Pearson Providing teaching support for large cohorts

Providing teaching support for large cohorts


Whether you’re teaching in person, online or taking a blended approach, there is an overwhelming amount of best practice advice on teaching and supporting students. In reality, the advice can be overwhelming and not always practical for larger cohorts of 80-100 or even up to 400, which are now a common theme at many institutions.

Record numbers of students are applying to university every year and already popular subjects such as nursing, psychology, computer science, law, business and economics are seeing a substantial increase in the number of applications and admissions.

So, how can you maintain teaching support and engagement for larger cohorts?

Challenges of teaching larger cohorts

To provide the same level of connection, attention and feedback will require greater resource, energy and planning. Some potential challenges when preparing to teach larger cohorts can include:

  • A substantial variety in learning preference and needs. Students may be arriving to university with different qualifications and have skill gaps that need addressing.
  • Struggling students hiding in a bigger crowd. Some may use the greater numbers in a lecture or seminar to hide or become passive.
  • More grading and feedback to provide. The sheer volume of assignments means it can take some time to get through each piece of work and provide effective and useful feedback.

Thinking about these challenges feels overwhelming, right? Carry on reading for some positive and proactive strategies to help improve the experience for yourself and your students.

Using your VLE

Contacting on-campus support services can help identify some needs and offer support where possible, but where some learning needs and skills gaps are yet to be identified, your VLE is a great ally and will allow you to reach all your students with one message. Ensure notifications are set up so that students will also receive an email when new announcements are made. It will mean you are visible to all students and they know who to contact directly with any issues.

Weekly announcements posted on your VLE would help to briefly introduce the topic and activities coming up that week. When used effectively, announcements can also be an efficient way to boost engagement.

If you don’t have time for weekly announcements, an FAQ document on the VLE addressing issues or problems students may encounter could save yourself and your cohort a lot of time. Try and anticipate the questions and issues that often come up when teaching the course. More students can mean more of the same questions cropping up each week so ensuring the document is accessible to all students, contains embedded links to course content, web links and readings will make it easier for them to navigate.

Keeping students engaged

Another way of encouraging engagement and reducing the number of students that become passive in large cohorts is by utilising group work. Separate the cohort into smaller groups and ask them to complete a task or research activity that is to be shared in the discussion forum or presented to the wider group. Smaller group work can impact the collective knowledge of the wider class and students must engage.

You may still be delivering lectures or seminars online to larger cohorts. To help these sessions run smoothly and encourage engagement you could include some of the easy-to-use interactivity features included in software like Microsoft Teams and Zoom. The chat feature or polls can help you gauge how the group is understanding a topic.

Explore the supporting digital resources for your core texts and learning materials. This will ensure all your students have access to the same material. You can also monitor engagement with each resource, whether they are completing any of the interactive self-assessments and how they are performing. Some teaching and learning tools like the digital reading platform Revel will highlight students that are not engaging with their assigned reading. The end of chapter quizzes and in-text activities can also give you an insight into an entire cohort’s understanding of a topic, highlighting any individuals who may be struggling, or subject areas they may need to revise.

Making the marking manageable

Having to mark over 100 homework assignments each week might seem like an impossible task but it is a very real situation for many lecturers. Making use of online MCQ software is a great way of helping mange homework tasks or regular assessments throughout term. However, this does have limitations for students when it comes to improving their performance and knowledge for higher credited assessment. Often there isn’t time for educators to go through the individual scores for each student and offer detailed feedback.

The quality or lack of feedback they are receiving is becoming an increasing frustration for students. A recent HEPI survey revealed that of the students who did not think their course was value for money, 27% were thinking about the quality of feedback they received when answering.

To help reduce the marking load of some assignments you may be able to utilise peer-graded and feedback activities. Not only will this help students get more personalised feedback, but it will support their understanding of the marking criteria.

For more regular homework tasks, digital courseware like MyLab and Mastering can provide automatic marking and feedback to your students, so they can see immediately what topics they need to spend some more time on. You can then monitor the performance of the entire cohort through the dashboard and easily identify any struggling students for further conversations on their progress, ultimately saving you time on marking so you can focus on teaching.

Are you struggling to find resources that appropriately support your teaching for large cohorts? Pearson offers a portfolio of products for disciplines that may be supporting large cohorts such as psychology, economics, engineering, computer science, business, law and more.

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