In the UK, most evening students are working adults. It takes dedication and drive to come to class after a full day’s work, but lecturers teaching this group can face particular challenges.
These students may expect more than typical undergraduates. They have often been to university before, and can also compare your lectures to everything from workplace seminars to motivational speakers.
Indeed, lecturers can take a few tips from these when preparing for evening classes. In the workplace, those attending extra training can usually instantly see how it relates to their work. So if your evening sessions are in the Continuing Professional Development area, grab and hold attention is to start your session with relevance-focused interaction. For example:
- Ask students if they have used material or concepts from past sessions recently at work, and discussing this
- Arrange in advance for one or more students to choose a workplace problem to discuss as an opening exercise
- For smaller groups, have a pre-class round-up concerning activities and issues at work that could form the basis for discussion
Good motivational speakers know that the lecturer’s energy level will be reflected by the audience. They break up presentations into shorter segments, encourage interaction, and avoid a static podium position. You don’t need to turn into a hyperkinetic chat-show host, but setting short small-group tasks, moving around the room, and having active dialogues with students during your lecture really helps.
Keeping your own energy level up is part of your preparation. Talk to your line manager about ways to rejig your schedule to ensure that you’re fresh when students arrive after 5:00pm.
Attendance is often a problem in evening classes. Some reasons, such as students being held late at work, can't be helped. But it’s easy to make the decision to skip class and focus on completing work that will be marked if there isn’t much to look forward to.
The solution is to build in benefits for attendance, such as short networking sessions, marked presentations, or coursework surgeries.
Sometimes you can feel the energy level drop, especially in the dark winter months or on steamy summer evenings. If it’s practical, take the group to a different location: a nearby café or park, for example, or the library. You may lose a few minutes, but a shorter session with engaged participants is better than a long one with dozy students.
Alternatively, break from the lecture format and get students up and moving within the classroom. Activities like debates, sketching ideas on big pieces of paper, or speed-dating style rapid interactions to discuss terms, processes or ideas can wake everyone up.
Some module leaders have found a few quid in departmental budgets to provide tea, coffee and biscuits at the start of the session or in a mid-class break. Barring that, build in a short break and make sure students know where the nearest vending machines or shops are—often evening students do not use campus facilities, or these may be closed. And although it may contravene policy at some institutions, some night-class groups encourage students to bring snacks to share.