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Teaching Techniques

The following teaching techniques have been shown to be effective for use in the university classroom. Check out our page of Teaching Tips documents for even more ideas.

 

Teaching Large Classes

Large classes are common at Ryerson, and questions of how to successfully facilitate student learning and keep the classroom environment civil are common. The LTO has compiled numerous resources on this topic, as well as gathered together best practices from Ryerson instructors.

Teaching Large Classes [pdf]

Making Lectures More Engaging [pdf]

 

Additional Resources

  • A Survival Handbook for Teaching Large Classes
    By Sallie M. Ives. Center for Teaching & Learning. University of North Carolina. 2000.
    This guidebook covers many of the hurdles faced by teachers of large classes, such as dealing with a diverse classroom, combating the perceived anonymity felt by students in a large class group, managing distractions and time management.
  • Teaching Large Classes
    On the Cutting Edge: Professional Development for Geoscience Faculty. Science Education Resource Center. Carleton College.
    Tips from faculty on keeping students engaged, making technology work for you, and getting groups to work well.
  • Beating the Numbers Game: Effective Teaching in Large Classes
    By Richard M. Felder. North Carolina State University. Originally presented at the ASEE Annual Conference. 1997.
    "There are ways to make large classes almost as effective as their smaller counterparts. Without turning yourself inside out, you can get students actively involved, help them develop a sense of community, and give frequent homework assignments without killing yourself or your teaching assistants."
  • Large Classes and the Perception of Fairness
    The Office of Instructional Development. University of California at Santa Barbara.
Active Learning

Active learning has been identified as one of the seven principles of good practice in undergraduate education (Chickering & Gamson, 1987). For learning to be active, students must do more than listen, the must “read, write, discuss, or be engaged in solving problems. Most important, to be actively involved, students must engage in such higher order thinking tasks as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.” Students must be doing things, and then thinking about why they are doing them. These kinds of activities can include case study, “cooperative learning, debates, drama, role playing and simulation, and peer teaching (Bonwell & Eison, 1991).

According to Felder and Brent, as little as five minutes of active learning activities per fifty-minute class session can boost learning significantly. The benefits can be as simple as waking students up after a dry or heavily technical lecture. More importantly, “academically weak students get the benefit of being tutored by stronger classmates, and stronger students get the deep understanding that comes from teaching something to someone else. Students who successfully complete the task own the knowledge in a way they never would from just watching a lecturer do it. Students who are not successful are put on notice that they don’t know something they may need to know, so when the answer is provided shortly afterwards they are likely to pay attention in a way they never do in traditional lectures” (Felder & Brent, 2003).

Active learning can also be integrated into a lecture to help break it up into smaller chunks or to keep it engaging. This can be as simple as including demonstrations, or leaving space for class discussion. Two alternative lecture formats, as identified by Bonwell and Eison, are the feedback lecture, “which consists of two mini-lectures separated by a small group study session built around a study guide” and the guided lecture, in which “students listen to a twenty to thirty minute presentation without taking notes, followed by writing for five minutes what they remember and spending the remainder of the class period in small groups clarifying and elaborating the material” (1991).

Active Learning in the Classroom [pdf]

 

Additional Resources

Experiential Learning

Experiential learning is an important part of Ryerson University's model of education, emphasizing relevance and the integration of theory and practice. Knowledge of experiential and active learning techniques can be a valuable resource in the classroom. 

Ryerson instructors might be interested in learning more about the Provost's Experiential Learning Award. View a list of past winners.

The LTO has developed a document reviewing best practices in experiential learning, from planning classroom activities to assessing off-site learning.

Best Practices in Experiential Learning [pdf]

 

Assessing experiential learning in engineering presents unique issues. Unlike standardized exams, each project or off-campus learning experience is unique. These “open-ended, authentic, and complex” learning experiences are difficult to assess because learning outcomes can be broad or indistinct, and different stakeholders (site supervisors, accrediting organizations, faculty) can have different concepts of what constitutes successful learning (Lakshminarayanan, 2013).

Assessing Experiential Learning in Engineering [pdf]

Group Work

The Association of American Colleges and Universities have identified group work as a high impact educational practice. “Collaborative learning combines two key goals: learning to work and solve problems in the company of others and sharpening one’s own understanding by listening seriously to the insights of others, especially those with different backgrounds and life experiences” (Kuh, 2008).

The National Survey on Student Engagement (NSSE) identified Active and Collaborative Learning as one five benchmarks of Effective Educational Practice. The 2009 report explains, “Students learn more when they are intensely involved in their education and are asked to think about and apply what they are learning in different settings. Collaborating with others in solving problems or mastering difficult material prepares students to deal with the messy, unscripted problems they will encounter daily, both during and after college” (NSSE, 2009).

This following document has been developed to help Ryerson instructors integrate project management techniques into their group work assignments. These methods can help instructors design projects that encourage collaboration rather than conflict, and help students understand and define their roles in a group. It also includes sample work breakdown structures, group charters, and rubrics that can be applied to the assessment of group work.

Using Project Management Concepts in the Facilitation of Group Work [pdf]

 

Assisting students in working on group projects can be one of the most challenging aspects of our work as instructors. When groups work, they are a wonderful experience for both students and instructors, and have great applications to the real world. However, sometimes group work goes wrong. This handout reviews some best practices in forming groups, helping students learn to effectively organize and communicate, and handling conflicts between group members.

Group Work: Dealing with Conflict [pdf]

 

Group work can be put to many uses in the classroom. The following document reviews techniques for using case methods in combination with group work.

Case Method and Group Work [pdf]

 

Facilitating Group Work: Advice from the Teaching Chairs

View/Print Transcript [docx]

View/Print Transcript [pdf]

 

Additional Resources

  • Designing Effective Group Activities: Lessons for Classroom Teaching and Faculty Development [pdf]
    By Larry K. Michaelsen, L. Dee Fink, and Arletta Knight. University of Oklahoma.
    "The primary objective of this article is to provide readers with guidance for designing effective group assignments and activities for classes and workshops. In doing so, we examine the forces that foster social loafing (uneven participation) in learning groups and identify four key variables that must be managed in order to create a group environment that is conducive for broad-based member participation and learning. We then discuss the impact of various types of activities and assignments on learning and group cohesiveness. Finally, we present a checklist that has been designed to evaluate the effectiveness of group assignments in a wide variety of instructional settings and subject areas."
  • Group Work: Getting Started
    Adapted from Graham Gibbs, "Learning in Teams: A Student Manual." The Learning Commons. University of Guelph.
    A good checklist for students that need help get off to a good start with group work.
  • Study Group Guide for Professors and Teaching Assistants
    Study Group Guide for Students
    By Katie Caldwell. Department of Mathematics and Statistics. York University.
  • Working in Groups: A Note to Faculty and a Quick Guide for Students
    By Ellen Sarkisian. Derek Bok Center, Harvard University.
  • Creating Team Projects that Work in Large Classes: Redesigning a Large Science Course [video]
    By Dr. Leslie Reid. Teaching & Learning Centre. University of Calgary. 2008.
    "Join Dr. Leslie Reid for her presentation "Creating Team Projects that Work in Large Classes: Redesigning a Large Science 'Service' Course." She talks about her experience in redesigning a large class (300 students with 13 weeks of lectures) into a format based on group projects (250 students with 6 weeks of lectures and 6 weeks of group work)."
  • Group Interaction: Improving Academic Teaching [pdf]
    ICE Factor 4. The Office of Instructional Development. Saint Mary's University.
    The OID suggests explaining the purpose of the discussion, moving around the room in a way that will promote discussion, redirecting your students' questions, creating an appropriate physical setting, and giving student groups a formal structure.
  • Problem Solving in Groups
    Center for Instructional Development and Research Bulletin. Vol. 6(1). University of Washington. 2002.
    "Working in groups can help students tackle challenging problems by stimulating creative thinking and higher-level reasoning strategies. It can also help promote long-term retention of course content (Johnson & Johnson, 2002). Student response to collaborative learning depends largely on how group work is used. Clear goals, organized groups, and explicit links to other components of the class all help contribute to effective learning in groups."
  • Coping With Hitchhikers and Couch Potatoes on Teams
    By Barbara Oakley, Tomorrow’s Professor Mailing List, Message 441.
    Further Comments on Coping With Hitchhikers and Couch Potatoes on Teams
    By Sean D. Hurley, Tomorrow’s Professor Mailing List, Message 451.
    Center for Teaching and Learning. Stanford University.
  • Facilitating Small Groups: Elements of a Teaching Plan [pdf]
    Small Group Exercises Sample Formats
    Center for Teaching and Learning. Stanford University.
  • Team Progress Report [pdf]
    Teamwork Assessment Rubric [pdf]
    OpenCourseWare, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Case Method

Case method is a powerful student-centered teaching strategy that can impart students with critical thinking, communication, and interpersonal skills.

Having students work through complex, ambiguous, real world problems engages students with the course material, encouraging them to “see it from an action perspective, rather than analyze it from a distance” (Angelo & Boehrer). Case studies are, by their nature, multidisciplinary, and “allow the application of theoretical concepts...bridging the gap between theory and practice” (Davis & Wilcock). Working on cases requires students to research and evaluate multiple sources of data, fostering information literacy.

Case method is also effective at developing real world, professional skills. Working on case studies requires good organizational and time management skills. Case method increases student proficiency with written and oral communication, as well as collaboration and team-work. “Case studies force students into real-life situations,” training them in managerial skills such as “holding a meeting, negotiating a contract, giving a presentation, etc” (Daly, 2002).

Teaching with Case Method [pdf]

 

Students may be unfamiliar with the case method or may be predisposed to distrust group work. They need to know exactly what is expected of them in order to be successful in class. The following document reviews techniques for using case methods in combination with group work, including strategies for conflict resolution.

Case Method and Group Work [pdf]

 

Are these resources helpful?

If you would like to make comments or suggestions, recommend useful resources, or share your practice, please email Michelle Schwartz, Instructional Design and Research Strategist, at michelle.schwartz@ryerson.ca

Please check out the LTO's list of current programs for more services to help you improve your teaching.

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Contact the LTO

The Learning & Teaching Office, Kerr Hall West, KHW373
P: 416.979.5000 Ext. 3213 F: 416.542.5879 E: lto@ryerson.ca