Student participation in lectures can be a challenge even in ideal circumstances. In situations of eLearning and distance teaching, the rates of participation and interaction can drop even more. While a teacher’s job is to teach and not to entertain, the fact remains that students learn more when they are engaged. Even passive students do better in groups, where there is interaction and participation by other members of the class.
Demanding participation by directly calling on students to answer questions during a lecture is a time-tested way to create participants out of passive students. As effective as this approach can be in the short run, it has some serious drawbacks. For one, students tend not to like it. For another, it is not effective in all eLearning scenarios, particularly in asynchronous eLearning lectures. A better tactic, and one that works in a wider variety of delivery modes, is to partner with students, using a participant contributed content approach.
What Is Participant Contributed Content?
Participant contributed content is a lecture preparation approach that involves soliciting portions of content from the participants taking part in the lecture. This means asking participants (usually students, in most cases, but it can apply to other types of lecture audiences as well) to help you out by providing elements on the topic being discussed that you can incorporate into and present during the lecture. These elements can be anything that is useful for the lecture: definitions, opinions, answers to questions, or anything else that participants are able to provide.
While the content provided can, and often does, add to the material being presented, the main goal of the approach is as much about increasing engagement as it is about the material itself.
How It Works
The application of a simple, easy-to-follow, 5-step process is a good way to consider integrating this approach.
- Step 1: Pre-assignment
- Step 2: Filter and selection
- Step 3: Request enhanced contribution
- Step 4: Incorporate content
- Step 5: Delivery
Step 1: Pre-Assignment
The first step in the process involves presenting a pre-assignment to the lecture participants. This is a task given to all of the participants in a lecture, relating to the lecture topic. It can be in the form of a question to answer, an example or explanations to provide, or in any other format. Smaller exercises, or at least exercises broken down into smaller pieces, work best.
The pre-assignment should include a clear task to accomplish and a method of submission. It should also have a firm deadline, long enough before the planned lecture to allow the remaining steps to be accomplished. Submissions should be identifiable by the lecturer so that they can be traced back to the individual participant who provided the submission.
Often, this works well in the form of a homework task assigned in the class meeting before the meeting in which the content is to be delivered.
Step 2: Filter And Selection
Once the submissions are received, the next step is to review them and select examples that would make for good inclusion in the upcoming lecture. The number and types of examples depend on the topic examined and the items being considered.
Step 3: Request Enhanced Contribution
With example submissions reviewed, filtered, and selected, the next step is to request enhanced contributions directly from the participants who submitted them. A standard way to do this is to contact the participants and ask them to provide a video of themselves discussing their submission. This can be as simple as asking if they can send a video of themselves reading their response to a selected portion of the pre-assignment.
When requesting the contribution, it should be emphasized that no special production is necessary and that a “selfie-style” video will be sufficient. If any other technical requirements are necessary, such as time length or file format, they should be communicated in the request as well. Finally, the request should include a firm deadline for delivery of the content, allowing enough time to complete the preparation of the lecture.
Step 4: Incorporate Content
With the content in hand from the contributing participants, it can be incorporated into the lecture planned for delivery. Whether into a slide on a graphic presentation or as a stand-alone item, this can be done in any way that suits the material and the lecture.
Step 5: Delivery
Finally, the prepared lecture is ready for delivery. The delivery format for this approach works well for any type of lecture delivery method. In-class lectures, live online lectures, and video lectures are all suitable. The lecture is delivered as normal, plus the inclusion of the additionally contributed content.
Approach In Practice
Like most things, the concept of preparing a lecture with participant contributed content is best described in the form of an example.
One of the courses I teach is Applied Financial Planning and it includes a lecture module on the topic of financial fraud. As a pre-assignment, I assigned students to find some information by a prescribed deadline and submit their answers, using the interactive whiteboard application Padlet. The assignment included the following tasks:
- Provide a definition of the term “fraud”
- Provide a recent example of financial fraud
After the submission deadline passed, I selected two definitions of the term “fraud” and two good examples of financial fraud. I emailed the students who submitted them and asked if they would be willing to submit a short selfie-style video of themselves reading what they had written in response to that particular question. The instructions also requested that they send the video by a particular date using the file transfer system We-Transfer. The email clearly stated that if the student contacted preferred not to participate for any reason, that would be ok, only that they should write back to let me know so that I have time to solicit another submission. It should be noted that while it is important to make the contribution voluntary, I have yet to see a refusal.
Once I received the videos, I incorporated them into a PowerPoint lecture presentation in the appropriate places. The two fraud definitions were included before I provided our course definition and the examples were included alongside my own.
Delivery was conducted as a narrated PowerPoint presentation saved in video mode, uploaded, and embedded into the online learning platform at the university. It was scheduled and delivered as an online video lecture to a class of 35 students.
The result was a strongly decided success. The four students who participated enjoyed taking part and submitting the material. One of the students added some flashing dollar and euro signs around himself in the video as he provided his example of financial fraud. One young woman was dressed in striped clothing and stood behind the bars in a nearby playground playscape feature to read her fraud definition in the role of a prisoner behind bars. When asked about it afterward, the rest of the class said that they liked seeing their classmates in the videos.
Overall, this approach added some fun and interactivity to a normally dry topic in a normally dry course, delivered in one of the least engaging formats used!
As can be seen from the description, process, and example, creating a lecture with participant contributed content is an easy procedure. But, that doesn’t mean that it is not without its own challenges.
The first and most obvious downside is that it takes time to prepare. From deciding where the approach will fit into a lecture to preparing the initial pre-assignment task, the approach takes a while to implement and requires some lead-time planning. This downside can be alleviated with some careful time management.
The increased preparation time and additional tasks also correspond to an increase in effort. The downside here can be mitigated by considering the increase in lecture quality. And, by changing out only the contributed content portion the next time the lecture is given, the approach provides a very easy and efficient way to customize the lecture presentation to a particular course group, keeping it fresh and personal, with a minimum amount of adjustment in the future.