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Strategies for Energizing Large Classes: From Small Groups to Learning Communities

Edited by Jean MacGregor, James L. Cooper, Karl A. Smith, and Pamela Robinson
Jossey-Bass (http://www.josseybass.com)
128 pages
2000
ISBN: 0-787-95337-7
$27.00


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Reviewed by

Ed Walton

California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

My general chemistry class has more than sixty students and our introductory biology classes have nearly one hundred. Lectures are how we traditionally present material in these large classes, yet there is extensive evidence that suggests that lectures are not really effective at getting our students involved in their learning. What then are we to do if we want more meaningful learning for our students?

For those college faculty interested in making the lecture experience more effective and meaningful, this book has some great ideas. For instructors already doing innovative things in large classes, this book offers new and exciting possibilities.

Strategies for Energizing Large Classes is the result of interviews with over forty instructors all over the nation, teaching all subjects from political science to chemistry. The book shares a collection of strategies and ideas that are already working to improve lecture classes ranging in size from 100 to 600 students.

Strategies for Energizing Large Classes can be read in a weekend and is certainly worth the time! The organization and presentation are clear and easy to follow. The book begins with well-documented arguments for the need to improve the traditional lecture. It follows with suggestions for getting started with the implementation of "little" things that can make a big difference and proceeds through a number of strategies that are working for others but that take more time, work, and sometimes even more resources.

In addition to offering ideas, the authors give examples of how and where new things are being used. What they share are not just ideas; what we have here are effective practices with examples of their use. The book includes issues dealt with in the implementation of these examples and ideas that make the strategies effective and possible in any lecture class.

Some of the strategies are old ones like the one-minute reflection paper at the end of class, or the pause in lecture to ask students to "ask your neighbor about this for a few minutes." The book shows how these have made an impact on both the teaching and the learning experience. While some ideas are not new to everyone, even familiar ideas are presented with fresh applications.

Some strategies are more novel, like starting class by asking students to work in pairs to complete tasks such as correcting an error in a particular statement, listing supporting evidence for a statement, or selecting the best response to a multiple-choice question. The focus seems to be on encouraging student involvement with personal interactions among students and between students and the instructor. Office-hour visits in groups, for example, can be adopted easily and might immediately get students to value learning more.

Some actions require more time and work but they are exciting and powerful. Offering group assignments outside of class and setting up "peer-led" learning activities are powerful teaching techniques. Seeing how large-class lectures can involve active learning is a stimulating aspect of this book.

Strategies for Energizing Large Classes is a rich resource for references on small group and collaborative learning and other innovations. It is an invitation and a guide to making your lecture classes an active community of learners.

Posted January 29, 2002

All material appearing in this journal is subject to applicable copyright laws.
Publication in this journal in no way indicates the endorsement of the content by the California State University, the Institute for Teaching and Learning, or the Exchanges Editorial Board.
©2002 by Ed Walton.

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