Creative Ideas For Making The Most Of Contact Time

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In today’s student-driven undergraduate education world, demands for more contact time are changing academic schedules. However, extra class sessions aren't always the most effective ways to use this opportunity. This article suggests four alternative uses for extra student contact hours.

One-off seminar sessions.

It is unlikely that you will be given enough extra hours to run additional seminars weekly, even though research by the National Union of Students and via the National Student Survey consistently indicates that what undergraduates want most is more small-group teaching. However, you may be able to provide a few smaller seminars, each for a different group.

If most of your experience has been teaching large groups in lecture halls, ask an experienced colleague for advice about the difference between this and small-group teaching. Whatever you do, don’t turn up with a PowerPoint presentation—smaller groups are an opportunity for the kind of discussion and debate that can otherwise be unwieldy. Come prepared with activities that break the ice and scaffold discussions.

Coursework surgery.

Not only is this a good use for extra contact hours, it can prevent lecture time from being wasted with questions about individual essays and projects, and endless queries about exam preparation. Students are concerned about doing as well as they can on coursework, and focused time to discuss this is almost always welcome.

You can use a coursework surgery to go over the written guidelines for work (again), take questions, and in some cases discuss individual progress.

If your module includes an element of practical work, such as a project or experiment, it’s helpful to share examples of good-quality past work. This is also the case for essays, if you are working with first-year students who may not have had much exposure to academic writing. Anything students can use to gauge progress against a visible model will be greatly appreciated. 

Field trip.

Add an event to your teaching schedule that makes the topic real, and you’ll see student engagement increase exponentially.

Field trip possibilities are all around you. If you teach a scientific or technical process, where can students see it being used? Is there a museum where students can view art or artifacts related to your subject? Can they visit a service agency and meet people affected by issues you discuss? Is there a workplace nearby where they can watch a key process, meet employees, and perhaps see how what they’re studying can translate into a real-world career?

Evening lecture with outside speaker.

Many subjects have areas of public interest or controversy. Consider putting on an evening lecture, open to the general public and promoted by the university publicity team, that counts as class time for your students. You can even involve students in selecting the speaker and running the lecture session. Use a prior class to discuss aspects of the lecture topic and formulate questions for a Q&A session.

Events like this give students a chance to engage with public debates around their subject, see first-hand that there is interest in it outside the university, and interact with both general and expert opinion.

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