Active Learning in the Large Classroom…really?

I think the gold-standard these days for large lecture hall active learning are clickers. I’ve never taught a clicker class. I think clickers are what live studio audiences use to vote for America’s Funniest Home Videos. It’s also the word that old people use for remote controls. My family called the remote control, ‘the box’.
In a TLS Tip from last year, I investigated some mind mapping tools and began using them in the classroom for search strategy brainstorming in group and class discussions. Because of its ease of use and the fact that it does not require an account, I chose Padlet for my in-session activities. This tool is one recommended in this article by a nursing librarian struggling with meaningful active learning in large classrooms. In addition to clicker-based questions, she used Padlet to display to the whole class groups’ answers to librarian-created questions based upon a module the students completed before class. She was then able to use the students’ answers to identify gaps in knowledge and skill and clarify those points face-to-face.
I appreciated the author’s candid assessment of how this engagement went – not perfectly! Students needed more instruction than expected on how to use the tool, it was difficult to manage for a large class with so many groups, and in her lecture hall, only one screen could be shown at a time, thereby requiring her to switch from the Padlet to the Powerpoint awkwardly (would go smoother in our 80 person Lab 1A/B). The goals she had for the class required that she employ a flipped-classroom approach with supporting materials delivered via a module ahead of time. This required a bit of faculty buy-in.
In much of the literature, it seems, the flipped classroom approach to large lecture hall classes is often suggested as it allows faculty and librarian instructors to incorporate active learning into class time. Students watch or complete modules ahead of time and then come to class prepared to participate in discussion (usually classroom response systems (CRS)). In the absence of clickers, one could use polling software. Google Forms, for example, allows students to respond to questions and see the class’s responses in real time.
One shortcoming for clicker and polling questions is that typically, one must use multiple choice questions (mcq). Mcqs often result in unengaged students guessing randomly, resulting in the instructor taking valuable class time to clarify points. Mcqs, furthermore, can cue students to the correct answer. Information literacy is problem solving, it’s using logic – skills difficult to reinforce in mcqs. I do think that clickers and polling can be used to make students feel more comfortable in the classroom. Anonymous responses to polls often relax students when they see others responding similarly. One study I found in this book reported that in a comparison of classes that used clickers vs. those that did not, students using clickers outperformed those who did not in post-assessment (Holdereid, 117)
The authors of this article used CRS to gauge students understanding of concepts such as primary sources or characteristics of popular vs. scholarly sources. I can see these types of questions being good jumping off points for lecture or presentation and have used polling technologies in the classroom for this purpose – assessing what students already know so that I can tailor the discussion.
I guess what I learned from this investigation is that, in some small ways, you might be able to treat the large classroom like the small: pursue flipped classroom approaches, assess existing student knowledge with CRS or polling software, and, if the conditions are right, try collaborative learning on Padlet or a Google Doc.
What approaches do you take in large classrooms? Do you use clickers? Do you feel like the questions are getting at what you want to know? Are you able to engage students or do you feel like it’s more show and tell? Do you feel like you get more or less buy in from faculty in large classroom scenarios?

Deleo, Patricia A., Susan Eichenholtz, and Adrienne Andi Sosin. “Bridging the Information Literacy Gap with Clickers.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 35.5 (2009): 438-44.

Holdereid, Anthony C. “Instructional Design for the Active: Employing Interactive Technologies and Active Learning Exercises to Enhance Information Literacy.” Information and Data Literacy: The Role of the Library. Apple Academic, 2016. 111-25.

Rodriguez, Julia E. “A massively flipped class.” Reference Services Review 44.1 (2016): 4-20.



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