Posts tagged Dr. Stacey Combes

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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Achieving Learning Objectives with Packback

Packback Questions is a tool used by professors to facilitate online discussions. With the help of AI, Packback allows professors to scale individual coaching, moderation and grading in any sized classroom.

Watch the video below to see how Dr. Kaston Anderson-Carpenter of Michigan State University, Dr. Matt Goren of the University of Georgia and Dr. Stacey Combes from the University of California, Davis use Packback to promote critical thinking and application in their courses.

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Engaging Students in Large Lectures

How a Harvard Professor brought intimate discussion and student engagement to a large introductory course at the University of California, Davis. 

After teaching at Harvard University for seven years, Dr. Stacey Combes was excited to pursue tenure at the University of California, Davis. But transferring to UC-Davis meant trading intimate, discussion-driven classes for amphitheaters filled with hundreds of non-majors. Even with years of teaching experience and a number of prestigious awards for teaching undergraduates, Dr. Combes knew that connecting with more than 400 students and keeping the class engaged would be a challenge. Especially since this was her first time teaching Animal Behavior.

“I was really just trying to scramble and figure out what to do and to talk to colleagues to get advice,” says Dr. Combes. “I had a bunch of colleagues who teach [Animal Behavior] give me their lecture notes. A lot of the older professors who have more experience in the topic, their lectures would just be a picture and three words and I am like, ‘What am I supposed to say? What book do I use? What do I cover in this course?’”  

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