Interactive teaching for large groups

Course Pathophysiology and Neuropharmacology
Lecturer Erwin van Vliet
Context Part of the BSc Psychobiology, this course focusses on the pathological mechanisms of various brain disorders, as well as the pharmacological treatment of these disorders.
Challenge Student numbers were rising and there were not enough resources to continue the tutorial sessions.
Intervention Flipped-class pedagogy in combination peer instruction using an online voting system during class.
Evaluation The evaluation showed that the students liked the flipped-class and peer instruction very much.
Related Topics Student activationFlipped ClassroomLarge groupsMethods to enhance interaction in the classroomVoting in the classroom

Interview with Erwin van Vliet

Can you tell something about your course before the innovation?
In previous years the course consisted of lectures from several experts in the field, combined with tutorials. While lectures were given for the whole group, tutorials were given in multiple smaller groups and several teachers were involved in these parallel workgroups. Over time, student numbers were rising and the expectation was that about 200 students would register for this course. Although the students indicted in evaluations from previous years that they liked the tutorials very much and learned a lot, there were not enough resources to continue the tutorials.

What intervention was chosen?
Flipped-class pedagogy in combination peer instruction using an online voting system during class. Students were asked to post questions at exam level on an online discussion board about the topics that were taught in the previous days. They could use their notes, the presentation provided by the teacher or make use of video recordings of all the lectures which were provided to the students.

Did it solve the issue?
Using this intervention it is possible for one teacher to provide tutorials for a large group of students in which students actively participate.

How was the students’ experience?
The evaluation showed that the students liked the flipped-class and peer instruction very much. In order to determine whether this intervention lead to a better performance we investigated the effects of this intervention on motivation and learning strategies using a controlled, pre- and posttest approach. Our data showed that flipped-class pedagogy enhanced student metacognition and collaborative-learning strategies (Van Vliet et al., CBE Life Sci Educ 2015,14(3):1-10).

Are you going to use it again?
Flipped-class and peer instruction will also be used in future courses. Based on our research we recommend the use of this intervention throughout the curriculum. We typically observe a decrease in the number of students that prepare (on a voluntary basis) for the classes during the course. Therefore, the aim of this year was to increase the participation of students by team-based learning. Our recent data show that team-based learning could attenuate the decline in participation that is commonly observed when students are studying individually.

How much (extra) work did it cost you?
Getting to know the tools that are needed for flipped-class and peer instruction takes some time, but it definitely outweighs the benefits. The software needed is very user friendly and can be implanted easily.

Do you recommend this approach to other lecturers?
I certainly recommend the flipped-class pedagogy in combination with peer instruction and team-based learning. It improved metacognition and collaborative-learning strategies, which most likely enhance “deep learning”.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
If you like to know more about flipped-class pedagogy in combination with peer instruction and team-based learning, feel free to contact me or follow these links.


Voting in the classroom

Course Basic Mathematics in Psychobiology
Lecturer Marthe Schut
Context This course (250 students) covers Calculus techniques from a basic level (fractions, exponentials, logarithmic functions) to a more advanced level (complex numbers, differential equations etc.) including several applications of the given mathematical techniques in the field of Psychobiology.
Challenge Shy students hesitated asking questions
Intervention Use a live, online voting tool during the practice sessions
Evaluation From the teacher’s point of view it seems that students ask questions more easily
Related Topics Large groupsStudent activationMethods to enhance interaction in the classroomVoting in the classroom

Interview with Marthe Schut

Can you tell something about your course before the innovation?
Previous year we replaced the traditional lectures by classes in which we use a combination of traditional lecturing and practice sessions in the e-learning system SOWISO. The students were more focussed during classes and the overall course seemed more appealing. However, we noticed that the rather shy students still hesitated to ask questions.

What intervention was chosen?
We have chosen to replace the practice sessions with quizzes in Shakespeak.

Did it solve the issue?
From the teacher’s point of view it seems that students ask questions more easily. Since they have to apply the explained techniques in the quiz, they really seem to want to understand the concepts. Furthermore, when the answers on a question divert, we let the students discuss the matter amongst each other and vote again. In this way the more shy students are addressed as well since they can contemplate with other students.

Are you going to use it again?
I will continue to incorporate voting systems in my lectures. Since the students already work on their laptops, the voting possibilities of Shakespeak (via a website or via messaging), are very good. At some point it would be useful to be able to incorporate an online system suitable for mathematical expressions (or even better; a system that can be used on top of a latex Beamer presentation).

How much (extra) work did it cost you?
Unfortunately, Shakespeak is not necessarily intended for mathematical expressions. It took some trial and error to work around this issue. Splitting the screen with Latex beamer slides on one side and the PowerPoint presentation with Shakespeak on the other side works quite well (the PowerPoint slides only contain question numbers and the letters for the answers).

Do you recommend this approach to other lecturers?
I certainly recommend to use a quiz system during lectures. It activates the students and ‘forces’ them to apply the explained concepts immediately.



e-learning for applied mathematics


Course Linear Algebra for Artificial Intelligence and Informatics
Lecturer Leo Dorst
Context Basic linear algebra, from vectors to matrix decomposition (SVD) and least squares techniques for a large group of 400 students
Challenge Not enough time/opportunity to provide students with enough feedback on the basics
Design e-learning exercises about the basics with automated feedback
Evaluation Students kept up their basic skills and the TA’s could focus on the difficult parts
Related Topics Digital formative assignments and feedbackLarge groupsHeterogeneityInteractive & adaptive course material

Interview with Leo Dorst

Can you tell something about your course before the innovation?
The students needed to keep up with the fundamentals, in time for the next lecture, but we could only give them feedback on homework once a week, whereas the lectures were twice a week. Also, correcting the basics is not the best use of a TA’s time. And the students tended to plagiarize because of this.

What intervention was chosen? 
Part of the homework, at the basic drill level, became SOWISO exercises to be completed before the next lecture. Some points could be earned by this.

Did it solve the issue?
Yes, students kept up their basic skills, TAs could focus on the next level in the werkcollege and the paper homework. And the randomization made it personal.

What was the students’ experience?
Students liked it, and the distribution of final grades became more of a bell-curve (around 7) whereas earlier it tended to be rather uniform.

Are you going to use it again? If yes, what would you change in the next iteration?
I already did. And I also tried one year to make part of the exam ‘SOWISO-corrected’, in order to correct it more quickly. This I will not repeat, but rather try using ANS – it was hard to ask reasonable exam questions in SOWISO.

How much (extra) work did it cost you? Does it outweigh the benefits?
I actually first did this in ONBETWIST, using mostly exercises that were already present there. Those were translated to SOWISO; the effort was not done by me. It was definitely worth it, and not only for me: now we have lots of LA drills in SOWISO.

Do you recommend this approach to other lecturers?
Yes, for subjects that are amenable to this. In fact, I already did, and Calculus and Statistics (by Homburg and van Es) followed the e-drill principle (directly to SOWISO rather than via ONBETWIST).

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
There was great supportive help from Henk Kuijpers (ONBETWIST), and from André Heck, Marthe Schut and Jolien Oomens (SOWISO) to enable both the e-drills and the trial with the exams. This was a big surprise, it is rare to have colleagues in such an innovation. It made this innovation much easier than I had ever thought it would; it should be better-known that you do not have to do these innovations by yourself.


Impression of the e-drills

Programming with Python – Creating context with video


Course Introduction to scientific programming (link to course, in Dutch)
Lecturers Ivo van Vulpen en Martijn Stegeman
Context Introduction to scientific programming for every science student
Challenge Planning a traditional course across fields and across years is impossible in our faculty
Design Online course so students can study on their own pace; a few exams are planned during the academic year
Evaluation The course attracted quite a few students during its initial run and with this solid core further expansion is possible
Related Topics HeterogeneityLarge groupsInteractive & adaptive course materialVideo

Interview with Martijn Stegeman / Ivo van Vulpen

Could you tell something about this new course?
The course introduction to scientific programming was based on an existing course for first year physics students. The learning goals are to show students that programming is an essential skill for every science student. By starting from a set of problems closely related to the field of study of the students and introducing programming as a means rather than the goal of the course, we take a different approach from traditional programming courses.

In four modules we try to show the students four distinct areas where programming is used for; basic mathematics, numerical techniques, simulations, and big-data. Students are not allowed to use existing tools, but are forced to build their program starting with a limited set of elementary building blocks. We do this to stimulate creativity rather than testing their skills using Google. To demystify programming itself and build confidence we decided to use Python as a programming tool which allowed students to perform all the exercises on their own laptop.

In what way was this course blended? Why did you choose this innovative approach?
Planning a course across fields and across years is impossible in our faculty. To allow students to take the course in their own time we decided to publish the course online and organize only a few exams during the academic year. Students make the exercises on their own laptop, can check their answers using a tool we developed, and hand in the exercises online.

To make sure we target each population of students we added a few elements:

  • Create clips (small movies). For each module we interviewed a scientist or ex-science student on how they use  programming in their daily lives. It was meant to show students that programming is everywhere and that the usefulness of the skill is enormous.
  • Target different student groups; although the programming goals are the same, it is important that students start from a problem they relate to and would like to solve. For each module we tried to create multiple paths, each targeted at a different field of study. Where colliding particles in a box would be great for a physics student, framing the same problem as a prey-predator model for biologists might work better. Same idea, same tool, but different frame.

Are you satisfied with the result?

The course is in Dutch and already attracted quite a few students. I’m happy that we went for a ‘solid’ approach. The core is now there and we could in principle expand to different disciplines, like the social sciences.

A challenge in these designs is to monitor student participation. How do you organize feedback, collect both questions from the students and figure out where they get stuck? This is something that could be improved by looking at these course in a broader sense. Maybe this could be something that we could organize in a faculty/university-wide recommendations.

Is there anything you learned that you would like to share with other teachers?
One crucial advantage we discovered was the enormous added value you get when combining expertise from different fields. This course was created by a combination of an information scientist and a physicist. Each of us would have come up with a completely different course. It was the combination that created this special mix that works much better than parallel development by each of us.

One more tip, something on the additional layer that we think is still missing – where we have the different paths to target different fields of study it would be good to also have some more practice exercises (or more advanced problems) for students who have difficulty programming (students that are already quite advanced).

A last tip is maybe not to aim too high. Make sure you get a solid course that is sustainable and then expand.

Would you recommend this approach/design to other teachers?
Just try it!

Watch the videos