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Lecture Hall Learning

What do you do to make learning more engaging when working with a large group of learners in a fixed-furniture classroom that does not seem conducive to collaboration? We get that question a lot. Though it takes pre-planning, and there are still constraints to consider, here are some of our recommended approaches:
Incorporate active learning techniques to create a more interactive lecture like think-pair-share, think-write-share, or the one-minute paper. Either example below could serve as a starting point for use of collaborative learning for students sitting next to one another: 

  • Marshall (2015): “[W]rite down the last movie you saw in a theater and then consider it in the context of our class discussion on gender: Does that movie challenge or conform to traditional representations? Is it progressive? Regressive? A mixture?”  
  • McKinney & Graham-Buxton (2016, p. 405): “1) List at least five of the features common to most bureaucracies. (2) Briefly explain each feature. 3) Give a specific and concrete example of each feature from the bureaucracy here at this university. Use examples that you have directly experienced or observed.” 
Experiment with class response systems  (Pickford & Clothier, 2006; Stoerger & Kreiger, 2016) as openers/closers, to foster engagement and formative assessment, or as a spar for peer instruction or collaborative learning. 

  • Class response systems and techniques allow educators to collect real-time learner responses to inform teaching. 
  • High-technology class responses might include software like Top Hat, Socrative, or Poll Everywhere. Top Hat is a CMU-supported product that requires students to purchase a license, though the others are free and web-based, meaning students can access them from any web-capable device. Low-technology class response might make use of hand raising or lettered/colored cards to indicate different responses. Plickers, or cards with QR codes an educator can scan with a smart device, are also a popular option. 
Consider the LMS an extension of your course experience, leveraging blended/flipped models to introduce content, allow access to information on-demand in a session, wrap-up and reflect on the session, build community, and foster teamwork (Stoerger & Kreiger, 2016). 

  • LMS group tools can help establish teams or study groups and allow space for collaboration and co-construction of knowledge through the use of tools such as forums, wikis, links to collaborative editing or annotation software, etc. 
  • The LMS can provide documents that students will need or want to reference for active work during a session, like wireframes and diagrams to complete, problem sets, cases to consider, notes for individual or group completion, etc. 
  • LMS survey tools can also support pre-class & post-class surveying (Marshall, 2015; Jaschik, 2011). You might reach out prior to a session, introducing the topic and surveying learners’ knowledge and connection to that to tie it into the session. You might post-survey in a similar method, to build upon points of interest and address knowledge gaps. A similar effect can be achieved in real-time through class response. 
Leverage social media as a backchannel or supplement to your course to build community, solicit questions or feedback, promote crowdsourcing and peer connections, etc. (Stoerger & Kreiger, 2016; University of Miami, 2015). 

  • Backchannels are used to solicit comments, questions, and feedback in a publicly accessible manner during an event. Though using Twitter hashtags is a popular solution for this, a Blackboard discussion forum could also work. 
  • Social media spaces like private Facebook groups are also popular options for having more real-time, ongoing, easy-to-navigate conversations than those that often happen in LMS forums because people are often plugged into these spaces all day.  
Foster collaborative learning (McKinney & Graham-Buxton, 1993), ideally with 3-5 group members due to lecture hall room arrangement, trying a variety of active learning techniques like those above, or more involved models such as: 

  • Peer Instruction or Team-Based Learning (Mazur, 1997; Team-Based Learning Collaborative, n.d.) – In peer instruction, an educator poses a question or problem or scenario, asking learners to formulate a response. The educator then reviews responses, asking learners to discuss their thinking with peers, recommitting to a response. The educator then reviews responses again, deciding if further explanation is needed. This is an informal version of team-based learning, which combines individual readiness assurance testing (IRAT) with group/team readiness assurance testing (GRAT/TRAT) and group/team application exercises (GAE/TAE) (Team-Based Learning Collaborative, n.d.). Such approaches hold learners accountable for their pre-learning, aid teamwork and learning skills, and provide frequent, immediate feedback. 
  • Guided Questions or Guided Inquiry (University of Miami, 2015) – Educators can provide a question set fostering different types of thinking to spark learner application, asking groups to complete all or allowing some choice in what learners will tackle and present back to the larger group. 
  • Making use of Content Curation, Dataquests, or Google Jockeys (Stoerger & Kreiger, 2016) – In this approach, learners or teams of learners are set to work to investigate or analyze an individual, a concept, a fact, a set of data, etc. and report back to the class on their findings and implications related to course content. Collaborative documents are a great way for teams of learners in a large session to independently collect information that they can then synthesize collectively into a useful product or conclusion. 


Jaschik, S. (2011). Teaching large. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from

Marshall, K. (2015). How to work the lecture hall. Chronical Vitae. Retrieved from

Mazur, E. (1997). Peer instruction: A User’s Manual Series in Educational Innovation. Prentice Hall: Upper Saddle River, NJ.  

McKinney, K. & Graham-Buxton, M. (1993). The use of collaborative learning groups in the large class: Is it possible? Teaching Sociology, 21, 403-408. Retrieved from  

Pickford, R. & Clothier. H. (2006). The art of teaching: A model for the lecture in the 21st century. The Higher Education Academy Annual Conference, July 2006. Retrieved from

Stoerger, S. & Kreiger, D. (2016). Transforming a large-lecture course into an active, engaging, and collaborative learning environment. Education for Information, 32(1), 11-26. Retrieved from  

Team-Based Learning Collaborative (n.d.). Overview. Retrieved from  

University of Miami. (2015). Active learning: Creating buzz in the lecture hall. Retrieved from