Teaching Methods: Large group teaching

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Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences

Managing noise during the lecture

Duration: 5 minutes : 58 seconds

Christopher Barnatt (Nottingham University Business School), Mary Chapple (School of Nursing, Midwifery & Physiotherapy), Wyn Morgan (School of Economics).

I think there are possibly a number of strategies for dealing with it and to some extent it depends on how well you know the group and also if you know the students who are causing the trouble.

This is something we have to deal with quite frequently in our large groups, and it does depend on whether you know the students, and whether you know the group and I think there are a variety of ways you can do it.

You can either ignore it, in which case it becomes quite annoying for you as the teacher, you can allow the other students to deal with it by telling them to shut up, or you can just say "those of you at the back - if you have got a question would you like to share it with us?"

Or another thing is that you can just quietly walk up to the back and ask them whether they want to stay or whether they want to leave because they are disrupting the lecture. So that is the way I handle that sort of situation. I am not certain that they are necessarily the right ways, but they do work.

I tend to work through a set of levels, in that if you have got noise I'll initially look to that part of the room and say "Oh it's very noisy over here isn't it?" Sometimes that stops them and it gets the message across the whole room that you are aware of it, and then maybe after that if it's still going on, then you perhaps make a comment about these people, like "Well you have obviously got something very interesting to discuss", and that sort of thing, so you are not making it clearer that it is them.

Then you move on from that in terms of getting towards "Oy! Are you going to ask something then?" I think if you don't acknowledge it all you can end up with a problem, not just in that session but ongoing, because you have probably got this same group again and again.

So it is quiet acknowledgement, bit more of a good humored there is a problem here, and then getting towards "well actually you lot are being disruptive get out of this lecture".

Question of audience:
I was just wondering, you say ask them to leave but we don't have bouncers in our lectures. Is it wise to challenge the student and say "would you like to leave?", if they say "no!" then what do you do? you look really foolish don't you.

I would only do it if I knew they were students who were what I would call persistant offenders. In most groups there are some that sit at the back and just mither on.

But that is why I would just go up to them and talk to them quietly, rather than saying it to the whole group "If you are not going to be quiet then please leave" or "If you are not interested in this subject, please leave because you are disturbing everybody else".

I think in a sense it's learning to read an audience. One thing about a large group is it isn't a group of people, it's one entity and you are the other entity. It's almost like how a comedian deals with a heckler, they can say certain things to them if they believe the rest of the audience are really in love with this person then they are all entirely disinterested.

So if you have got lots of people talking in a room and they don't care what you say, then you can't deal with it the same way as if you have got a destructive element, and I think that is why you work through the levels of it.

I don't think I've actually heard of anyone actually asking people to move, I've not had a problem at all, because by the time that happens all the other students in the room are also equally fed up with it.

Also it very, very rarely gets to that because you probably work through "well its noisy in here - have you got anything to say - if you make any more noise I'll have to ask you to leave". I have never had anyone go beyond that, so I think it's almost about your confidence in that with a lecture it's a you and a them and the social expectation is you are in control and they aren't.

Provided you keep that balance clear, providing that authority is there then you won't have that so I wouldn't think too far.

Sorry, I just wanted to add something else, because you made a really important point. It can really knock your confidence. If it's a group that you don't know and although it may be a subject you know well, you perhaps haven't taught this group before or you haven't taught it this way.

You shouldn't let it knock your confidence, because if it's only a few people at the back, and the rest of them are listening, you can always concentrate on the people at the front who are listening to you. Don't let the others make you think "God this is absolutely terrible!"quot;. You are the person who has got the actual control and has got the knowledge.

You shouldn't ignore them in my opinion, because the other students get really annoyed. It's a problem I faced last week and the students who were trying to listen, were actually getting annoyed with me for tolerating it and they said "You should actually tell them what you think".

They were very consistent about what I should have done, so I think ignoring it is not the way to do it. I think eventually you have to sort it out.

I think the other point to make is once you have identified someone, and you have spoken to them in that room it is surprising how quickly they suddenly feel very, very uncomfortable in the sense that they are in the mass and they are talking in the mass and they feel as though they can't be seen and heard, but as soon as you identify them - wow it really stops them.

What you're manipulating there is their level of embarrassment. When you're talking about these levels of approaching them, just saying "there's some noise over there" without pointing out a specific individual you're manipulating the level of embarrassment because I think most students who are there are there to listen and don't like it when there's someone just down the row, you know, talking or texting, which is another common technology.

Wyn: OK we'll probably come back to some of these issues, but I'm conscious we can move on...

Large group teaching resource 11 of 26
Extracts from a panel discussion on large group teaching at the January 2004 PGCHE Introductory Event. Produced January 2004.
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