussions that better mirror a live debate.

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