The Handbook for Economics Lecturers

2.5 Overcoming barriers to more active learning in lectures

Section 2 has presented a number of alternatives to traditional practice in economics lectures. Whilst these approaches are becoming increasingly common in practice, there are various barriers which restrict their adoption:

  • Preparation time: preparing materials (e.g. PowerPoint slides), rewriting lecture notes, etc.;
  • Other time costs: maintaining a virtual learning environment (VLE), answering student questions in an online environment, the time taken to gain and evaluate student feedback;
  • Risks: students may react adversely to being challenged (at least initially); the new methods may not be successful in terms of learning outcomes as hoped; you may feel uncomfortable in a new lecturing environment;
  • Reactions of colleagues: if you take a ‘radical’ approach to lectures, and the students like it, there could be an adverse reaction from more conservative colleagues; there may be a departmental expectation of what a lecture should be and this may be a very traditional model of ‘covering material’;
  • Financial considerations: the use of technology (such as an audience response system or aspects of a VLE) may require hardware, software and technical support, all of which may be blocked for financial reasons.

Given the above, it is often easier to introduce change iteratively. Try some small activity in a lecture that takes no more than a few minutes, or try introducing a break for a couple of minutes. See how successful it is.

Try revisiting your learning objectives and asking whether the lecture really addresses them. Revisit how the seminars build on the lecture material. Consider whether you are making the best use of the materials you make available to students. Do they contain too much or too little material? Should they be made available before or after the lecture?

Consider how you present information, for example, on PowerPoint slides. Do you want students to copy them down? Why? Are you giving them long enough? What work do you expect your students to have done before the lecture? Should you assign specific preparatory activities?

This is not to say that you should not introduce radical change, but a progressive approach is probably safer, less costly and more practical. Try limiting changes initially to things that do not take up more time. Once you have learned how to manage the new processes efficiently, they may save you time. For example, students may use more forms of self-help and rely less on coming to see you, or you may be able to rely more on FAQs on a discussion board. This could then allow you to devote more time to other forms of student support or to developing materials.