Laura E. Smith

Associate Professor of Art History, Michigan State University

Active Learning Activities for Large Courses

What are the best practices for facilitating learning in large classes?

The goals I created for myself as a participant in the 2010/11 MSU Faculty Learning Community on Incorporating Active Learning in Large Classrooms were to find ways to create community among the students, to reinforce knowledge learned in lecture or readings, to stimulate critical thinking, and build skills in visual analysis in relation to Western art. 

Questions I posed were:

  1. Could I use the same active learning strategies I used in smaller classes? 
  2. If so, what adjustments needed to be made for a class of 120 students? 

After several FLC meetings and some outside reading, I decided to use many of the same active learning strategies that I use in smaller classes. 

Active Learning Strategies: HA102 Western Art Survey, Renaissance through Contemporary Art

  • Think, Pair, Share

-used to reinforce a new concept, compare and contrast information or images

-students use information gained from lectures to think through a question with a partner

-students then are asked to share their thoughts with the rest of the class

  • Note-taking

-I set aside time once a week for them to work with a partner to go over their notes, find any gaps or come up with any questions that they have after reviewing their notes

  • One-minute Writing

-students are asked to respond to a question about a work of art, writing in their notes; they are then asked to share their responses with the class

  • Stopping the lecture

-ask for a response to a question without pairing up or writing

  • Surveys

– asking for a show of hands to respond to a question or issue

  • Online Journals

–  five times during the semester students read an article and post a response to a question related to the reading in a drop box.  Readings reinforce lecture material or offer another perspective to the lecture topics.  These responses are largely monitored by the teaching assistant.  The questions and readings are addressed again in lecture after their online assignment has been turned in.

Resources consulted:

Wilbert McKeachie, McKeachie’s Teaching Tips

Christine Stanley and M. Erin Porter, Engaging Large Classes: Strategies and Techniques for College Faculty (2002).