Student engagement during lectures has notoriously been a pain point for most instructors. Short attention spans and lack of interest in coming to lectures have been noted as typical challenges instructors face.
According to the University of Texas Center for Teaching & Learning, “Lectures are best suited for helping students make connections with factual knowledge. Good lectures model expert thinking, tell good stories, and share experiences that provide context and insight.”
As many students become accustomed to short, distracting content like videos on TikTok or scrolling memes on Instagram, how can instructors compete with and disrupt the standard lecture experience? We’re sharing some inspiring ideas from Edutopia and our own customer stories in our educator networking hub, the Labster Community Campus.
1. Use visual teaching aids
Visual aids can be used in conjunction with lectures and help students process information differently. According to a research study, “60% of listeners can remember visually enhanced content, compared with only 10% remembering exclusively verbal presentations.” When lecturers use visual aids, they can help with not just students’ memories, but also their attention spans, too.
Classic PowerPoints or handouts aren’t always the most effective tools. Instead, you can use interactive tools. For example, Pear Deck can be embedded into Google Slide presentations, allowing students to respond to or ask their own questions.
2. Have regular check-ins
Lectures aren’t a good place for active learning, but you can integrate strategies throughout that help make lectures more interactive. One way is to use polls like Slido to check knowledge along the way. This engages students and lets you know if they understand the material. Here are some questions you could ask:
If a student brings up something that they need addressed, take time to go over the answer. If one person has a question, other students will likely have that same question.
“I try to intersperse questions, and short activities with each lecture; there are a couple of times where I set aside most of the lecture time to have students works in small groups or individually on activity sheets or study guides so I can be there to answer questions” - Instructor at a public 4-year university
3. Utilize “brain breaks”
Brain breaks aren’t just for young kids. Instructors can use them with college students as well! These breaks give students a chance to reset, refresh, and recenter. They can be a few minutes of mindfulness practice, a short exercise activity, or another activity that’s unrelated to the topic at hand.
It makes sense to give breaks to students to break up a lecture, and science proves it. According to a 2021 study, “Skill memory is enhanced when practice events are separated by rest rather than massed in immediate succession, a phenomenon known as the ‘spacing effect’. “ The spacing effect means students learn better when the learning is spread out rather than crammed into one consecutive session.
4. Clearly state takeaways
Make things easier for students in their notetaking process by summarizing, identifying what’s important to know, and clearly stating takeaways. Science on the recency effect shows that the closure at the end of a lecture or part of a lecture is the most important part. Clearly stating takeaways can be done in conjunction with some of these other tools, like the reflection piece where students ask questions. They can ask their questions then you can wrap up based on their answers.
“Adding the "why this is important to know" throughout the lecture provides some motivation for students to pay attention.” - Professor at a private 4-year university
5. Make the content relatable
Science has tons of real-world applications. Can you pull from the news, personal experience, or history an example that will be relevant for students? For instance, if you’re lecturing in a physics class, you can talk about the recent fusion discovery. Not only do you want to lay out relatable examples to students, but you also want them to be able to draw their own connections.
“Find ways to personalize it. Include relevant stories or anecdotes to underscore lecture topics [to] encourage student participation.” - Instructor at a public 4-year university
In an Edsurge podcast interview with Rachel Davenport, a senior lecturer in biology at Texas State University, she said she has to be thoughtful “About using real-world examples to really get them excited, help them see the relevance, like why this is important for them to learn.”
You want your students to get excited. One suggestion from Edutopia to do this is to use a student interest survey to find out what students' passions are so you can incorporate them into your lecture and lab plans.
6. Storytell to reinforce learning
According to cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner, the human mind is about 22 times more likely to remember facts if those facts are part of a story. That’s why we design all of our science simulations with a storyline. Not only do students remember better, but they enjoy engaging with stories.
Labster’s chemistry virtual lab, Physical and Chemical Changes: Escape the hostile planet! is an escape-room style game that is based on a story. Students learn about physical and chemical changes in science by trying to help a scientist escape a dangerous planet.
7. Record lectures so that students can re-watch
Some students need to hear lectures multiple times. Giving them a chance to review online information can help some students. To make your lectures as effective as possible, try chunking them into different categories for bite-sized watching. A 2022 study found, “To provide learners with the best possible learning experience, it could be a promising approach to provide system-determined pauses at positions where the viewers would most likely stop the videos themselves.” Students’ attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. It’s crucial to their success for you to adapt with more digestible lectures.
Edpuzzle is another tool that can be used alongside video lectures to check understanding while students are watching the videos. You can embed questions within the videos. This is another way to check in along the way.
Virtual Labs are interactive science simulations that accelerate STEM learning through gamification. Educators assign labs to students through their internet browsers, where students can train lab skills, visualize abstract theory, and learn science through real-world scenarios.Try for Free
Ready to rethink your STEM program?
Talk to an expert to discover if virtual labs are right for you.Schedule a Free Consultation