TEACHING NOTES: Student demands in large classes – how do we manage them?

In our July issue, we looked at transforming large lectures to improve student engagement but what do students demand from large classes and what do we do about it?

Three common demands include, students want:

  1. The presentation slides
  2. Practice tests
  3. Active learning vs more “teaching”.


  1. Students want the presentation slides

And they want them prior to class. Sometimes this is because their note-taking skills are not well developed and lectures can be content-heavy making them overwhelming.

But will they disengage if we provide the slides?

Not necessarily because note-taking isn’t that simple. The power of good notes is in the mental processing students do as they take them. Students also need to evaluate the importance or relevance of information and this is hard to do in a fast-paced, content-dense lecture because our working memory capacity is limited. Very limited. So useful notes may not be forthcoming if we don’t prime students with the information beforehand.

Practice tip: Provide skeletal slides to scaffold students’ note-taking skills. This helps students fill in the gaps but still allows them to cue up prior knowledge and organise their ideas. You can also repeat key themes and pause to allow catch up time. Highlighting main points and outlining connections isn’t spoon feeding – it’s about respecting the cognitive needs of learners new to the area.


  1. Students want practice tests

Are practice tests giving away all the learning?


Novice learners have differently wired brains where information is less connected so they can be less adept at applying and synthesising concepts. In content-dense lessons, this encourages rote learning rather than learning for understanding. Practice tests help students understand what they are expected to know and how to use it.

Practice tip: Include asking students to create questions as well as providing practice questions. This helps avoid students simply memorising the questions (and their answers!) and promotes their metacognitive abilities as they need to explore options and justifications for answers.


  1. Active learning vs more “teaching”

In lectures, students often want more interaction but when we use more active learning, sometimes students complain we aren’t doing enough teaching! So, how do you find the balance?

Active learning is strongly supported by research and resistance to it may actually come simply from a lack of familiarity with how it is supposed to work (i.e. group work or a lack of trust in teaching methods). As we also control the grades, there can be a fear that group work won’t match what we seek in assessments. Students may simply need more structure or guidance in how to learn this way.

Practice tip: Make the purpose and value of each activity clear and provide feedback to students on how they went. Capture main ideas on a whiteboard; have students summarize the main points and try some pre- and post-testing to help validate the students’ learning.


Remember, students’ demands may seem tricky but they provide us with a valuable insight into their particular fears and challenges. Respecting and responding to them as best we can make the classroom experience more valuable for all.


These tips are adapted from ‘Tomorrow’s Professor Postings’ Message Number 1540. You can subscribe here.


Written by Cassandra Hood

Lecturer in Higher Education – CILT

Posted in
Teaching Notes

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