Help: Straub Balcony

Faculty teaching in our newest and largest class, 156 Straub, asked for help engaging students in the balcony. I put out a request to the SABER listserve (Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research) , and received MANY helpful responses from faculty across the country, which I have cataloged below.

Here was the question I posed to the SABER listserve:

We have a new classroom at the University of Oregon that holds over 500 students and has a balcony. Our faculty assigned to teach in this room are struggling to keep the students in the balcony engaged. Does anyone have suggestions, or know of someone who is mastering this element in large class instruction? I am looking to assemble resources and possibly bring out a guest speaker to help us overcome the pedagogical hurdle of teaching in a room with a balcony.

Below are some of the ideas our colleagues across the country responded with:

If your class numbers don’t fill all the seats, close the balcony to students.

Use clicker questions or graded in class quizzes to keep the class active and engaged.

Build a teaching team with Learning Assistants (or Teaching Assistants) and send your best LAs/TAs to the balcony to keep the students engaged.

Use random call to invite students to answer questions from the balcony.

Assign seats to students which rotate every class period or every week. This way it is not always the same students in the balcony (Note: Mike Urbancic in Economics has a seating chart for Straub that he uses to assign seats for exams).

Have students from the balcony (and main level) write their questions on paper and have a LA/TA read them out to the class. Similarly, have LAs/TAs act as student advocates and ask questions of the instructor on behalf of the students if they suspect confusion.

Students and teaching assistants are assigned (as a group) to various sections of the classroom, which changes every few weeks to rotate student in and out of the balcony (this is a class of 750).

Hand out a two-sided paper with two colors like (green=yes and red=no) that could be seen from a distance as a yes/no question and all hold up red or green depending on when asked an opinion, or the correct solution etc.

Have students do problem solving exercise, but that is turned in with their names on it. Even if it is ungraded it helps students feel present and accountable.

Similarly, students can do formal worksheets – such as POGIL worksheets – which are completed in class while faculty & teaching team move around the room, and student turn in for low stakes grading.

Faculty can move around the room as they teach – even into the balcony. Although not all students can see you at every moment, your presence in the balcony can help reconnect you with those students.

While moving around the room with the wireless microphone, hand it to a random student to answer the question you have posed for them to discuss. Even if they sing a song in Italian as a response (apparently, this is happened) just roll with it. Students paid attention and discussed the material.

If you have assistants, and the lecture hall is not completely full, you can try leaving every fifth row empty to increase engagement. Learning assistants use the empty rows to increase access to students during activities. With every fifth row empty they can get within two seats of any student.

Again, if you assistants, have them design their own t-shirts and wear them in class so they stand out and are easy to find.

Encourage questions/answers from the balcony dwellers and then invite them to send those questions/answers via paper airplane. Low tech and fun.

Use an app, like Poll Everywhere or Twitter to have students submit their questions to the instructor or teaching team.